The Art of Escapism

On the last weekend of August, Franz and I headed to Tofino to escape life. On the drive there we talked about our fascination with Tofino. Not just because it’s a gorgeous small beach town nestled at the edge of Vancouver Island, but it always brings a sense of complete escapism for us. No matter if it’s just for 2 days, we feel completely disconnected from the world, our problems, our anxieties, and our endless thoughts. It is our sanctuary to escape from our lives. We laughed because in reality, we escape from nothing. As soon as we get off that ferry in Vancouver upon our return, we are back to normal life. Nothing has changed. But there is optimism during the drive there, where for a brief moment we think everything will take care of itself magically, and that we’ll be okay. Silly, really.

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Tofino

Humans have a fascination with escape. It’s the prize after crazy work hours. The release after going through a personal tragedy. The cure to boredom. But it never truly fixes anything. But we are obsessed with the idea that it does. We countdown the days to a trip we’ve booked, every day caring less and less about our every day worries. The hope growing with every checked off day that by the time we’ve reached our destination, none of it will matter ever again. Since most of my life involves travel due to my family being scattered, I get mini bouts of false escapism. A short week to Berlin feels like visiting a sanctuary sometimes.

The first time I learned the harsh lesson that escapism doesn’t work was in the summer of 2011. I was in an emotional state I’d never been in, and not quite sure how to deal with it. I had planned a euro trip with two of my best friends, and I started counting down the days for our departure. I thought that by the time I’d be in another continent, I’d be fine. When we got to Greece I almost believed it. I had occupied myself  over the past 2 weeks with amusing vacation times with friends and left no room to think about what was bothering me. One night, after a 4 hour dinner on the beach on the small island of Naxos, my belly full of fresh seafood and wine, my friends beside me making me laugh and the warm summer air caressing my legs that still felt salty from our swim earlier, my thoughts caught up with me. It hit me like a brick. My breath caught in my throat and I excused myself. I walked down to the edge of the water and sat down on the white sand and cried my eyes out. I realized running away had led me right to my problems. They had traveled the 6172 miles to meet me. I suddenly became aware that they were real. No matter my beautiful location and amazing adventures, they were still there.

My spring didn’t get off to a great start this year, and it didn’t get much better coming into the summer. I felt the itch of wanting to run away creep up on me. When my boss informed me I could have the summer off I didn’t even hesitate one second before saying yes. Within a week I had plane tickets booked to Berlin, London and Ottawa. I was leaving for the whole summer. I needed a mental break. I had the fear in the back of my mind that this was maybe a bad decision, that I was fake dealing once again. Whilst in London I shut myself in my mother’s apartment while she spent all day working at the Olympics. I hid under a blanket and slept for hours and hours. I was so mentally exhausted from everything that had happened. From this year. From last year. Everything. It was the first time I had put myself in a place where none of it touched me. And I breathed for the first time in a long time. I realized I was fucking exhausted. On the short plane ride from London to Berlin I felt a sense of calmness wash over me. I was escaping, but escaping to people that would help me wake up. By the time my feet landed back in Vancouver I was comfortable to admit things to myself I didn’t want to before. It took me 2 weeks to realize I was back in my regular life. I could barely hold a normal conversation with my friends. They wanted to know all my exciting stories of my summer. But I had none. I hadn’t done anything exciting. But my brain and heart were finally in a comfortable place.

The other night, after some martinis with Alexis and Caley-ann at my apartment, I finished the night lying on my couch listening to sad songs. Suddenly I shot up and realized I didn’t need to wallow anymore. More importantly, I didn’t want to. I changed my iPod to another song and started dancing in the middle of my living room for half an hour. Pure, spastic, sweaty, dance it out marathon. I laughed and felt a warm spread of joy come over me because this person, this person dancing in her apartment in the last week of summer was someone I recognized, and I hadn’t danced with her in a long time. This summer I hadn’t escaped. This summer I had the courage to shut everything off and fully focus on myself. I had run away to find me, and grab some of the pieces I needed back.

Escapism is a beautiful fantasy, and one I will always indulge in, it’s human nature. But I learned that escapism could have different sides to it. What is the number one thing we try to run away from when we “escape”? Ourselves. But the beauty is, when we DO run into ourselves, we actually escape. We let go. Sometimes you got to drop the fear, and talk to yourself. Stop running away and run right into you. Cause you, you’re kind of awesome.

