Bear with me

March 9th, 2018 by Emma Durand-Wood

Warning: stream of consciousness ahead. I will eventually get to something related to a point.

For what feels like many years, I kept a LiveJournal. One of the original blogging social networks, I guess. I started it in college and wrote there regularly solidly for four years before moving on to my first “real” blog, where I wrote about library stuff. It was a regular part of my life, the place where I vented about coursework and Calgary and then about work life and Vancouver. I wrote about music I was discovering and loving, exposed my laziest tendencies and poor money management, waxed nostalgic (36-year old me finds it hilarious that a 23-year old could have much to wax nostalgic about, but there you go), and of course participated in those old list-format memes and posted web comics that I thought were hilarious.

In retrospect it seems like it was a simpler, easier time to be participating online. My LiveJournal friends were a mishmash of people I knew in real life, people I had “met” previously online (I was an avid Tripod-er… heh heh), and random people I connected with on LiveJournal. As far as I can remember, I felt pretty safe to just write honestly and openly. I don’t remember a lot of what I can only describe as negative “sub-tweet”-type posts. (Although looking back at some points, I notice the conspicuous absence of/careful curation of commentary related to particular boyfriends who I knew or suspected would be reading. Too bad about that.) And it was before the early days of Facebook where I’d find myself at parties where all the conversation revolved around Facebook drama that I, as a non-adopter, was not privy to.

It was just me and a blank text input box, a field for noting what music I was listening to, ten o’clock at night, and a quiet house with a roommate the next room over on her computer. If there was a sinkful of dirty dishes, it didn’t particularly threaten the next morning’s routines like it would now during my present day breakfast-and-making-school-lunch frenzy. (OK, back then I rarely ate breakfast at home, or packed a lunch. Dirty dishes were nothing more than an eyesore.) There was abundant space in life, in all senses of the word, to write every night.

When I go back and re-read my old entries, I feel simultaneously comforted and saddened. I’m always taken a bit aback at how it still sounds completely like me, like something I could have written right now. When I feel adrift in a sea of uncertain identity (which is basically always), this feeling is comforting. Oh, I’m still exactly the same person I was. Just the circumstances of life have changed. But it also makes me feel a little sad and I can never really determine why. Maybe just the passing of time. The feeling of not really appreciating that time of my life when I was living it. But I was pretty happy then. I think I knew full well that life was great and carefree and freedom was mine, and I savoured it.

These days, deep in the trenches of family life with young kids, the on-and-on-ness of parenting (and the apparent impossibility of having a complete and uninterrupted adult conversation, and the feeling like there is never enough time or energy left for other important relationships, and the eternal quest to keep my house at a remotely passable level of tidyness, and man…these people need to eat again? etc.) often have me feeling discouraged, or bored stiff, or like, Whose life is this that I’m living? And how is this box of wine empty again? And sometimes I find myself thinking, Exactly what I need to do right now is write.

Yet I don’t. Because I’m not sure where to write. I am infinitely more comfortable typing than handwriting these days, but to just keep a Word document journal seems strange and oddly unsatisfying. But the stuff I want to write about isn’t always fitting for this blog, or even for a public audience. But I’m guessing a part of me inexplicably wants this public element. Maybe it just comes down to wanting to feel like someone is listening and hearing me. Oral communication is not and has never been my strength; I’ve always been a million times better at writing out ideas and feelings than talking about them.

There are so many big picture things I feel compelled to write about and truly have been meaning to write about. Some of them — many of them, even — are actually Winnipeg-related.

I would love to write about the enlightening experience I’ve had for the better part of three years serving on the WRHA River East-Transcona Local Health Involvement Group. I would love to write about how powerful it was to be part of a group of citizens who managed to keep a pawn shop out of our neighbourhood. And about subsequently helping to re-establish a neighbourhood association, and the wonderful people I’ve met and the cool things I’ve been a part of because of that. As my driving-lite life becomes more normal to me, I feel myself becoming so much more concerned with and passionate about cities being built (or more to the point, not being built) for people.

My husband and I have these long conversations/rants (perhaps the marital version of the “angry browser rants” I used to have with my dear friend/former co-blogger Laurel?) that reflect our earnest attempts at understanding urban planning issues — speed limits, zoning, winter sidewalk conditions, parking and transit rates, etc. We cry as we read about about people being killed by cars in our city, at crosswalks where they should be safe, and despair at how these incidents never lead to effective, human-oriented, and evidence-based action.

I head to Twitter and find comfort and inspiration in the bubble of progressive ideas from planners, architects, and advocates who value density, diversity, human and environmental health. I retweet all the great ideas I see back into what I assume is essentially an echo chamber of people who feel the same way. In this endeavour — building healthier, happier cities — I doubt anything I say or share has any effect on changing other people’s ideas or perspectives. Which makes me think, why bother spending more time really writing about any of it here?

But I don’t know. Maybe I should. My regard for our city has been seriously lowered since those fun and lighthearted first days of co-blogging about meat shoulder, spongee, honey dill sauce, and the term “dainties”. And while I feel connected to, proud of, and rooted in my neighbourhood, I definitely feel more uneasy, uncomfortable, and upset with other aspects of our civic culture, the broader issues that affect us as a whole city.

As I look back at nine years of blogging here (holy Toledo, this July will be my 10-year Pegiversary), of course, my views have changed. I still think all those quirky/mostly inconsequential things are fun and funny and worth celebrating.  Throughout this blog’s “Peak Winnipeg” phase we had our share of negative comments. People who “were born here, what’s your excuse?”. People who were sure that given enough time we’d come to hate this awful, POS city too.  But I get the feeling that the things I don’t like about Winnipeg are not necessarily the same things those comment trolls had a problem with.

If I had to guess I’d say those trolls are the same people who think a photo radar ticket is an unconstitutional money grab because breaking the law doesn’t count if it’s not a human who catches you. Or who think Sobey’s is obviously trying to rip you off because haven’t you noticed how much cheaper Walmart’s prices are? You know the type of people I mean. The ones who look for any opportunity to exercise their entitlement and (maybe worst of all?) don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.  People who would be miserable no matter where they lived. (I just realized my last post was heavy on “people who” ranting too. Sheesh.)

I feel a swell of hope and positivity discovering and participating in “let’s not just complain, let’s do something about it” initiatives like On the Docks and the Plain Bicycle Project. I send letters here and there to my elected officials (but probably not as many as I could or should) about things I care about. I try my best to show our kids, by example, how to be a good citizen and a good neighbour. But I know it’s not enough. Some problems with our city can’t be changed without significant effort. And this is where I struggle to know what I can even do. What really makes a difference? What are the catalysts for the massive change and progress I dream of seeing in Winnipeg? Do any of them even stand a chance? Can a blog post written by an armchair urbanist event begin to make a dent?

Heavy thoughts for a Friday night.

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