Each place I live in lends me a small piece of its personality. In Vancouver, I feel whole. I’m energized by the motion in the narrow streets and balanced by the forest and the ocean breeze. In New York, I am dynamite. There, I cram as many steps, jaywalked streets, and subway rides as I can into my 24-hour backpack.

In Calgary, I am relaxed. Perhaps, too relaxed for my own good.

Each time I’m back, I have fever dream days. Days that are infinitely stretching prairies in summer’s languid heat, even in the dead of winter with enough snow for a mouse-sized ski resort piled outside your door. Days that are sitting in traffic with your head buzzing from a chinook migraine, a buzz that harmonizes with the coughing hum of the vehicular choir around you. Days that are tumbleweeds rolling across the field.

Bittersweetness melts into me when I realize the gaps after time away: closures of once-familiar mom and pop shops, the donating of floppy-eared stuffed animals and shirts from another lifetime, the scrapping of the old family Honda. In their departure, I see my growth.

Each time I look into the mirror at home, I see my younger self again. Always anxious about the wrong things. Too preoccupied by delineating rights from wrongs, and truth-seeking in barren places. When you’re young it’s like that –- gnawing at the bones of your life experience and trying to make the most of your skeletal identity. (I say that like a jaded old lady – I’m still young and it’s still like that.)

Home is both comforting and stifling. Don’t get me wrong – I love to spend time with my family. I simultaneously dislike being in Calgary because I fear that I’ll settle into old grooves again. As though I’m wrestling with my past selves in my childhood bedroom, affirming to myself:  “look, I’m different now”. These four walls both constrain me and remind me of how much I’ve grown.  Same place, different person. I don’t want to run from the past, but how can I reconcile her with who I am now?


Home. When I say it, I think of family, familiarity, and comfort. But home doesn’t need to be where you grew up. I look around my house in Vancouver and see home’s ingredients in the garden gnome neighbourhood, the (successfully raised) basil plant, and the upright piano collecting dust in the living room. 

I realize then, that home is not necessarily a physical location. It is a feeling of familiarity and depth. Even when I’m thousands of kilometres away, I can find it.

I’m averse to familiarity because I fear complacency and settling, but familiarity can coexist with stepping outside of your comfort zone too. Perhaps some degree of familiarity is required to feel safe enough to step outside of your comfort zone.

I used to dream about leaving my hometown and rebranding myself in a new city where I had no ties, no pre-conceived identities, and pleasantries to maintain. It’s true that living somewhere new gives you a fresh slate to explore and learn more about yourself. I think back to afternoons aimlessly exploring the streets and that night crossing the Brookyln Bridge on my own, Taylor Swift’s “Enchanted” blasting through my earphones.

Yet, I find that I can still grow through familiarity. Familiarity is to navigate your own streets well. It’s the ease at which you can glide through your inner neighbourhoods, knowing the aroma of your favourite coffee shops and saying hi to the shopkeeper along the way. Familiarity encodes you with the inner map: you are a local that knows old haunts and can navigate new ones with ease. Familiarity yields depth. Depth yields understanding.


If my life is a home, then the people in mine leave trinkets with me. The way they talk is framed in the posters on my wall; the food they like, I’ll keep in my fridge; the music we like is spinning on the record player. I cherish these pieces when I’m cleaning and making space for new ones, dusting them off and turning them over. Mostly fondly, sometimes bittersweet.

With my high school friends, I feel like I’m transported into my childhood bedroom again. Boxed into those four walls, wrestling between preserving consistency with the version of me inside their heads or breaking those walls down. Some days, I feel like I’m seeking to prove to them that I’ve changed, that I’ve grown for the better. To prove it to myself, too.

With some people, I don’t grasp onto my key so tightly. The walls don’t exist. I want to learn about you and show you what’s important to me. This is my home as it is.


I think about the way the frame changes things. I’m framed in the pictures from family vacations, silly classroom photos, outings with people who have faded from my life. I’m framed by the people I sit with in lecture, zoom frames with colleagues, the friends I’m with at a restaurant.

People, like places, frame us. They lend us the colours we paint with and the brushes we use in order to architect a coherent scene. Our personalities are tinged with their vibrancy or muted by their sepia. We chameleon according to the frame, colouring within the lines.

With some people, it feels different. When I’m with you, I forget the frame exists. I say what I want and express how I feel. These are the colours which bleed straight from my heart’s tap onto the canvas, and I want to show them to you in all their richness.

If people are places, you feel like home.

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