I am not where I am from. I am away.
Where I am from has changed. Some would say it hasn’t changed, and this is proof, this new change, that the changes of the past weren’t changes at all, and the only change is us seeing through it. But the whole world’s felt it this time. A great yawning crack in the earth has opened. Like a fault-line fracture spewing deposits of subterranean gas, the quality of air has changed.
We are living in a different world.
On November 8th, I was sitting at my office desk, nervously refreshing CNN’s live update page as the first polls began to close. Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer provided a concentrated energy of objective professionalism, as if we were to truly believe they were impartial to the possibility held by the night. We were to ignore that the nation’s collective outrage had passed a threshold where either outcome could trigger a deeper chaos, to focus on the ritual ceremony and its intricate necessities. Ana Navarro was eager for a reckoning for the Trump campaign’s xenophobic rhetoric, brought about by an ascendant and morally united Latino coalition. She gave me hope.
Around me in the office, most were unaffected. They were aware of the night’s proceedings, and most had a fairly strong position, but for them, it lacked immediacy: win or lose, it wasn’t their election. The emotion American politics provides the average Canadian citizen seemed to be one of tense entertainment, a font of clownish and unrespectable behavior from a bordering country that reveled in it.
“Oh, I can’t believe he’s said (insert any damn headline here). It’s really been something so far.” There is a generous restraint to their commentary. They’ll make a joke about annexing the West Coast and New England. Co-workers hailing from countries such as Turkey, Venezuela, and the Philippines compare the election, compare Trump, to the issues and violence facing their homelands. They probe me for details, opinions, watching my reaction to it all. Being American, I am a tangible anchor to the insanity enveloping my country and affecting the world.
Moving to Vancouver has been the strangest experience of my life. Before coming here, I had spent my entire life on the East Coast of America, never a day’s ride from I-95. I was born and raised in a suburban town just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Went to public school, a Catholic church. Sat in a wagon on the Forth of July and watched the simple parade come marching by. White. Male. Cishet. Polish. Lower middle class. By the most basic metric, American.
In elementary school, I was selected for the gifted program. Based on my atypical test scores, the administration believed I would benefit from specialized education. Starting in middle school, I became segregated from the major student body. I was taught tolerance, understanding, and philosophy by well-meaning teachers. The program was gutted years after my graduation.
Later, I went to art school in Savannah, Georgia. My focus was writing plays and scripts, but I also studied acting, directing, poetry, short stories, camerawork, photography. I made friends. I made mistakes. I learned, as best as I could.
I met A—–. We rented a carriage house off a dirt lane in a less than perfect part of town. It was a big step for both of us. We got a puppy. I was a server, first at an Australian cafe-bistro, then a homey basement pub. She worked in the college library, until a change in administration led her to being let go. It hurt her terribly.
We knew we couldn’t stay in Savannah. Our relationship with the city had soured. A relatively small tourist city beset with major issues of poverty, homelessness, and crime presents few opportunities for a young couple fresh out of college. So it became about what that next step might be.
A school in Vancouver, the University of British Colombia, offered a masters degree in Archival Studies, the only of its kind. We talked about the proximity of the mountains and the ocean, the Chinese meditation gardens, the film industry. After four long years of murky southern summers, the respite of winter. The progressive policies, the accepting attitude, the legal weed. It felt like a goal worth shooting for.
We sold or gave away most of our belongings. We planned a week-long drive across the country, us, the year-old border collie and the cat. The clothes, pillows, books we could carry. Friends held on to what felt too dear to leave in donation boxes, but wouldn’t make the trek. We were ready for our ‘moonshot’.
I’ll write about the trip another time at greater length. Its recounting deserves my full attention, too tangential to the point I’m making here. What matters here and now, in this post, is when I came to Canada, and why.
We didn’t come here to get away from Trump. We were concerned about the election, of course. Who couldn’t be? As passionate and politically-minded youth, the 2016 elections commanded our attention with its depraved showmanship and the constant undercutting of expectations. But we were still confident at the time, like most Clinton voters, that her victory was assumable fact. That Trump was a frightening anomaly and not the future we were getting.
Of course, we were fucking stupid. But hearing people say “Aren’t you glad to be in Canada?” doesn’t make it better. There was a protest outside my office building a few weeks ago in regards to the Dakota Access Pipeline. First Nations people and other activists stood in solidarity in downtown Vancouver, a futuristic city, layered, segmented, allocated, over another American atrocity.
I think of the people back home. I worry what will happen to them. I look inside myself for ways to help. I ask around. I debate with relatives I avoided before. I try to listen, to make compelling arguments. Establish communication, understanding. Support and amplify important voices and perspectives.
I am away. But that doesn’t need to mean I’m absent. I have a plan to write essays on current issues, post discussions, stories and art worth sharing here. I don’t know what my perspective is worth, but here it is. Thank you, and hope to hear from you.