I’ve just landed back in Ottawa. My desk is an island in a room full of boxes, my belongings are strewn about. I’m finding my feet here again, sitting to write as I listen to the sound of traffic on Bronson and the honking of geese flying to Dow’s Lake.
Ottawa is home now. I grew up outside of Halifax, with parents who took me and my brothers all around Atlantic Canada on family vacations, and I lived in Newfoundland for a couple of years. The East Coast has a piece of my heart. But the excitement of bigger cities called to me, and I followed that in order to study my craft. I moved to Montreal to dig into the many wild things the art scene had to offer, and to study in an innovative BFA program called Theatre and Development. I moved to Ottawa when my partner found work here, quickly coming to love it and premiering my first two plays here. Then the call of continued training in a bigger city came again, and the past 8 months found me in Toronto taking an MFA in Creative Writing.
In the Maritimes, I got the impression that working in the arts would be better if I headed west, to bigger cities. In Ottawa, I heard that working in the arts would be better in Toronto. And so I was shocked that when I finally got to Toronto I found a similar conversation: being a writer, being a theatre person, being an artist would be better in New York. It seems that what I had been experiencing throughout my years of training was simply a grass-is-greener mentality coupled with a good dose of the Canadian inferiority complex.
This realization comes at a time when moving around is beginning to seem like less of an adventure and more of a stretch. While in Toronto I co-produced and directed a new play with TACTICS Ottawa, started a new business in Ottawa, and was also back and forth for weddings and other major events in the lives of friends. I’ve spent so much of my life in transit over the past 8 months that I’m left feeling that I don’t truly live anywhere.
There’s another side effect to all this moving around: other people aren’t sure what to make of me. People don’t like it when you leave. True to the inferiority complex, perhaps, there’s an ambivalent or disappointed response to a person moving to a seemingly greener pasture. I see the wary looks of friends and colleagues as they ask, “So, where are you staying now?” I see people wonder if it would be better for them if they moved away, too. Rightly or wrongly, when one place is left in favour of another, it leaves many wondering if the community being left is a worthwhile place to be.
So I’ve decided that the buck stops here. As in, here, in Ottawa. I’ve decided that this will be the landing place, at least for the foreseeable future. This is a good community. It’s the place I’ve felt most at home in my adult life. It’s just the right size for me. Its arts scene continues to grow. Here I have the ability to produce work, and the ability to see local, national, and international work through places like the NAC, the GCTC, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, and the Undercurrents Festival.
Don’t get me wrong, Toronto has been fabulous. I get to study under one of Canada’s greatest playwrights, and be mentored by two amazing directors. I’m able to see a huge volume of theatre. I’m directing a show at SummerWorks this August. I’ll be back in the Big Smoke many times over the next year with these opportunities.
But ultimately, I want to feel as though I live somewhere. I want to be in a place that I can help to build up. I hope that by hustling and creating new initiatives I can make enough work for myself in Ottawa. And, I hope that as I grow as a playwright and director I won’t be passed up for opportunities in favour of candidates hailing from somewhere else.