The Bloom Is Off The Rose

January 6th, 2012 by Emma Durand-Wood

“Winnpeg? Why WINNIpeg?” is what everyone said when I announced I was moving to this fair city.

No matter how I tried to explain it (friends and relatives nearby, summer lake life, affordable housing, arts, culture, music, NDP government, etc.) no one seemed to believe that I knew what I was doing, and that Winnipeg was what my heart longed for. But I moved here anyway.

Several of the senior partners at my old law firm in Vancouver had gone to law school in Winnipeg back in the day. And so when it became known that I was leaving the Best Place on Earth for Winnipeg, they all wished me well and offered me words of wisdom. As I’m sure you know, when people think of Winnipeg, they think of cold, and they think of mosquitoes. My favourite rebuttal to this came from one of these Manitoba Law School grads: “The best thing about Manitoba is that there are no mosquitoes in the winter, and no snow in the summer”. Looking back, I guess that’s sort of a backhanded compliment to the province, but somehow in perfect fitting with dry prairie humour and practicality.

My first weeks in the city, typical hot and sunny July days, were spectacular.  People actually talked to each other on the bus. Drivers give each other “the wave”. On Mulvey Street kids drew on sidewalks and neighbouring families had garage sales together.  The places in Carol Shields’ fine novels The Republic of Love and Larry’s Party suddenly came alive. Grosvenor, Ash.  I could actually walk along them!  Notices everywhere for the cleverly named “Dr. Hook Towing”. Stop signs that had the words “Hammer Time” spraypainted beneath “stop”. Everywhere I looked, something quaint, something wonderful. I also smelled malathion for the first time and learned that the mosquitoes are every bit as bad as “they” say they are. In spite of this, I felt as though I knew something the rest of Canada didn’t, some well-kept secret, a treasure trove of city life.

That summer, the Free Press ran a series called “Winnipeg from A-Z”, and it was a great introduction to the city.  One of my favourite lettters was James Turner’s piece, “V is for Vertical Height (or Lack Thereof)“, which theorizes about the reason for Winnipeg’s inferiority complex.

I went to Staples and bought a bookcase. They delivered it – free! – the next day. I was stunned. I’d heard Manitobans were cheap, but free delivery for an $80 bookcase was something I’d never encountered.

I learned that here, little desserts are called dainties. I found about socials and presentation and found them simultaneously fascinating and repellent. I heard about spongee and marvelled at a sport only known to this city.  Laughed at the word “yurt” – I’d never heard it before. Got laughed at when I used the phrase “gym strip” (guess it’s an Alberta thing?).  And secretly thought it was a bit trashy that what I’d call a duplex, Manitobans call a “side by side”.  I relished each of these linguistic discoveries, mundane as they are.

But also:

I’ve learned that people do just as many stupid things here as they do everywhere else. People are ignorant, racist, selfish. For every friendly Manitoban there is an arrogant jerk. (A lot of them hang out on the Freep website, leaving comments to prove they exist.)

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Manitoba doesn’t have a container deposit system – it’s ridiculous. I’m perplexed as to why the city is building a rapid transit bus line and not something more efficient, and well, major city-esque. I am appalled that Manitoba has one of the worst child poverty rates, and the second highest rate of child food bank users in Canada with 51% of food bank recipients being children. For every boast-worthy quality Manitoba has, it has another that’s strange or worse, shameful.

Ultimately, the city doesn’t seem that new or novel or exciting to me as it once did. A lot of the time, it just feels like the city I live in – nothing more and nothing less. Those rosy first impressions have become nostalgia – things I remember vividly but seem out of reach.

I’ve learned that no matter what city you’re in, you have to make the most of it – great things won’t just happen to you by osmosis. Truth be told, since the day I moved, there have been lots of days that I didn’t love Winnipeg as much as I thought I did. The longer I am away, the more I appreciate my hometown of Lethbridge. And I do miss a lot of things about my 20s stomping grounds of Vancouver.

There are still aspects and areas of Winnipeg and beyond the Perimeter that I have yet to explore. As I settle into a new life stage – I’m not a freewheeling single anymore! I have commitments and responsibilities! – I will come to know the city in different ways, and I look forward to seeing what they are.

