The Writing on the Wall

After nine years in Vancouver, I am saying goodbye. This is the city where I moved to in my mid 20s, single and living in an apartment all to myself for the first time, freelance writing by the corner window and loving it. 

The golden hour at Fremlin St & 70th Ave

It’s where I looked for poems and found them on skyscrapers, rocks, streets, chairs, gravestones, and strangers who stopped.

Vancouver Novel by João Loureiro at Point Grey Road and Collingwood St
Echoes by Michel Goulet at Kits Beach
Children’s rock artwork along the Arbutus Greenway

Where I had an amazing job for one and a half years at Regent College and felt the strong welcome and support of that community. Where I met a man who asked good questions, including the unforgettable, life-altering one, “Will you marry me?” 

Reader, I said yes.

Where I made new friends who feel old now, like they’ve always been around.

Where my almost 3-year-old daughter took her first breaths, cries, laughs, steps, and lessons in being alive. She’s learning there is beauty and joy and delight in the world but also pain and sadness and uncertainty. Why is the landlord selling our house? Once the landlord sells it, can we come back and live in it? Why is someone else moving into our home? But where will we live?

She, like my husband, asks good questions. Questions I don’t usually have good answers for. Adam and I have been asking a lot of our own this season: Why is Vancouver (actually most of the Lower Mainland) so unaffordable? Why does it seem to do nothing about its housing crisis? Does it not care that so many people, particularly families, are forced to leave?

Granville Island

I think of Maggie Smith and her ever resonant poem “Good Bones.” “I am trying / to sell them the world,” she says about her children, like any new parent. What memories will Madeleine tell of Vancouver, of our house near the park with the wild garden out front?

Shortly after moving into that Marpole apartment, I walked the neighbourhood and saw my name on a building. My name’s not terribly common, so this stood out to me. So much so I wrote a whole blog post about it. It was my welcome message to Vancouver, saying I belong.

After months of searching for a new place to live, applying for 20+ co-ops, viewing 11+ places around Metro Vancouver, lining up with 40+ people stretching the length of a city block to view an apartment that charged for a parking spot each month and didn’t even have bike storage, encountering more than one Craigslist scam and landlords who don’t take good care of what they own, I am relieved to say Adam and I have found a new home we like in a city we didn’t expect, but one I hope to love in different ways than I have loved Vancouver.

somewhere along Main St

The day we drove to look at the place, Adam pointed out an inscription on a concrete barrier at the corner of Lougheed Highway and Pitt River Road: WE LOVE YOU CHARLENE. I suspected it was to mark the site of a tragic car accident, and that sadly is the case. But it stayed with me, just like the Marpole sign did. Because how often is your name written into the landscape? Not only that, but written in stone

I, like my daughter, am sad (mixed with other emotions) at all that we are leaving in Vancouver, but this unexpected message—so personal, so intimate—felt like a direct welcome to Coquitlam. You belong here now. 

Time to step through a different door. Goodbye shiny Vancouver.

Ode to Vancouver: A One-Year Anniversary

from May 9, 2013

I’m writing this with the only pencil I brought with me to my new place

in Marpole, in Vancouver


IMG_7030been here a week

hardly had time to think, write, create

been doing all the other writing that makes money but doesn’t make soul

I’m in need of some soul time

and I just barfed

I think I’m eating too many greens

all this healthiness

all this aloneness

all this independence


what I wanted I guess

I still want it

I moved here for the place

but where are all the people?

IMG_6546Still get excited

to say my address to strangers

(like at the bank today)

to walk my neighbourhood

and find “Charlene Apartments”

It’s as if Marpole was calling my name

before I even knew it

IMG_4860 I love sitting at my desk

in a stream of morning light

or else 8:00 at night, when the sun shines a spotlight on my hardwood floors

this place, with all its creaky age

is home—I knew it as soon as I saw it

IMG_4713from first look to set of keys—it happened fast, within a week

a dream building in me for years

the closest city to my roots

yet far enough to feel different

IMG_5150 - Version 2Here I am, Vancouver. HERE I AM!

What will you do with me?

What will I do with you?

You’ve had my heart for so long

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Stopping People

Stopping strangers has become a habit of mine. Habit might be too strong of a word. Tendency, perhaps.

