Saturday, 28 June 2014

Literary friendships, and saying goodbye...

We have the same hair! We were kindred spirits even then.
Fifteen years ago, I won in my age category in a little writing contest put on by the Hamilton Public Library. It was called The Power of the Pen. The whole business of the thing--the little ceremony that they gave us, having our stories and poetry printed in the paper, winning A HUNDRED DOLLARS TO SPEND AT A BOOKSTORE--was just so entirely beyond cool. Someone not related to me thought my story was good enough to win a prize! That had to mean something, right? Surely, from hereon in, it would be all book contracts and smooth sailing and fun writerly times, n'est-ce pas?

It wasn't, as of course we all know. As of course anyone with any ounce of sense would have known at the time. So you win a little writing contest. Big deal. There are many, many mountains on the Alpine Path, little Emily Starr-wannabe. If only you knew what was waiting ahead. If only you knew. 

But hey. Guess who's sitting right beside me in that little celebratory picture? Why, it's none other than the lovely and ferociously talented Liz WIndhorst Harmer.

We go way back, she and I.

Technically, of course, that is not strictly true. We happened to win in our separate age categories that particular year. (And, if memory serves, the year before that one, too.) And then we each went back to our respective schools and graduated and did what we did. I moved away. Liz moved away. I saved that picture in the paper and shoved it into a Rubbermaid container that sat in my parents' basement for years. I moved to BC. Then I moved to Scotland. And then, when the visa and the money ran out, I moved back.

Coming back to Hamilton has been a difficult thing for me. I wanted so badly to leave when I was younger. I couldn't wait to get away. When I did, I moved with the certainty that I was never going to come back. I'd drop in to visit family, sure. But that was it. I was done with the city. I wanted to explore.

Eventually finances dictated otherwise. I moved back to the city thirteen years after that contest, after that first meeting with Liz, and then eventually through our LitLunches and other writerly things about town we got back in touch. It's been lovely.

And now she's the one leaving for other, faraway shores. Specifically, the shores and mountains of southern California! Life as students has come to an end for the Family Harmer and they will be relocating to the western coast in a matter of days now. How exciting and wonderful is that? Wonderful for Liz, of course, absolutely, and also wonderful for ME because now I have someone to visit in California! Three cheers and happy dances all around!

We went out for goodbye drinks last night, Liz and myself and a few other literary ladies about town. It was, if you can believe this, the first time I'd been out to the pubs and bars of Hamilton since moving back to the city proper in 2011. It was so lovely, and so delicious, and so amazing to see these talented people I'm so lucky to know. To realize anew how many gifts Hamilton has given me-a room of my own, people to talk books and all manner of things with, an excellent job, the chance to really take my writing where it's wanted to go all along. Sometimes I feel like I only really came to terms with my writing self--whatever that means--when I moved back to this city. There were hints all through my twenties, but it wasn't until I was back in Hamilton that I felt like I'd managed to tap into a community and a sense of confidence about my work--the desire to write about angels and devils and people who turned into hyenas and girls who fell in love with centaurs and other strange and "un-literary" (or so I thought at the time) things like that. It took coming home to reconnect with that sense of self, both as a person and as a writer.

And yet. And yet. Every day that goes by sees me wanting to get up and go all over again. This city has given me so much and still I shiver restless, think of moving, close my eyes and imagine other cities. I don't know how to be at peace with this. If I could make Edinburgh work I would be back there in a heartbeat, even though my life there was so hard. If I could find a job that gave me time to write and paid my bills in a west coast apartment, I'd be back in the forests of BC before you could say movers. I am itching, always itching, to do something else. To go somewhere else. And what do I want when I'm in those other places? Inevitably, everything that I already have here in abundance.

On a practical level, it's likely that I'll continue to be in Hamilton for the next few years. My family is here. I have a literary community. I have friends who inspire me to no end (except for those ones who are MOVING AWAY, sob). And I have a good job here, one that allows me to pay down my debt and also gives me time to write. Who in their right mind would give up that kind of opportunity? Besides, so much about life in this city in general is richer than I ever could have dreamed. It's given me so much. It has so much. It is so much. I am so grateful for all of it.

And still I toss and turn. Have I just become a certain kind of adrenalin junkie--addicted to Big Moves, Big Things, Big Cities? Or is it just impossible to have a whole heart after living in so many different places?

You do it to yourself, you do. You and no one else. 

1 comment:

  1. *sniff* . This is kind of a magical city & you're one of its loveliest citizens & I still can't believe that power of the pen picture.