I expect that I will become more philosophical on topics like community, parenthood, and public education – things that will probably start to play more of a role in my life than honey dill sauce, block heater cords, and ten-digit dialing. (Besides, I have been converted to the Church of Honey Dill Sauce, and I’m not ashamed to say it.) Will those meatier topics fit into this blog? There are times when I would love to share a recipe or a beautiful photo of my son but I don’t, because they are not relevant. Maybe all I need to do is change its tagline and release myself from the confines of “moving to Winnipeg” – I’m really not sure.

Writing Winnipeg O’ My Heart has been a wonderful experience, and I regret that I haven’t been able to devote more thought and time to it since the initial posting frenzy of its first year. This isn’t a blog about moving to Winnipeg anymore. It’s something else, and I’m not sure what. I no longer have the same level of civic pride (some called it boosterism, even) that I had three years ago, when I also shared the writing and idea load with two friends. It’s been a little lonely here since, even with the ever-increasing number of fantastic Winnipeg blogs out there, providing constant inspiration. At times, I’ve  found myself wondering whether I’m really contributing anything to that community, or  just trying to fatten thin ideas up just so I have something to blog about. Or worse, thinking, “If I could figure out how to make some money off the blog, I would write on it more often.” Not a great approach. It’s strange how having a blog gives you this weird sense of obligation when really, unless you’re being paid to blog, there’s no reason you should feel obliged.

This isn’t a farewell post, maybe just a way to explain where I’m at with Winnipeg and with this blog. Maybe I’m also giving myself permission to not worry about blogging more often. If you have thoughts on what direction to take this blog, topics you’d like to see written about, or thoughts in general about blogging malaise, I’m all ears and would love to hear from you 🙂

23 Responses to “The Bloom Is Off The Rose”

  1. Bryan Scott says:

    It’s only at this in point in time that I can truly say to you: Welcome to Winnipeg.

  2. Courtney says:

    As you know, I’ve had my own love/hate relationship with blogging and it’s taken me a long time (I joined Blogger in 2002!) to just accept my blog for what it is. Small. But, I write when I want, about what I want and I’ve stopped stressing about whether people are reading. As long as I enjoyed writing the post and it didn’t feel like a chore, it was a success in my book.

    You have a little following here that I’m sure would hate to see you stop writing about their fair city. As for me, I will follow you no matter where to decide to write. It doesn’t matter that I don’t live in Winnipeg – your blog is just another way for me to stay close to a friend and I just plain love to read your writing.

    I hope you can find a balancing point and do what works best for you!

  3. Laurel says:

    I’d love to see you keep writing, too, but write what you want to write. The blog was started as a means to explore and experience a new city — as well as answer the ‘Why Winnipeg?’ question that people seem obliged to ask when you tell them that’s where you’re moving. I think you’re managed to answer that question many many times, and yes, Winnipeg isn’t for everyone (myself included), but not every city or town is — thankfully, this country is huge! 🙂

    Just keep writing about what you want to write about, when you want to write about. Courtney’s not the only one who will keep reading 😉

  4. Emma says:

    @Bryan – And it only took me 3 1/2 years 🙂 I guess I’m finally starting to get it!
    @Courtney – Thanks for the empathy and kind words. I love your blog too, it all its eclecticness!
    @Laurel – Go Canada! Thanks for kicking off this great blogging endeavour with me! Now, when is CV Deer going live?

  5. Lyn says:

    I’ve enjoyed your posts very much. I moved to Winnipeg from the Toronto area 20 years ago and still love it here. I didn’t at first–I went through an initial honeymoon period followed by a schlump before my thoughts and emotions settled. I like to visit Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal but hate the traffic and the cold people; I always find myself longing for friendly Manitoba with its easy roads and happy folk. Yes, we have our fair share of racist idiots, but so does everyone else. I’ve never heard of a container deposit system, but I’m sure if you contacted Manitoba Climate Change they’d be thrilled to get something started with your idea. Please keep posting, and I’ll keep reading.

  6. James Turner says:

    First off, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    That ‘vertical height’ story was written at time in the city where we just had our first death linked to a police-fired Taser, and just before Vince Li slaughtered Tim McLean Jr. on the Greyhound.

    Oh yeah, and another guy was shot and killed by police around then too. Claudette Osborne had just gone missing, as well, if memory serves.