Before moving to the city, I explored a Vancouver neighbourhood to see if it was an area I wanted to consider living in. I walked the streets and stopped a girl who looked about my age. “Hey, do you live around here?”

My neighbourhood

She did. She liked it. That was enough for me.

A week later, I moved and ran into her on the way to Granville Street. This time she stopped me.

“So you moved here?”

“Yeah, I did!” I was excited to make my first friend in the neighbourhood.

Turns out we live four buildings away from each other on the same street. A few days later, she came over one evening to help me eat brownies. We shared our stories.

There are so many people to meet, I can get overwhelmed thinking about it. So many possibilities, so many conversations, so many intersections.


My friends laugh when I tell them about my street-stopping antics. I think they think I just go up to everyone now and talk to them. This is hardly the case. There are some people who I won’t stop. Or just don’t.

I started thinking though, is it really strange to stop people? It’s normal for this guy, and look at all the amazing stories he hears because he simply stops people on the street and asks them a few questions. I know it’s his job, but still. What a great job.

I recently met my apartment neighbour for the first time. I guess I could have knocked on her door if I really wanted to meet her earlier, (I was fairly certain she was a girl because of the wreath on her door), but I like when things happen more naturally. For instance, we both happen to be locking our doors at the same time, climbing up the stairs, or collecting our mail. And so it happened in such a way the other day. I arrive on my floor and hear the sound of a key turning. It sounds like it’s near my suite so I walk a little faster to make sure I don’t miss the few seconds between the opening and closing of a door. I’m not too late.

The open door

“Hey neighbour!” I exclaim. “I’ve been waiting to meet you!” (No, I don’t say the second part, but I’m thinking it).

“Hey!” she says back. She’s slightly older than I am, fiddling with the handle on a piece of luggage. Turns out she wasn’t around earlier anyway because she had gone abroad for a month. She welcomes me to the building. I welcome her back to Canada. We don’t talk long, but long enough for me to think I’d like to invite her over sometime. She says at the end, “Thanks for saying hi. You’re the first person who’s ever introduced themselves to me in this building.”

“Oh, really? How long have you lived here?”

“Four years.”

Four years and no one’s ever said hi?! Not even over the one token laundry machine in the building shared amongst thirty people where you’re bound to run into someone? But I’m not really shocked. You can see how easily it happens. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep. Repeat. Everybody in their separate apartments, separate cars, separate spaces, separate worlds. As I asked last week, “Are we together or are we alone together?

Are we together or are we alone together?

I’m finding I’m getting stopped myself more often. Maybe it’s that idea that what you put out into the world, you get back. Some kind of magnetism.

I got stopped for two hours on the Seawall last Sunday from a grandfatherly Greek man who approached me with the question, “How’s the book?”

I am slowly working my way through The Brothers Karamazov (my summer project) and the answer to that question is not a simple, one-word answer. It’s mentally and spiritually exhausting and exhilarating at the same time and maybe I was relieved to have someone to talk about it with. Some books scream to be discussed and when you’re not sitting in an English class anymore, you have to work harder to make it mean something. The funny thing is, we didn’t end up talking much about the book, and I didn’t end up doing most of the talking. I think he really needed to tell his story to someone so I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I sat on the bench and listened. He wants to write his story in a book one day, but he told me the time is not yet. He has to go away to write it.

How’s the book?

In my Ottawa life, I lay on a bench one afternoon, eyes to the sky, soaking up the sun behind the Parliament buildings when another stranger stopped me. He asked me what I was thinking about. I don’t recall I was thinking about anything profound but his question intrigued me. Hardly anyone begins a conversation this way.

What are you thinking about?

In one of my short stories, a girl stops a guy who is painting en plein air and it is the start of something new for each of them.

I think I like stops so much because they aren’t really stops in the sense that they’re roadblocks or endings. They’re more like beginnings. Time out of the day to see someone or something differently. I wrote about another one here.

Time to see differently

After encounters like these, I often think, “This should happen more often.” There’s something kind of magical about strangers’ lives intersecting at a particular moment in time, in a particular space, for a particular conversation that both people probably need to have.

You come to someone and they come to you. Of course it’s a little scary, but then I remember Jim’s words to Laura in The Glass Menagerie:

People are not so dreadful when you know them.

And it’s true. They’re lovely, actually.