Welcome to the Jungle

When I was 18 and newly moved to Winnipeg, I had the opportunity to go up in one of the swanky Wellington Crescent high rises.Not in like a glamorous, invited to a party way. Nope, I was out deal-hunting at garage sales on a Saturday morning. I came across an estate sale sign and went in without a second thought. The doorman was probably so horrified at seeing random riff-raff coming into his beautiful, pristine building. I, in turn, was surprised to find out that anyone in Winnipeg actually had a doorman. I think I assumed all the rich people moved to Toronto and the doormen industry with them. Or maybe I thought doormen were a prevalent Hollywood myth like waking up casually beautiful.

Naturally, I couldn’t afford a single item at that estate sale. I did casually look around pretending to contemplate buying a piece of abstract sculpture to add to my nonexistent yet theoretically extensive collection. While I was up in the suite, I let myself out onto one of the two balconies. I think I was expecting to see if not a bustling metropolis, at least a cityscape. Concrete and buildings and people. It was not like that at all. All I could see was trees! I knew the city was there, but it was tucked away under a lot of vivid colour. To this day, I can’t believe how green our city is. I work in Charleswood and it’s normal to see a deer crunching on someone’s lilac shrub. At lunch I go to the park and watch the prairie dogs communicating with each other like “Who is this total weirdo that sits on top of my entry way every day for an hour?” I actually think I have a reputation among them now. Like I’m still parking my car and they’re already shouting out their warning chirps like “Clear a 15 ft perimeter from the park bench to the tree. She’s coming.” All this nature has a presence in the city and in our lives. Some days it can be a little too close. I was at a wedding at Fort Whyte and I was chased off by a feisty goose at one point. Not the most dignified moment in my life, but a healthy amount of respect is the best way to interact with any wildlife anyway. And I didn’t run away. It was more of a brisk walk.

At home, I am very excited about my latest project which is creating a critter-friendly backyard. Humans have a tendency to take over their living areas in a way that interrupts natural ecosystems. Bee and butterfly populations specifically have been negatively impacted. To help in a tiny way, I’m planning on developing a micro prairie ecosystem with tall grasses and native prairie flowers. Some of the gardening guides that I’ve come across have helpfully suggested marking the area with a decorative stone or defining the borders with brick since apparently neighbours may mistake a prairie garden for overgrown weeds. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or gardener) apparently. To attract migratory birds, I had been dumping birdseed on the ground until my mum helpfully pointed out that what attracts birds may also attract mice. Then both Mike and I saw a mouse in the backyard. It was amazing how quickly the bird feeders went up after that.

This city version of nature is a good fit for me. I’ll stay inside and watch the creature dramas from the safety of the window. And if that yard mouse tries to invite himself in, I’ve got Rocky on red alert.

Advertisements

Ch-Ch-Changes

A friend once told me that most lawyers have a crime they won’t defend based on their own moral compass. For example, a lawyer may choose to defend an alleged murderer, but refuse to defend an animal abuser. I was thinking about this in relation to public demonstrations. Lately it feels like social change is all around us. Locally, there was a protest at a radio station as a result of offensive videos. Provincially and nationally we’re seeing protests about indigenous issues with an emphasis on astronomical rates of suicide. Our friends down south are experiencing political upheaval that hasn’t been seen in decades at least. What is clear is there is a lot of anger that has built up over time and there is hunger for change.

All of these demonstrations have something in common. When a protest happens, the public reacts not only to the issue, but to the protest itself. Often the character of the protesters is judged harshly. The public will question the employment status of protesters, misguided priorities, or over-saturation of the issue. But let’s look at it from another way. Protesting is a good thing. This anger is being channeled into community engagement. That is how change happens. Everyone experiences change within their own life and it’s almost always painful. Similarly, as a society we only move forward when we are pushed forward. The people who put their time and energy into protests are the pushers. Those protests only happen when people care to try to make a difference. Just think about how much effort it is to put pants on to go grocery shopping some days. It’s not an easy task to take on.

Going back to the lawyer question, you may be reasonably happy with society. Maybe everything is going swimmingly. That could change in the future. When gas is running out? When the police search your house randomly? When bacon is banned? What issue would it take to make you, as an individual, go out and protest it? That very issue that would get you to put pants on and leave your house? Other people will think it’s unimportant.  The people who make these political statements deserve at least respect for their initiative. Personally, my critical issue is reclassifying caffeine as a controlled drug.  You can take my house, my car, my salary, but you will have to pry my coffee from my cold, dead hands. And the non-coffee drinkers will say “I never drink the stuff anyway.”

