It’s funny: in 2018, I wrote this unstructured thinkpiece about little Dundas, Ontario, and now, five years later, I’m living there, here.
Outside my apartment window, the rain’s falling, the skies shifting through various tones of gray (I say “tones” because they’re not shades; this storm seems to be carrying subtle colours of blue and deep green as it moves over us).
The rain’s something of a relief on this first weekend of official spring. After a mild January, winter hit us with big (and late) snowfalls that were beautiful, but also stifling and disruptive to anyone needing to move around using roads and sidewalks (which is everyone).
The last of the big snow is melting away, though Lady Winter still has a few parting gifts for us in store, I’m sure, as she always does in this part of the world during this time of the year.
I’m taking a break from working on a short story that I intend to publish in an anthology this upcoming June. I’m hoping to sell 5,000 copies of it, not so much to get rich, but to stay current with my owings and other quotidian obligations, all of which have gotten more expensive in the last six months, with no ceiling in sight.
After I finish this little ranty thing, I’ll be heading out into the weather to the gym, 8 minutes away by car, to try to shed some weight from this pandemic bod that’s the heaviest it’s ever been in its 42 years of life.
This two-bedroom apartment rents for nearly two grand and has been my home for most of the pandemic. I’ve got a washer-dryer unit in my suite, an office that’s still cluttered with the last of my storage sorting, and a parking space outside for my car that gives me comfort on what’s otherwise a difficult part of town for street parking.
My dog Bella is comfortable here. We went out earlier this morning for her walk and she did her business in the icy pouring rain and then immediately turned around for the door to head back inside. She’s sleeping now on my bed down the hall.
Here, we’re close to trails and parks an all the interesting, undetectable-by-humans smells that dogs love. Bella’s got a few favourite spots that make no sense to me. I suspect she’s happy here.
My apartment neighbours are generally all right and we mind our business, so that sense of community is missing, but it’s good to know that in case of a true emergency, I am surrounded on all sides by people who can help.
With the way things are going in the world, it’s entirely possible that a day may come where community spontaneously appears in this building as we help each other to survive. Indeed, given the very modernist, polite indifference we feel to each other now, that might be the only way it appears.
In the meantime, it’s just a comfort knowing they’re there. After my deep yet traumatic winter at an isolated farmhouse in Flamborough in 2018, I’ve found my desire for solitude has limits.
There’s also the fact that, despite recently getting a great job with steady money and foregoing new freelance work that isn’t for a magazine or my own books, I don’t have enough for first and last month’s rent to afford most other places in this area.
Even if I were to save up, I think it’ll be a year before I can afford something else, and in that time, the price will likely have gone up again. In many ways, barring a lottery win, I am stuck here, so I may as well make the best of it.
I think, when I first wrote the Dundas reflection piece in 2018, I was feeling called to this place I had simply passed through for most of my time, but I didn’t recognize it as that calling. It would take another year, another visit for no particular reason, for me to find myself driving down Park Street and having this feeling come over me, like this is where I belonged, intense enough that I had to pull the car into one of the adjoining Green P lots and actually cry for a minute. Silly to reflect on now, but I think that kind of non-sense is what makes a calling different from an idea or a rationalization.
I’m here now, in the town that I want to die in (ideally of old age), waiting for something to happen.
When your formative years are spent with your girlfriend, that becomes your default setting, your calibration of “normal”. As such, any stretch of time that I’ve been single feels abnormal, like being away from home.
Between my big ex that I was with from high school to 29 years old, the one “complicated” that followed a couple of years after that, and my two formal girlfriends since then, I’ve actually spent more of my adult life in relationship than out of it, so this three-year stretch of being single, as beneficial as it’s been for finding my own center and power, has also been an oddity.
Part of that move to Dundas was rooted in this sense that I would find my next (and last) relationship here, a permanent feeling of “home”, but so far, that has not manifested. Due to its prestige and expense, the increasing gentrification, this tends to be a place where pre-existing couples with high dual incomes come to settle down and raise the kids, not singles who spend their whole monthly paychecks on rent and surviving.
Love and money are my two adulthood struggles, my twin dharmas, and I seem to keep waiting for a big break, some lottery win, to resolve both and usher in some new state of existence: a break that, frankly, will end this story and start a new one and which may never actually come.
Lowering expectations seems to be prudent for my emotional well-being, but still, my main focus is some level of happiness, if not fulfillment, in the process of treading water.
Happiness and fulfillment are actually two different things. I want to be useful in a meaningful way to my community, in exchange for what I need to thrive.
I’m no fool: if I win the Lotto Max or 6/49 (though I don’t buy enough tickets generally for that to be remotely possible), I’ll probably go a little buck wild for the first little while, but I’m fair certain I’ll settle back into my desires for rootedness and feeling part of this community, albeit with far more resources to impact both in the long term.
Long gone are my entrepreneurial, spiritual-egoist, self-help seminar-fueled fantasies of living in some McMansion or blue-windowed condo on the Burlington or Port Credit waterfronts. They’ve long been replaced by what up until the price hikes of recent years was a reasonable desire to live in a nice Edwardian red brick house in a good neighbourhood with lots of trees, the kind you can find in relative abundance here in Dundas. These days, for anyone with no pre-existing equity, a lottery win is what it takes to have that life.
In truth, I don’t know what I’m doing here, just that this is where I want to be. In both love and money, maybe it’s less about actually winning the lottery and more just the feeling.
One of the most beneficial questions I’ve heard in the last three years is this: do you really want to be rich and famous, your name known to millions around the world; or would you trade that for being reasonably fulfilled and being very well known, and claimed, by fifty to a hundred people living within 5 square kilometres of your home?
The notion that most people who seek the first are really looking for the second was liberating for me when I first heard it, validating. I didn’t have to prove myself to be at “home” somewhere.
Still, I am ambitious. I have that quality. Maybe for me, legacy lies somewhere in between fame and fortune and fulfillment and home.
Maybe I’m waiting for the girl who’ll make me feel like I won the lottery, someone who also wants to start a family, live that good life that we’ve been looking in on for so long that, to paraphrase the Shins, we may have felt doomed never to find.
Maybe I’m waiting for the project or book that leaves a mark on thousands of people, my own little bubble of reknown, an achievement that’ll grow my branches far out into the rest of this troubled world, but always, always rooted here in the Dundas Valley. Maybe that goal is “home”, too.
Whatever the case, I am here, this morning, as I wrap this up and ready myself to head out into these rainy skies of variable tones, waiting for something, someone, to happen to bring on the next big chapter of whatever this life of mine has been so far.
For the rest of this morning, anyway, I’ll bide my time on the elliptical machine, and later this afternoon, maybe an outing with a dear, dear friend.
Jody Aberdeen is a writer and enthusiast based in Dundas, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and has most recently been published in Hamilton City Magazine and Urbanicity. His website’s perpetually in a state of construction and he only uses Instagram these days so you may as well follow him there.