Today marks the culmination of my first two weeks here in Vancouver and after a few halcyon days reacquainting myself with this wonderful city, I have set myself to the grinding, currently thankless slog of job- and house-searching. I type house-searching, but what I really mean by that is simply room-searching: I am far from wealthy enough to purchase an entire house. Besides seeking to avoid living beyond my means at all costs, all I actually need is a furnished room to call my own, access to a kitchen and bathroom and - should it not prove too much to ask - some kindly house-mates. I have busied myself responding to an assortment of on-line advertisements, quite prepared to challenge my ingrained conventions: I might not necessarily choose to live with students, or in a modest neighbourhood, or in a large, rambling house - indeed, my favourite option thus-far is a small, modern apartment, situated in the heart of the 'downtown' district, owned by a respectable, responsible couple and their 20 year-old daughter. I have only a limited period in which to enjoy living in this city and I want to take the best memories home with me - the best and the widest possible collection. Presently, there is something very exciting about the prospect of viewing the build-up to Christmas from a seat in the heart of the metropolis and so, it would seem, 'downtown' it is for the time being.
Only marginally less exciting and eminently purposeful towards my well-being is the oft-dreaded job-search. After seven months of (aimless?) wandering around the Americas, preceded by two degrees in Classics (what is Classics?) and work experience spanning the advent of adulthood that amounts to little more than anecdotal dinner-table chatter, I seem more confused than ever by the inherent need to land some respectable form of employment. Reacting as I am sure many sensitive souls would do in such a quandary, I have adopted attack as my best form of defence and applied to vacant postings portraying everything from bank teller to digital photography expert, travel agent to tea ambassador, English as a foreign language teacher to pharmacist holding useful knowledge in female biological well-being. I have yet to ascertain whether any such scatter-gun tactic actually yields results: the closest I have come so far to an interview was with a rather panicked-sounding lady from a local children's book-store, who offered me an interview only to telephone later that same day, before the interview, to inform me that the position had already been filled. All of this without me even being handed the opportunity to say something mildly sensational on tape. It is a cruel world out there and it does not help, perhaps, when the current lodgings of this poor commentator are so warm, inviting and calm, populated by his noble and generous friends. To think that upon arrival here I had such high hopes of a temporary position teaching Latin to alarmed young scholars in an utterly whimsical class-room setting. My expectations are, by necessity, shifting all the time, as are my emotions as I grapple with unfamiliar surroundings, unfamiliar faces and all-too-familiar feelings of disjointedness, haunted by an air of aimlessness.
Into this tempest of emotional upheaval has come a timely reminder of my blog-writings and so it is to that trusted cathartic form and you wonderful readers that I now turn, albeit temporarily, as I seek some sense of direction, of honesty and of worthwhile application. I said in my previous blog that I was unsure quite what form - consistent or changed - this e-diary of sorts would deign to take now that I am installed in such an altered set of circumstances to those into which this process was born. To this point, I have simply continued to transcribe those issues that I feel most immediate and most able to be recorded thus. Within this philosophical tangent, I recall an interesting moment from some days past. At large within the sprawling urbanity of 'downtown', I took some time out from tirelessly distributing my CV, before an evening engagement set to a Classical theme, to rest my weary feet in a snug armchair in the largest of the book-stores in the Vancouver area. 'Chapters' offers three floors crammed full of neat, shiny spines and eye-catching consumerist advertisements. It offers also a lovely, warm seated section in which to relax at leisure with a favourite book. I had poked my Rudolph-nose inside to seek out the latest English gem from the pen of Carlos Ruiz Zafon (he of 'The Shadow of the Wind' fame - still one of my all-time greats), which I had discovered some days before and within which I had already made significant inroads. Alas, the sole copy of the book upon the 'Fiction' shelves had been swiped already and so, rather than waste time seeking an alternative copy from elsewhere in the shop, I made do with the latest offering from Richard Bach (author of 'Jonathon Livingston Seagull' - another good friend). On roughly the fourth page, I saw a typical Bach question of the kind that never fails in making me sit up and take notice. This particular question, it must be said, will seem quite innocuous: 'would you rather be a tree or a stone?'