    What you’re coming to notice about Winnipeg is only natural after prolonged exposure, I fear.

    I commend you for noting the deplorable child poverty rate and food bank use.

    Is there any wonder we’re the crime capital? Not with stats like that.

    Buck up!

    James Turner

  7. Bye says:

    Took me 20 yrs to get sick oF the place

    Another 2 and you will never leave.beware.

  8. Emma says:

    @Lyn – Thanks for your comment. Deep down I know a lot of what I’m feeling must be sort of universal, but it’s nice to hear others have felt the same way 🙂
    @James – That was a crazy summer – the Greyhound incident happened during my first few weeks and I can still see the newspaper covers in my mind. The solutions to many of our problems seem so clear but I’m sure are complex beyond belief. We have to start somewhere though!
    @Bye – Heh. That’s a risk I’m willing to take 🙂

  9. Kateryn says:

    So your blog is transitioning from “moving to Winnipeg” to “living in Winnipeg”. That’s just as interesting! And life is a rather wide topic… Write about what you want. 🙂

  10. Riverman says:

    Keep in mind that the longer you stay in Winnipeg the more difficult it will be to move back to Vancouver. The disparity in housing prices ain’t going down!

  11. Sheri says:

    Thank you for this incredibly honest and beautiful post. This blog was one of the reasons I came around to moving to Manitoba. I thought, hey, another person did it, so I can I!

    But whether or not this blog becomes about something else, or stays about Winnipeg, I will continue to follow it, as another commenter said! Do what you want. We’ll stick around!

  12. Emma says:

    @Kateryn – Thanks so much! We need to get together one of these days 🙂
    @Riverman – Even if I wanted to move back to Vancouver, I don’t think I could – like you say, housing prices are nuts!
    @Sheri – Wow, I am touched! That’s so cool. I’ve loved reading about your adventures in Brandon… keep up the great work 🙂

  13. I love reading your blog. I would even say it is my favourite Manitoba blog. I view your blog as a mentor blog to mine, someone who encourages me and challenges me to describe my experiences and thoughts as nicely as you do.

    I wouldn’t worry about your blog. Write about what you want. It doesn’t have to be about moving to Winnipeg. It can be about anything you are experiencing, attractions, things that annoy you, things that are personal, etc. It is your blog and you are completely in control. You can make it whatever you want, or choose to give it up. Don’t limit yourself. I think it is a natural progression of a good blog to ebb and flow with the changes.

    All the best Emma, try not to think about it too much. If the writing bug hits you again, your blog readers will be here to support you, whatever the topic is.

    I recently saw this quote on Pinterst and it might bring you some insight:

    “You are a writer, you are a writer. You don’t write because you receive encouragement from friends or family. You don’t write because you are good at it or because it can provide fame and fortune. You write because you have something to say, and because you don’t know how else to say it. You write to release the stresses and anxieties of your life. You write to allow your characters a chance to breathe, to share stories, to confess secrets. You write because you cannot help doing otherwise. Words are everything. They provide you with a medium with which to convey your perception of the world.” taken from http://www.teachingliteracy.tumblr.com

  14. Yer Pal says:

    So you followed your heart to Winnipeg. I was under the impression that you had heard good things about The Peg & chose to move. You just followed your love interest. You could’ve wound up anywhere & been content to be with your hubby. Welcome to Anywhere! – Have you ever heard the old country song “That’s How I Got To Memphis”? Look it up, the lyrics describe you.
    Thanks for not posting recipes & baby photos. Keep up the good writing.

  15. Ann says:

    I’ve so appreciated your blog for helping me get to know the city – in different ways than I can necessarily do as a parent with three young kids. As a Vancouverite settling in Winnipeg, I’ve been sampling various dainties at your recommendation as well as learning fun odd facts about life here. But at the same time, I can totally see why the change for you over time – as you’ve settled, as you’ve become a parent, as you’ve seen/experienced more of what’s not so great about here. I agree with other readers, that you should write about whatever you want. I think we’re all ears, enjoying whatever topic twist you make, comparison offered or interesting discovery you’ve made. And even if you are trying to fatten up a thin topic or aren’t offering anything new to Winnipeg’s blog world, you have your own audience that is perhaps broader than followers of other blogs might be. I don’t mind a re-hash (chances are, its not a rehash to me). Perhaps you can start a ‘Parenthood O’ My Heart’ kind of blog so you can post those picture of your son that you long to, but only inviting those you’d like to share in that more personal blog to protect your privacy a bit.

