The Place To Plant Dreams In
Throwback to the spring when this photo was taken as part of a shoot for my website. To when I requested to my photographer, Neil, a confident urban theme to represent my city and hometown. It was cold outside. As always. I knew I was going places then but I still made my world much smaller than I needed to. I picked the smarter, safer options. I shied away from taking risks, and as the days got longer and melted a very difficult winter down into a naive, hopeful spring, I continued to fold myself up into tiny, predictable boxes, albeit with better intentions. The truth is, safe and predictable have never worked for me. They work against my nature, which in turn make me work against myself. I tried to convince myself that this little city was made of the same rich, fertile soil to plant dreams in that it was for my parents thirty years ago and for my friends now pushing thirty years old. But it isn't. Not for me.
Before I left on this trip, I said to myself, "Hey, I wanna start a business," and I stayed up late drinking coffee and creeping the IG profiles of the local entrepreneurs I idolized. I did this for about a week and I thought I was going insane. Ideas flowed out of me freely like I had just tapped my own secret hot spring of creativity, running through my veins for the last 25 years. They were good ideas, too, and when I told my mom (who happens to be a very successful entrepreneur herself), followed by a few close friends about my plan, I was met with encouraging pushes of "you need to do this NOW." But I couldn't be in two places at once. Something about this adventure was calling my name over and over, louder than the pull of entrepreneurship, even though I was reluctant to follow through. I started to worry long before my flight to Amsterdam that I was making a mistake. Travel is the new trend in therapy. It's glorified on social media, and a staple of every millennial's glamorized public life. I worried I wouldn't find what I was looking for. That I wouldn't change. Wouldn't feel things. And that instead, I'd come home all the more willing to remain one of the unlabeled pack, making an even more permanent home in Calgary for the next 25 years, because I would be afraid. I would start that business and it would prosper. Ah, I would have it all: a born-and-raised Calgarian, reaping the benefits of living in this perfect city without selling her soul to oil and gas. A success story - the Calgarian millennial's dream come true - to grow up to be an affluent hipster well-respected in the community for "giving back" but publicly indulgent in an overpriced lifestyle, steadily over-tipped for terrible service, delivering empty silver platters to the masses by the hour. I had become quite comfortable with my fear as it was. Fear of failure. Fear of financial instability. Fear of the just-in-case I wouldn’t actually be happy. My vision for this business was promising, but I simply repurposed the ambitions of others into a master plan for the new-school success model I was being fed. And there really isn't anything new about this success at all, the kind that my high school friends and their college friends all strive for in my city. They all still want the same things: the money and the cars, the cars and the clothes. Only now, the car is a car2go membership and the clothes are made of local, fair-trade cotton. The marry-up, Mount Royal housewife fantasy is now replaced with the independent woman with a dog and a condo in the East Village. The only difference between my generation of Calgarians and the one before it is that we want to make our money in an 'ethical' way. But I wonder now what is ethical about paying $7 for a latte and being expected to tip at least 20% to a 19 year-old, clad-in-plaid barista who was staring at her phone for the length of your exchange. I wonder what is good and honest about being part of a generation that wholeheartedly believes in it's entitlement to top recognition, simply for showing up. "I suppose... I just wanna be, I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful." This is success? This is what you get, as a young, promising creative whose home base is the entrepreneurial capital of Canada? If this is what I get to be a part of, I don't want it. It's that simple.
I could have had all of those things. I truly believed, with every ounce of my being, that I, too, wanted those things. But the world is so big, and Calgary's materialistic, corporate-motivated culture is just one tiny pocket of a huge, colourful mosaic. After the things I've already seen, no longer can I continue to make my world small. Not out of fear. Not out of safety. Because in choosing that fear, I did fail. I failed by default, because I didn't try the way I really wanted to. I wanted to study abroad. But before that, I wanted to get a working holiday visa and move across the world just because. I saw my friends do it. My ex-boyfriend did it, and he moved to New Zealand and left me and our half-built Calgarian life together behind. He’s happier for it now, and so am I. Ultimately, it's never been about success or what people think it looks like for me. It never has been. My aspiration in life has always been far simpler than to be wealthy, well-liked, or well-travelled. All I've ever wanted is to be free.
