Je me trouve à Montreal. Never mind the pressures to find work; never mind the thousands of dollars in student debt that rests like a yoke on my shoulders. If there were ever time to live a bohemian life of adventure and whimsy, it would be now. Searching through online ads and relying heavily on Google translate, I find a (relatively) affordable apartment in an ancient building in St. Henri – no elevator, but lots of character. I spend a sticky July afternoon painting the walls, tucking my desk into one corner of the apartment and bed into another. In the morning, I sleep in late, then wander to my neighbourhood café for a breakfast of croissants and coffee. The barista starts to recognize me and humours me as I practice my halting French with her. During the afternoon, I spend a little time working on freelance contracts to pay the bills and a lot of time reading the stack of books I’ve accumulated. At night, I stay up too late and watch the cursor blinking on an empty page, wondering how to start the book I came here to write when I don’t yet have the interesting stories to tell.
The north is calling. Once, a friend of my brother that I had just met half-joked that I should move to Yellowknife. (That’s the one in the Northwest Territories, not the Yukon, by the way.) But the power of suggestion is strong. After a crackly Skype interview with a Government of the Northwest Territories hiring manager, I find myself booking a plane ticket and researching what kind of parka one needs for average January temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius. When I get there, the work is fast-paced and interesting – there are more opportunities for a young policy analyst here than there are in Toronto or Ottawa where hordes of new professionals clamour for every opening. On the weekends, I drink too much with new friends at the Raven, a pub in town. To fit in, I scoff at people from “the South” as if I didn’t spend my whole life there up until this point. Summer is fleeting and magical, with never-ending days spent exploring the wilderness. Winter is long and dark, and I sit in my government cubicle clicking through the internet and dreaming of an escape to somewhere warm.
Maybe there’s something for me in the rat race, if I run fast enough. Much to my and everyone else’s surprise, I land a job with a high-powered consulting firm. You’d know the name if I told you—it’s plastered on a high-rise tower in Toronto’s Financial District. I never thought I’d fit in to this world, but I’ve always been a bit of a chameleon, able to adapt to new circumstances and situations. Before long, I find myself taking on the colour of the corporate world. I brag to friends about my 80-hour work week and I carry a GoodLife Fitness bag like all the other suits I pass on the street. My daily circuit becomes home-to-work-to-gym-to-home, sometimes with a stop at Whole Foods in between. I like the challenge of my job and I’m good at it; I particularly enjoy taking a Bay Street Bro down a peg when I have the chance. But I have a moment every morning as I leave my condo when I remember that the primary goal of my company is to create profit for shareholders, not to advance the public interest. And something inside me dies a little. I buy a lot of stuff with my newly acquired income to try to fill the void, and bit by bit I forget what it’s like to walk in protest marches or fall asleep in a tent to the sound of the ocean.
Vagabonds make the best poets. Over the years, I’ve watched friends pull up roots and hit the road in panel vans. The downtown Toronto life has caused something in me to break and now I’m ready to do the same. I purchase the van and outfit it with a mattress, a hiking pack of stuff, a camp stove, and my guitar. I take the 400 out of Toronto and swing a left at Sudbury, heading west with no particular destination in mind. I spend months getting lost in small towns and seeking out the national parks from here to the West Coast. I pick up hitchhikers, usually young people like me who are searching for something. I drive down deserted service roads to camp for the night and stargaze from the roof of my van before falling asleep. In the morning, I wake up to the sky on fire with the colours of the sun, over wheat fields or mountains or hidden lakes. I see more beauty than I thought the world could hold, and I try to capture it in words in a tattered notebook that becomes my most loyal companion. But as I speed down open highways listening to the same CD for the twentieth time, I notice an existential angst creeping into my chest as I wonder what I’m driving towards.