By Tania Clarke
Reflections on feelings of isolation in Vancouver.
This morning I awoke to seeing fresh fallen snow (again) just when I was getting used to the idea of colourful bulbs poking out of the soil. It was beautiful, though...shimmering white tree branches and all. Seven hours later, you’d never even know it was here. Oh, nevermind, it’s started snowing again (seriously!) This weird winter weather has been dominating most conversations around town lately, and it’s easy to talk about the weather to pass the time, but there is a point this opening paragraph. I’m coming out of hibernation, and shaking off that thick layer of snow that I’ve been all cozy inside for the past few years.
I’ve lived in Vancouver for 30 years. It’s a beautiful location, surrounded by beautiful things and astounding natural places, with plenty of interesting people and things to do (albeit having to dig around a little to find them.) It’s easy to get attached to your “crew”, though, especially when there’s 28 days of rain and it becomes very appealing to chill at home with your closest friends, or just hit up your local pub as per usual. Once you find that comfortable space with a bunch of good friends and favourite places to go, in addition to being somewhat of an introvert, it’s difficult to be interested in branching out.
Over the years however, I’ve seen many friends and connections move away, stomping grounds close up shop, and decisions made by the City that eventually made it become known as the “no fun city”. There was a time when I just wanted to leave as well, but various circumstances made me decide to stay, despite a love/hate relationship with the place that developed during my mid-20s. I’d visited other cities with much more outwardly vibrant and connected creative communities, highly supported by their citizens and government, and it felt like Vancouver was decades behind.
After attempting to practice as a graphic designer, then visual artist and crafter over several years, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I’d met some good people, worked on great contracts, been part of wonderful shows, and even sold some stuff, but I had yet to find a solid support network, and the volume of emotional output was just too great to maintain, as I was essentially still at it alone. Eventually I resigned myself to paying the bills with my day jobs while I figured out what to do next. Thus began the hibernation.
Jump ahead a couple of years of working pay-cheque to pay-cheque, between escaping on vacations (not really a bad thing - I’ve been able to visit some amazing, inspiring places lately) and I start to feel the itch that my routines needs get shaken. My network had shrunken drastically and I was barely going out. I wasn’t even seeing my best friends much and it seemed increasingly difficult to nail down times to meet. Isolation was real, and I’d put myself there inadvertently.
Getting back “out there” first came in the form of yoga teacher training at Karma Teachers on West Hastings. My little world blew wide open. I was exposed to so many different ideas and beautiful humans and it felt amazing. Like any intensive experience though, you come out thinking you’ll all be the best of friends forever, but life slowly goes back to a normal pace and you find yourself only staying in touch with a select few. In time I could feel things slipping back into that isolating position I’d found myself in before. I was moving in the right direction, because Karma Teachers definitely has something special going on, and they are creating their own social revolution. It was just a stepping stone towards my path, however.
Groundswell seemed to appear a little by accident to me during a weekend afternoon of cruising the internet. Ever since graduating university, I’ve wanted to run my own business. Freelancing and solo work never quite cut it, though. I had the desire to make more of an impact, and create something that brought people together, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Last fall, I finally got myself out to a Groundswell info session. It was pretty clear after that evening that I had to apply to the Social Venture Program. The cafe exuded an immediate feeling of warmth, friendliness and inspirational energy. It had been a while since I hadn’t felt slightly intimidated or “not part of the club” while attending in a public event.
So, after receiving the good news that I’d been accepted to the program, here I am almost two months into Groundswell’s Social Venture Program, and I have been pushed out of hibernation. I am very grateful for what the Groundswell team has created. I’m feeling an increased sense of motivation, energy and community. I have already met or spoken with some great people and made potential connections. Sure, it’s possible I could have tried learning much of what they have been teaching us on my own, but I’ve spent enough time as the lone wolf. Joining this stellar pack is where the change is at.
all photographs by the author, Tania Clarke