Artwork: “Hamilton is home”, mixed media collaboration (paper, newsprint, acrylic on canvas) by Lisa Rostoks and Brian Scarth, 2020.
There are few times that I would consider “home” to be the place I’ve wanted to be. I consider Hamilton to be my hometown. While I was born in Windsor, my family moved to the Hammer (where most of my maternal extended family lived) when I was eight and having spent the majority of my formative years there, Hamilton is home. And yet I didn’t want to be there.
At least a handful of times each year we would barrel down the QEW towards the big smoke for some novel outing, for culture. We would attend a show at Massey Hall or park at a lot near the waterfront and walk underneath the expressway, waiting patiently to board the ferry so we could enjoy the log ride at Centre Island.
Each time I’d press my nose to the glass, becoming more alert to the approaching cityscape as we flew over the familiar bumps on the Gardiner. The shiny towers in the distance holding a mysterious attraction for me. That must be where the important people work, where people have the nice clothes I’d see on the magazine covers. Life must be better there.
I further developed this longing for elsewhere, for Toronto specifically, when my 10th birthday celebration began a new tradition. My Mom brought me and a friend to the epicentre — the Eaton Centre shopping mall at Yonge and Dundas. Smack in the middle of those shiny towers, a short walk from the theatres, a three-level mecca of consumerism. I fell in love. I adored the energy and activity of the city, the increased variety of stores and businesses vying for our attention, the novel food and restaurants.
I always knew I was going to leave. I knew that I would find what I was looking for in the big city. I knew that distance would save me. It was classic “if, then” thinking of the magical sort. I allowed myself to be distracted by chasing after the solution to any internal discomfort through something external — a new home, new job, new people, new haircut, the next job and the next, more new people, another haircut. It seemed to work temporarily, until it didn’t.
Fast forward to 2019 when I was spending a lot of time on my yoga mat, breathing, trying to stay with feelings as they arose, however uncomfortable. I didn’t feel at home in my own body and mind and heart. I was trying to re-learn how to trust myself and to understand what I wanted and needed to feel whole and safe — to feel at home.
I starting looking for signs, for imagery that spoke to me, in my first ever attempt to make a vision board, and came across the modified words of the familiar cliché, “home is where the art is”. At the time, I took it to mean that home is where I’m most creative, comfortable. I had been disenfranchised with my work commute for some time, and generally feeling off, which has always been the queue for change. Again, seeking some external solution. Toronto has the art. I need to work at home in Toronto. That’s what the sign meant for me.
I stuck the image prominently on my vision board and figured I’d know how to make it happen in time if I just kept that desire alive. The weeks passed and I found myself in conversations with various friends and the subject of Hamilton kept surfacing. Would I ever consider moving back? It was a question that kept nagging at me and that I couldn’t ignore.
For everything I loved about Toronto, I couldn’t deny that I spent the vast majority of my time outside of it (at work) or inside my little condo. I often felt drained by the energy of the city, that same energy that once fuelled me. Less than an hour away was my family, were the hiking trails that line the Niagara escarpment, was an established and yet growing arts community, was a little more quiet, and was a real estate market that hadn’t yet priced me out of owning a backyard and a basement for sharing my yoga practice.
At some point I realized that where my art is, that’s my home. I make my home. Where I am, that’s home. Huh, the cliché is true. Why was I clinging to this idea that I had to make it here, an idea I’d formed at the age of 10? Why was there only one way, one path? When did I develop such judgment and narrow-mindedness?
I remember the day the realty team was taking photos of my condo to start the sale process. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day and I spent most of it outside, wandering the waterfront neighbourhood that I’d called home for the last 9 years, dining on a patio, walking the trail by the lake — and crying. I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face, my eyes getting red and swollen behind my Ray Bans. I felt like a failure, like I was running away, leaving before I made or achieved my dreams. Never mind all of the amazing achievements I’ve had, the memories and fun times.
It’s been over a year that I’ve been back “home”, living in Hamilton and I love it. But I’m also not attached to it in the way I was attached to the idea of living in Toronto, to the idea of how I had to live my life in order to be considered a success. I no longer expect that a place will somehow solve me.
And I’ve spent the past year working hard. I’ve been working at learning to stop running from what’s wrong at home, in my heart, and face it. I’m learning to acknowledge the fears and struggles, that it’s OK to not always be OK (or to appear that way). I am willing to go through it to get to the other side, to find my art. I know that there is art in me and that I am home.