Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Moving

It isn't news to anyone who knows me, but I haven't mentioned it on this site yet: Very soon, I will be moving from Sudbury, Ontario, to Hamilton, Ontario. This is not a product of long-term scheming but of a surprise opportunity decisively seized, so it all still feels somewhat unexpected. And even after it arose as a serious possibility, it went straight from a prolonged interlude of the likelihood-but-not-certainty that can be a feature of academic hiring processes, to a scramble to figure out the practicalities, and I have had little opportunity until now to pause, to breathe, to write. It seems fitting that I write something here, though, as the occasion for the founding of this blog way back in 2004, when blogging was young and social media had barely begun, was moving away from Hamilton and needing an outlet.

When I think of the time between moving away from Hamilton and moving back, it doesn't seem like eleven years. It was a blip in LA, a modest stretch in Sudbury, but a decade? No. And yet it was. And unless I peer closely, the very distinct colours that paint the very distinct phases of my time in Sudbury all blend into one.

The distance travelled has not been trivial, either – when I left Hamilton, I was newly donning the mantle of stay-at-home parent, and now he's a tween. When I left Hamilton, I had 50 oral history interviews in the can, not all of them yet transcribed, and no clear idea of how to use them, let alone the knowledge or skills to realize such a vision – I faced a process that seemed almost endless and unlikely to succeed, but now I have two books to my name, new projects that build on that work, and an accumulation of knowledge and capacity that feels like it opens many more possibilities for the future. When I left Hamilton, I was excited to be on a journey around relationship practices and sexuality, but my steps in the handful of years since its unexpected beginning had been few; now, I feel only a little less clueless and in some ways more wounded and closed, but even given the slowness and smallness of my steps, I have gained and travelled and experienced and learned a great deal. When I left Hamilton, I was already not terribly happy, but I was entering a multi-year stretch of being downright miserable, for some reasons causally related to moving and others just coincident, and while much that I wrestle with today is still influenced by that period, the period itself and its misery are long done. And when I first arrived in Sudbury, the city was for me an unwanted unknown, but now it is home – the site of community, the site of work, the site of learning, the site of struggle, the site of friendship.

At least until it was interrupted by the need to prepare to move, one element of my latest major writing project has involved figuring out ways to know and write about the world starting from moments of encounter and from the relationships which are built from such moments. This has meant a number of things. I have, for example, about two-thirds of a first chapter written which thinks through this approach to knowing the world. It...well, it may end up fizzling out and becoming a false start, but it may end up becoming a book. But I've also done a bunch of less formal writing, not written to be shared, that doesn't theorize about this way of knowing the world, it just sets out to write it beginning from moments of my own life. Mostly, this informal writing has started from moments of encounter and moves from there to gesture towards more fully realized relation that it does not attempt to wholly encompass, but earlier in the year – before there was any glimmer of the possibility of moving -- I decided, on a whim, to see how I could apply what I'd been developing to something more enduring. And rather than that first experiment being about a relationship with a person, I decided to see what I could do with my relationship to Sudbury.

The first and most obvious lesson from this brief and largely unsuccessful experiment was that it is very silly to think that you can apply the same sort of close reading you've been using to write about five-minute conversations to a full decade of residence without drastically changing your approach to account for scale. But beyond that, it was also interesting that a theme that quickly began to emerge, however inchoately, was the ways in which living in Sudbury has shaped how I think about the importance of place. This isn't surprising – the distinctiveness of everything from racial formation to political culture in Sudbury has always compelled my attention. Practically everyone I know whose sensibility has formed in more metropolitan contexts goes through a difficult adjustment on moving to Sudbury, and I was no exception (though I think I navigated it more successfully than some). And approaches to political organizing with their origins in big cities don't necessarily translate directly or easily to Sudbury. This has implications for those of us living here as we make decisions about how to engage in social change work locally, but also as we navigate being the local nodes in more dispersed activist networks anchored in spaces like Toronto, where there is mostly a resolute disinterest in how things actually work on the ground in smaller and more isolated centres, and often a refusal to even recognize the fact of place-based difference. And what makes it most interesting, I think, is that in the global scheme of things, Sudbury is actually not that different – by any measure, be it geographical or social or political – from Toronto, Hamilton, or small-town southern Ontario. So my time here has driven home the importance of the specificity of place precisely because, even given that proximity, I've seen it matter a lot in very concrete ways in my own life and in the lives of people around me – in ways that, I am increasingly convinced, folks in metropolitan contexts must learn to recognize and account for as they do political and intellectual work that cannot help but be the centre that those of us in more peripheral communities orbit around, not only so they can relate more responsibly to the rest of us but to improve the effectiveness of what they do close to home as well.

As for the (once and) future half of this transition – Hamilton – it is too soon to say much beyond a few impressions. My feelings about the move are a mix of sadness and excitement, but the net balance is towards the latter, in part because I still have people in Hamilton (even if I haven't actually had an opportunity yet to hang out with any of them, in my couple of hasty and stealthy forays into the city since this process has begun – sorry about that, but it'll happen! :) ). As well, though most of my core everyday and everyweek activities will remain the same initially – the radio show, the aforementioned writing project, and domestic/parenting responsibilities – I look forward to (slowly) reengaging with political community in the city, and to the greater opportunity for new professional, creative, and political direction that Hamilton holds for me over the longer term in comparison to Sudbury.


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