    Blogging can be such a fun way to express one’s ideas and experiences, sharing life in a strange way with others. Do whatever you need to do to make it enjoyable for you once again, even if that involves a sabbatical or a new start. Or both? All the best as you figure out what’s best for you.

  16. Emma says:

    @Littlegraybird – Thanks, that is so kind of you… I’m touched! I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog as well 🙂 I love that there is a little virtual community of us folks who chose Manitoba and write about it. And I love that quote – thank you for sharing it… I’m thinking I might print it and put it up on my wall!
    @YerPal – I did follow my heart to Winnipeg – but only once I was here did all the pieces (love, etc.) fall into place. It was a good move! Funny you should mention that song – I thought Kelly Willis had written it, and then just the other day I heard an older version. A good song 🙂
    @Ann – Thanks for the commiseration and encouragement. I really appreciate your feedback! I like the suggestion of making a separate blog… maybe like Young House Love’s side venture, Young House Life. We’ll see! Thanks again 🙂

  17. cherenkov says:

    I’ve been through a bit of an identity crisis with my blog, and thought about splitting it into two: an issues blog where I hope to be taken seriously and a blog for everything else .. the goofier things. Ultimately I didn’t do it because it would’ve been more work, and I never want my blog to be a job. I created it primarily as a past time, for personal amusement, and I want it to stay like that. Some of my readers might wonder why I post about Bipole III one day and ground beef packaging the next, but I really don’t care. It’s less stressful that way. So my advice to you, like others have said, is to write about what ever you feel like writing about. Don’t be afraid to criticize Winnipeg if you want to, but don’t feel that you have to cover certain things either. I think that’s the way to keep it interesting and enjoyable.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  18. Emma says:

    @Cherenkov – That’s funny, I’d never really thought about whether other Winnipeg bloggers were staying “on message” 100% of the time – and it’s definitely those random topics that make for such good reading! Thanks for your advice and feedback – and keep up the great writing!

  19. I agree, write whatever suits you best. Sometimes I also feel a self imposed burden to keep my blog topics Winnipeg or more specifically North End related. I think getting to see a little more of the person behind the blog in “off-topic” posts helps readers understand the views behind the “on-topic” ones. Part of the beauty of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the world for that matter is how diverse the people that help to make it up are.

    I’ve also enjoyed seeing you turn into a Winnipegger 🙂

  20. Joanna says:

    Emma, your fine, thoughtful writing is always a pleasure to read, wherever this takes you.

  21. Sherry says:

    Please continue your blog; I find it fascinating. I grew up in Winnipeg, and now live in Maple Ridge (near Vancouver), and guess what! We are planning on moving to Winnipeg!

    I’ve lived all over Canada, and I thought that I would love the lower mainland….I had a romantic inner vision of walks on the beach…Granville Island…ocean breezes…all that good stuff. In fact however, in order to afford living here, we have to be at least an hour away from the city, and when we do (rarely) go to Vancouver, it’s a nightmare of hideous traffic, no parking, and ridiculous prices. Public transit from our area is a gruesome joke.

    So as soon as my hubby changes jobs successfully, we’re Winnipeg-bound. (I’m an artist, so I can work anywhere, go me!) My mom keeps warning me that houses in Winnipeg are getting SO expensive, but I can only chuckle gently and shake my head….we’ll probably be able to pay cash for a house in Winnipeg after selling our overpriced pile of soulless ‘housing material’ here in Maple Ridge.

    So please, blog on. When I finally get to the ‘Peg, I’m going to become a blogging person again too.

  22. […] “I love Winnipeg”. I laughed and we talked about that for a bit. I told him that I don’t think I love it as much as I used to, but that’s probably just because the novelty has worn off a bit. I remember when I moved […]

  23. […] When we started this blog, some people ribbed us about our Pollyanna positivity (read: ability to see anything good about Winnipeg). It took a few years, but I did start to harden (see The Bloom is Off the Rose). […]

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