Dear Calgary

We spent 3 years together. Now, we have an on/off relationship. I see you sometimes, because I have to. I know that hurts you. You’d rather I want to see you on my own, probably more often. I know I neglect you and it makes you sad. After all, you gave me so much as a city growing up. Our affair in the 90’s was brief but there are so many fantastic memories of our permanent time together. Remember those weekends I’d ride my bike up and down the empty streets of Signal Hill before it got developed? Or when I would jump the fence from our condo area into the construction zone where I wasn’t allowed and played for hours thinking I was in a post-apocolytic world? Or when I would go to Easy Street and win prizes playing your games for hours? You even had a mini-putt. I had never seen a mini-putt until I moved to you. Germany didn’t have things like that. Actually, you were the city that introduced me to a lot of Canadian things, like Tim Hortons and having Boston Pizza for dinner every other day was completely acceptable. My time with you made me start to feel slightly normal. I started to understand how things worked, and what made my family different.

But here’s the thing, my cherished memories with you involve people and childhood memories. Compared to the other cities I’ve lived in so far, you just don’t compare. I’m so sorry. Because a lot of people love you, and they should! You have many beautiful elements. The Elbow River is lovely and a great place for summer tubing, you have long plaines that get kissed by the sunrise and sunset every day, 17th avenue has it’s lovely stores and bars and Fish Creek Park is probably the only metropolitan city in Canada where you can encounter a deer on your jog. Christ, you even hosted the Olympics! And you hold one of the biggest festivals in the world, the freakin’ Stampede! Which is awesome.

I wish I loved you more. I really do. And you know what, you’ve done a lot for me so you only deserve my complete honesty. So here it is straight, no sugar coating.

I don’t like you because we don’t connect. The things you offer don’t appeal to me. Every time I visit you, I’m bored. You don’t excite me. I’ve been to your playhouses, up on your world famous tower, I’ve seen your ballet, I’ve lived beside 17th avenue and strolled it every day, I’ve gone skiing to Lake Louise and Kananaskis (I guess that’s not you, but you’re so close) and gone horse back riding. All beautiful things, but yet still don’t make me yearn for you. What’s wrong with me? I appreciate it, I do, but it’s not enough to pull me back. I kind of resent you. I resent you for all the summers I spent surfing Napster in a too hot room in the early 2000’s while my friends back in Gatineau got to party together all summer. I resent you for your cold winters where I had to wait for one of my parents to pick me up after school and my fingers would freeze in my mittens. I resent you for all the nights I spent in the Lindsay Park washroom rinsing chlorine off my hair because I spent 2 hours in the public pool while my mom coached (and then having it freeze solid 2 seconds later in -40 C weather). I guess I really resent you for being the city I lived in where my parents divorced. I guess I resent you for things that aren’t your fault. I have memories associated with you that are beyond your control.

You know what I don’t like about you? I feel like I’m in the 90’s every time I come back. What’s up with that? You know what I’m talking about, don’t try to deny it. Your airport still feels like I’m coming for a Stampede 1994 trip. Your malls are like a time warp. I mean I know it’s suburbia but there is something in the air. It smells like the 90’s. Downtown still has that pastel colour scheme, the one that impressed all my relatives when they came to visit Canada for the first time, but now is dated. You are dated. Even your restaurants, when my dad wants to take us out for a nice treat, they just don’t feel modern. But you try, you try so hard. Sigh. I drive around you and in the distance I see the skyline of the powerful Rocky Mountains, and I take a deep breath of your fresh air, but you as a city don’t fill me. And it’s not because we haven’t had great times, you know we have, but my heart doesn’t belong with you. It never has, it never will. You know that deep down. It’s why you never try to impress me, and that’s okay. I respect you for that.

I know some great people that come from you and are amazing people, and they love you so much. I hope their love can make up for my indifference. Don’t worry, I don’t hate you like Montreal. We’re on good terms, but we both know it’s never going to work out. But I want you to know, sometimes, when it’s that perfect time of day, where everything is bathed in gold light and I feel like I can feel YOU taking a deep breath, because you can, you’re that big, then I kind of like you. We do go back. We’ve got a past, we can’t ignore that. So lets be friends. It’s worked for us all the years, why change anything now? We’re stuck together Calgary. Lets just accept it.