What Toronto gave me

In May of 2005, my then girlfriend (now wife) and I made the difficult decision to leave our home base of Montreal and move to Toronto for opportunity, for a welcome change, for a new start.

For myself, as much as I loved Montreal, I wanted to get out of it; I had lived there my whole life, lived under the thumb of family and felt like I knew the ins and outs of the city almost too much.  The entire thing became too familiar and annoying that had I stayed I probably would have been metaphorically trapped.

So, we left  – and much to our parents’ surprise – we left without a job plan, without a living plan…without any plan.  We crashed on my sister’s hide-a-bed by night, and by day we hit the pavement with resumes and wandered all over the city, looking for places that would take us in.

A month into coming here, we found work and we set up shop.  We got married, we had a baby. We built our relationship and our careers, thanks to  Toronto.

And now I find myself pumped because in a little over a week, we are moving back home.

If you had told me 7 years ago, that I would be moving back to Montreal I would have said you were crazy.  I thought I was done with the city. Truly.

What’s changed? Everything.  The pull to go home began when my daughter was born and every subsequent trip since has been heavier, more emotional….I may have become a pseudo-Torontonian but you can never kill the Montrealer in a person.  And with personal growth comes a new appreciation for the finer things.

That feeling that our lives in Toronto are ending have been on my mind these last few days.  Toronto has taught me so much about itself and about myself, and in turn I learned something about this city:

  1. You go anywhere in Canada (EXTREMELY prevalent in Montreal!), and people are so quick to hate Toronto.  Everyone hates Toronto (in fact there’s a great documentary called Let’s All Hate Toronto? Check it out.  It’s hilarious) as though you are just supposed to hate it.  But, what I found so amazing is that in Toronto, nobody hates the other provinces! Seriously! Do you know how many people have told me how much they loved Montreal?  I was expecting a mutual hate fest.  Yes, Toronto is a gargantuan city, yes there are great distances between cities, yes everything is BIG here and loud and there’s an undeniable pulse….but I have to say, there is still a charm.  Toronto isn’t full of itself – it’s the others who perceive this that seems to have it the truth.
  2. Don’t get me wrong, Toronto is a weird beast of a city.  I thought that coming from a metropolitan city like Montreal that I would be ready and comfortable to live in Toronto.  I was wrong.  Toronto and Montreal could not be more different.  I think it took me a good year and a half to be at ease with Toronto life.  The vastness and hustle/bustle are really eye opening, coming from a city that is more laid back and slower paced.
  3. I will miss seeing the Canadian flag patriotically waving all over on July 1st.  For seven years, I felt like I was part of Canada, rather than forced to be silenced about it.  I loved seeing red and white on everyone on that day – perhaps now I will go back to seeing it as Moving Day once more? 🙂
  4. You do have to give Toronto a fair shake before making a decision about it – visiting Toronto for a couple of days does not an estimation make.
  5. Would you believe that Toronto actually has made my French language skills stronger? It’s true.  I think I felt a little judged whenever I spoke French in Montreal when I was first there, but whenever I spoke it in Toronto you would think I was the second coming.  There’s a large Francophone education community in Ontario, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of them and also speaking at conferences.  So, I am coming home a hell of a lot more confident in my skills as a French speaker – and I have Toronto to thank for that.
  6. Toronto made me grow up – I needed to leave home, leave family, leave preconceived notions about religion, about who I was and what I believed in , in order to see what would stick on my identity wall in the end.  Toronto allowed me to become an active partner in my relationship with my wife – it’s where I became a husband and father.  It’s also allowed me to become unapologetic for who I am as a person.  I’m coming back stronger.
  7. Living here allowed me to nurture and strengthen my relationships with extended family and immediate ones too.  I learned more about them, and shared in many memorable moments that I will treasure.
  8. My career. I owe my career to Toronto. The city opened the door and I got to walk through and experience opportunities I had only dreamed about.  Thanks for loading up my CV!
  9. There’s fun stuff too – I loved playing the “Spot a celebrity” game every year during TIFF…some years were more starry (Danny Boyle running down Queen Street, Alicia Keys at the premiere of “Secret Life of Bees”, Ron Sexsmith getting a coffee at Starbucks, Gordon Pinsent crossing the street, Sarah Polley working AT MY WORK PLACE, getting invited to a record label party and seeing Steven Page, Sexsmith, and a slew of other independent Canadian acts perform) and some not so much (Look! There’s Ben Mulroney running across the street talking on his cell phone.)
  10. My five second chat with Sarah McLachlan.  Televised on MuchMoreMusic. Don’t need to say anymore. 🙂

I find myself really excited about moving back to Montreal.  I am looking forward to reconnecting with the city and friends.  When I left Montreal, I remember feeling that there was no other city that could replace it.  And I was right – Montreal remains a beautiful pulsing heart of a city that I am looking forward to embracing again, on different terms than when I left.  I will never regret leaving Montreal for Toronto, because Toronto allowed me to come back home.