A tree or a stone. Something struck me in first reading that sentence that did not leave me during the following talk from a professor of the University of British Columbia's Classics faculty; nor did it leave me afterwards on the long bus-ride home. It has been with me, off and on, ever since that day and for want of something more exciting to write, I turn to it now. Each one of us is bound as human beings to view this question in personal terms. That is not to say that we shall each devise some uniquely different answer, although each answer is, to all intents and purposes, uniquely thought out in each individual mind. My own mind soon hit upon the notion of kinetics: whilst the tree seems grounded, rooted, a place for shelter and support to others, the stone rolls, gathering no moss, to make its ever-temporary home wherever it should land. It can be thrown, it can be pushed, pulled, chipped, kicked, stepped on. It can go unseen, the eye drawn instead to the welcoming oak towering overhead. In a fit of overindulgent self-sympathy, as much as in a brilliant rare moment of self-introspection, I find myself at present identifying much more with the transient stone. I have been travelling it seems for a very long time - in fact it is only approaching nine months since I first left home to embark upon my American experience. Of course, before this I had spent six months at home, after a year studying and working in Cambridge, preceded by three years in Nottingham, each year in a different room, in a different lodging. These years were interspersed with grateful passages of time back home, themselves broken by wonderful family trips abroad, to South Africa and Canada. Each abode bore me joyful memories and fabulous experiences, the like with which I wish never to part. Nonetheless, this time has seen me steadily, continuously on the move, like the stone.
I am destined to remain something of a stone here in Canada. I plan to remain in Vancouver only some six or seven months, even that time being interrupted by trips to the neighbouring province of Alberta for Christmas and hopefully to Vancouver Island before too far into the new year. After those months, I aim to traverse the country from west to east, visiting major cities and landmarks, as I make for the Atlantic shore and an eventual return flight home. Here in Vancouver even, I aim to split my time between at least two residences over the course of the next half a year or so and, if necessary, between multiple jobs as well. I have no plans as of yet to settle in any one location, nor do I intend to settle into a specific career even after this trip ends (sorry Mum and Dad). I remain unsure why I will it so - I am here at this crossroad through my own actions and I am convinced in my mind at least that a stone I appear to be. The question, let us not forget, asks which of the two items we would rather be. Just because I seem a stone now, does not mean that I wish to be one, nor always to appear as such. After all, the tree is strong, steadfast and true. It is a shelter to friend and foe alike and life courses through its trunk and along its limbs. In life it harbours all manner of creatures, tied together by intimate bonds of biology. In death it can continue to provide warmth and shelter to those who seek it, even food for some. The stone is ever more lifeless, inanimate for all its movement, forced perhaps against its will. I am in danger of rendering the metaphor scholastic and absurd: as I stated above, I have arrived at this physical moment in my life by a series of events at least partially negotiated by my own intent - I cannot hope to presume a similar formula exists for our poor stone. Nonetheless, in time-honoured fashion, Mr Bach has opened my eyes in a way that I enjoy and value and in a way that I hope to see repeated often, not only during my time here in Canada, but on beyond this latest adventure, into all my adventures to follow. I hope also that such moments of retrospection and clarification come to each of you and that you are able to cherish them for the abilities that they instill.
I am aware that this breaking dawn of a new journey might read far removed from those that precede it. Bear with me; this is as much a new experience for me as well, although I hope to have retained my familiar defects - a generous serving of hyperbole, anyone? Perhaps the strongest commonality here is that mentioned above; namely, my ongoing need for a cathartic channel, particularly as I battle the (customary? Inevitable?) assaults upon my confidence borne from seeking a roof over my head and cash-flow into my account. Whilst my experiences will no doubt shape me, may perhaps even goad me like gadflies, I feel assured still. I shall not yet read up on the intricacies of digital photo-shop enhancement, nor those of the female anatomy.
Best wishes to all!