I don’t belong here
There’s an ad campaign in the Toronto subways that promotes picking up litter. It shows a close-up of newspaper on a subway chair or a coffee cup on the ground. Above the displaced garbage it says “I don’t belong here.” For some reason, these ads spoke to me.
I wondered if the team who designed them thought about how the hundreds of thousands of people who move to this city, from elsewhere, might feel when they see it. Did the ad designers stop to think that it might make the newbies think about the life they left behind? The friends who might be missing them? The important jobs they might have held down that were well-respected? Their place in the world where they were valued as something special, before moving to this new city, only to transform into complete nobodies. I wondered if the ad designers though that this campaign centered around a discarded piece of trash, left alone, useless, in a city that’s constantly in motion, regardless of its place in it, might trigger feelings of hopelessness and disdain for those of us who had a hard time feeling like they belonged here.
Who knows? All I know is that that’s exactly how it made me feel.
I moved to Toronto in the fall with hopes of trying something new. I needed some perspective on my first love, Vancouver, and wanted to spend time with my family and close friends. It was a bit of wild ride but not enough to make me want to stay. Which is why, when was offered a part-time writing gig in Vancouver recently, I jumped at the chance to ditch Toronto, without much thought. I just felt like I didn’t belong there, despite it technically being my hometown. But all wasn’t a waste. Here are a few things I learned while being back.
TORONTO IS PRETTY GREAT, BUT IT’S NOT THE GREATEST
When I first moved out West when I was 18, I had a hard time not comparing everything to Toronto. Nothing measured up. But that’s because I didn’t know anything else. Eventually, the appeal of things like stupendous mountain views and lazy beaches by the Pacific Ocean grew strongly on me. I realize now, my initial attitude is not a unique attitude for the city. Toronto is really confident. And not terribly self-aware. It’s easy to think it’s the greatest place on earth because it really does have so much going on – strong communities, fun things happening all the time, Burger Priest. It’s hard to criticize Toronto to a Torontonian, whether you were born one or simply identify as one. However, once you fall in love elsewhere, it broadens the picture. Toronto’s is great, but there are other places that are equally as great too.
NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOU. REALLY.
Most people aren’t terribly interested about you in Toronto. Whether you’re applying for a gig or attending an art show, no one cares about you that much. Eye contact isn’t really a thing and if you’re out with a big group of people, next to no one will go out of their way to introduce themselves or chat you up. Unless you’re also someone who’s new to the city. I found when I went to the gym, the most chatty and friendly people were those who’d recently immigrated. Maybe they sensed we had something in common.
LEAVING SOMEWHERE GIVES YOU IT CONFIDENCE
While in Toronto, I did an improv class and started a writing group. Both were top-shelf experiences. The writing group had a few people who weren’t fans of my work and getting their feedback was the absolute best thing for my writing. I also rocked my improv class because most of the other students were nerdy IT guys whose bosses recommended they attend to help them with their social retardation. Being the best in a class is a really great feeling.
IT’S NOT UNCOOL TO LOVE YOUR FAMILY
While in Toronto, I spent a lot of time at my parents’ place. This is something I can’t really admit to ever doing since I was about 12, when I decided family was desperately uncool. I think in the past 10 years, I’ve spent maybe two months total with my family. They weren’t that much of a priority. While it was hard for me to be comfortable with the fact that I was staying with them (I never considered it living with them) longish-term, I eventually accepted it. I realized that having people feed you delicious food, gives you hugs regularly and teach you valuable, intelligent life lessons several times a day isn’t a bad thing. So I built a higher tolerance for my parents than most people have. The only thing is, I’ve forgotten how to take care of myself. But at least I found a place in this beautiful, complex city where I felt like I truly belonged.
Thought on Toronto, dear reader? Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Also, not sure how regularly I’m going to be updated this here beast now that I have a new gig, but I’ll do my best to keep in consistent.
Tags: Elianna Lev, feeling displaced, fitting in in Toronto, I don't belong here, I love Vancouver so much, I'm a Good Story, new life new love, staying with your parents long term, thoughts on Toronto, Toronto, TTC