Life gives your baggage, and it depends on how you carry it.  I will carry my Toronto bags proudly.

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Morissette discography

For my 36th birthday this year, I treated myself to a CD (something I very rarely do – either buying stuff specifically for myself, or CDs for that matter).  I often think about the albums that have been released either on or the week of my birthday:The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, A Rush Of Blood To The Head and Bitter are some that come to mind.

This year, Havoc and Bright Lights from dear Alanis Morissette was released my birthday week and it was my gift purchase.  Still haven’t listened to it in its entirety yet, but it made me think about the albums she’s released since Jagged Little Pill, an album that defined my generation, that defined her as an artist as well.  She’s definitely moved forward since that work and the lot of us who have pledged their loyalty and followed can see that.

Though Jagged will never be ignored or forgotten – here are the mini reviews of Alanis’s albums since:

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998) – the poor thing that had to follow a monstrous hit.  While Jagged‘s songs were very structured (verse, chorus verse, bridge, verse, chorus –  SING A LONG EVERYONE!), this one was uncontrollably verbose, unstructured and featured a whopping 18 songs! I remember at the time clamoring for new music from her  (hearing Uninvited the year before was such a tease!) that I would have accepted an entire album of her playing the spoons and yodeling if it meant hearing new music.  In retrospect, I do think it’s a good album still – it’s got some great standouts like Baba, Are You Still Mad (which is basically Uninvited’s distant cousin), Sympathetic Character and my fave Joining You. The album is all about dealing with fame, and kinda being afraid of it all.

MTV Unplugged (1999)  – Just when I thought most artists weren’t doing the whole “unplugged” thing anymore, Alanis goes ahead and releases one.  It’s good, and it also legitimized some songs that she had performed on the Jagged tour (No Pressure Over Cappuccino) It’s always nice to hear slowed down versions of the more rockier songs, especially a song like You Oughta Know.  You feel the sadness behind it more.

Under Rug Swept (2002) – This album totally should have done better than it did.  For the first time, Alanis produced and wrote the entire record on her own – and it’s got some really great songs like the main single Hands Clean and A Man, Surrendering, Narcissus.  The amazing Me’Shell N’DegeOcello plays bass on a few tracks. She also recorded so many songs for this album session that later in the year, she released….

Feast On Scraps (2002) –This EP actually shows how strong of a writer and producer she actually is.  I’m pretty sure nearly no one bought this EP, but it’s a fantastic small collection of songs and it features quite possibly one of my favorite Alanis songs ever (Sorry To Myself)

So Called Chaos (2004) – or as I like to call this album – “The I’m In Love With Ryan Reynolds” album.  The songs on this one are so patchy.  It’s the one album of hers I never listen to at all.  Eight Easy Steps and Out Is Through are good songs, but the whole thing is really meh.  (Makes me wonder whether Alanis needs to be angry and sad in order to write good stuff).  Unforgivable: she takes the singing riff from No Pressure Over Cappuccino and uses it for Excuses. No like that!

Jagged Little Pill Acoustic (2005)I was 18 when Jagged came out.  One of the things that I loved about it was the urgency in Alanis’s vocals – those songs seemed like she was bursting and needing to get those words out of her.  She sang as though her life depended on it.  On this acoustic album, her voice is in definite stronger shape, and the the arrangements on each song are inspired and nice.  There’s a Starbucks background music quality to the whole thing.  It’s all pretty enough though.  (Ironically, the album was only available at Starbucks for the first little while, which led to a big (but brief) boycott of her music in record stores…and I think this also caused a rift with her relationship with Maverick Records, and led to her leaving…)

Flavors of Entanglement (2008) – or as I like to call this album – “The I Broke Up With Ryan Reynolds” album.  THIS ALBUM IS THE BEST THING SHE HAS DONE! Seriously! And again, I don’t think a lot of people bothered.  The album is produced by Frou Frou frontman Guy Sigsworth and the production on it is amazing – lots of crazy beats and intricate arrangements.  This is a breakup album, and what is so interesting about it is that I think people thought it was going to be an album full of venom and scorn, when really it’s one of sadness and taking responsibility for some of the breakup too.

And here we are – all a little older and wiser.  Havoc and Bright Lights review on the way…