I live to be the hero in my own fairytale, as well as nobody at all, lost in crowds of strangers whom I'll never meet. I lose my breath in the magnificence of skylines so huge they don't fit my camera lens, my eyes wide like a child, spinning round and round and I still can't catch the beauty of it all, because it’s everywhere you look. I fall in love with port cities because they make me feel like I've finally been found. I love the calm of docked boats, the music of seagulls flying overhead at sunrise, and the humid air that doesn't dry out my skin. I can spend hours in gardens, examining different leaf shapes, petal colours, and squealing as I dance through fields of pineapples, not caring how spiky the plants can be. And I learned how much I love the water. All water. Beaches, waterfalls, and the careless bliss of floating over a wide canal. Something in that water makes me brand new again, even if I never consume it, and seeing it excites me to live another day. I've learned on this trip that I grew up in the wrong place, to the wrong parents. I am a born and raised Calgarian. But I never should have been.
I know that I'm lucky. I know that the truth behind the things I'm saying are luxuries beyond comprehension. (Trust me - I'm more mindful of this now than ever before.) But I also know that I can no longer deny any element of my truth. I'm aware of my truth, and I know which stories I need to tell. There is a temptation to change for others now, the way I always had to. Now, I have new people in my life who will never leave my side, who love me, and whom I also want to see happy and well. There is a temptation to sugarcoat my secrets with them. To tell only the happy stories. But I will not. I own everything that ever happened to me, and I have to tell the truth. More than any person or distraction ever will, it is the truth that will set me free. It starts with living an honest life, which might seem extravagant, but it's actually very simple. My honest life reminds me that I'm alive. It takes place somewhere that keeps me grateful, hopeful, and inspired. It exists where I'm connected to people who deeply understand me as a person, if not my motivations. It happens when I'm regularly challenged in ways that are constructive to my personal development, and I’m surrounded with available opportunities that are relevant to my intended trajectory. Then, the words will come. But the feelings have to come first.
I am still a millennial hipster. I am still adamant on living my truth and refusing to sell my soul for what I don't believe in. I want the things I consume to come from a good place. I want people to remember my good work. I might have been born in the wrong climate, to the wrong parents, but what has worked completely in my favour is the timing of my life. April 19, 1991 was a perfect day to be born at Rockyview Hospital, because I came of age in a time when it's never been easier to bring your ideas to permanence and mass exposure. This world today - with all of its uncertainty and ugliness that shows in politics and fear - is kind. It is sensitive and empathetic. This is the world that wants to give loudspeakers to the voiceless, and it WILL pay attention, even if just for today. I’m proud of my generation for what it feels and how fiercely it defends its right to a full range of emotion. We do fold ourselves up sometimes, but always with the best of intentions.
So a millennial hipster I was made, as such, I will be. That photo was taken on Scotsman's Hill at sunset, and it was cold outside. As always. It arrived in my inbox a few weeks later, before my birthday, along with 40 other stunning prints. I got what I ordered. Beautiful photos for my website that represent my city and hometown. And, I'm lucky. My hometown is one of 1.3 million, not 200, not 16. My hometown is a great place to start a family, or to sustain a career. My hometown was built on the rich, fertile soil that so many people can plant their dreams in, and that soil continues to bear delicious fruit for those who have made Calgary their home. But I am more than where I come from. I am more than my city. Those photos capture a glistening sunset skyline that doesn't quite fit in the camera lens, but it isn't big enough for me. It never was. I can no longer feed myself the lie that if I plant my dreams in Calgarian soil, they will grow. I hate mountains. The tap water smells funny and it dries out my hair. (...don't even get me started on the transit system.) Far greater things lie ahead for me than I've ever been afraid to leave behind. That is my truth. And as the hipster I am, I am choosing to live it.
I did find what I was looking for - here, and everywhere I go. Calgary, you'll always be my hometown, and your Scotman's Hill skyline will serve as the backdrop for many beautiful stories to be told. But mine ends here. I can't stay. The world is waiting for me to make my new home, and I will go.
(Readers: if you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it, read the unofficial part 2 here.)