Big Words, Small Talk

In Hollywood there is the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. In Winnipeg it’s 1.5 degrees. Maybe 2 on a good day. Each person you meet does brunch with one of your friends and probably works with your cousin. It’s uncanny. Visiting key city locations like IKEA guarantees a impromptu reunion with a colleague, a former classmate, or your Starbucks barista. Whether or not you choose to acknowledge them or instead swan dive over a Stocksund couch to avoid conversation is your choice. I have to confess that my natural instinct is to do the latter. But don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me. I hate small talk because I always cause it to go off the rails. It starts off normal like:

The Acquaintance: “Hey, what’s up? Why are you behind this couch?”

Me: “Oh HEY! Am I behind a couch? Uh, not much is up, how about you?”

The Acquaintance: “Just taking care of some errands”

Me: “Yep, me too, just picking up some maple flavoured candies as you do”

At this point The Acquaintance looks vaguely confused and suddenly I realize that I’m veering off script. In an attempt to salvage the situation, I launch into a lengthy yet incomplete story like a coked up chipmunk.

Me: “I play video games online, with Americans and you know they don’t get some of our foodstuffs so sometimes I send “Canadian” stuff down to them. You know, in St. Cloud.”

The Acquaintance: “…Right, that’s cool. So anyway…”

By now I can’t stop myself so I keep going.

Me: “Yeah last time I sent him some ketchup chips and he shared them with his niece and then he had to hide the last bag from her because she liked them so much. Isn’t it funny they don’t have ketchup chips down here? Like, all that money in the military but so little in chip flavours.”

At this point The Acquaintance is looking around wondering how they can possibly wrap up what was supposed to be a quick stop’n chat. I’m realizing that this situation is now wildly out of hand and I switch gears forcibly ending the conversation like a freight train slamming into a brick wall.

Me: “Well! These candies aren’t going to pay for themselves so nicetoseeyoubye” as I beeline it to the checkout. Whereupon I realize that I forgot other essential items so I head back out to the merchandise only to bump into The Acquaintance in Aisle 7.

Me: *shout talking* “Forgot to grab a coffee crisp and REAL smarties unlike those weird American rocket smarties!!! waving the items in question around. The Acquaintance just kind of wincing and nodding like “please let this weird social nightmare be over.” And then back in the car to cringe for a while as I relive the entire awkward ordeal.

At some point I realized that I need this skill. When I first moved to Winnipeg, this wasn’t a problem because I didn’t know that many people.I could walk down Corydon with patio season in full swing and not recognize a single soul. After 12 years here, some school, a few jobs, it’s hard not to recognize someone. So I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to reconnect.  As I get older, it seems more difficult to carve out time to see everyone regularly. If a crazy, random happenstance is the only way I get to see people, I better learn to love it. If I can’t do regular small talk, maybe I can actually ask them how they are and listen to their response. Ironically, the more listening I do, the easier it is to find something to say.

 

Should I stay or should I go now?

Two close friends are moving away.  Aside from the same general direction (west) their situations are completely different. It’s an unfortunate reality of Winnipeg that friends and family leave all the time. Often the reason is for greater opportunity, whether its real or imagined. Sometimes it’s a change of scene. Every time someone I know moves away, I get that sense of not wanting to be left behind. And I second guess my reasons for staying. Every Winnipegger must have experienced this crisis. It’s a fundamental part of our identity as anything else. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t seriously thought about moving and/or has tried living somewhere else. In our city there is an ever present sense that there is something more. Something different, better, bigger, somewhere else. Maybe this is a human thing and it happens everywhere, but staying is as much of a decision as leaving is. People ask “Are you going to stay in Winnipeg?” the same way they ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the expectation that it’s an inevitable decision. Do people do that in Vancouver or Toronto? Torontonians are always vaguely aware of other cities, but in a way where they haven’t thought about it much. They know they have everything so what does somewhere else have to offer? Winnipeg so often seems like a stop on the road to somewhere else. A great place to come from, but always a place to leave behind.

This stepping stone aspect of Winnipeg seems to make it have a long reach for somewhere so small. I’ve heard stories of people traveling all over the world; Australia, Asia, Europe and almost inevitably, you bump into someone that has lived in Winnipeg. Every away Jets game has a healthy number of Jets jerseys and an obnoxiously loud TRUE NORTH shout in the national anthem. Sometimes even in games where the Jets aren’t playing. And the great thing is that all the expats from Winnipeg have a soft spot for it. We get shout outs all the time in pop culture, from actors who have filmed here, professional athletes, all kinds of people in every field. Even though we can’t be all things to all people, our people are all things. They expand our community so that across the world, no matter where you are, you can be sure you aren’t the only Winipegger living there.