Saturday, August 20, 2011

The difference between Toronto and Ottawa

Specifically, the rivalry. The clash, which runs deeper than drunken hockey shouting matches and brawls and Leafs graffiti sprayed in public parks in Ottawa.

Having lived in Ottawa from 2006 - 2008 (as well as spending my childhood there, yet I didn't notice the rivalry at that time) and currently living in Toronto, I've sensed a divide between the two Ontario cities. It could be easy to say that the rivalry stems from basic differences such as Ottawa having the status as Canada's capital whereas Toronto is only Ontario's capital, and the Canada Day celebration in Ottawa is way better, but that's not the deepest it sinks.

Toronto's obviously larger population equals more opportunity. And when I worked as a dishwasher in Ottawa I repeatedly heard people talk about what there really is in Ottawa - what oportunity could be capitalized on, and what room for growth there is aside from the governmental avenues. I remember reading an issue of the Ottawa Xpress wherein an artist was defending his move from Ottawa to Toronto, with the article praising the artist's seemingly imminent rise to fame. I haven't heard of him since moving here, but then again I haven't been paying attention to the art scene that closely. I never really was, though. All I remember was that the article seemed to be aware of the hostility which would be lobbied against the artist for moving.

When I was living in Ottawa a friend of mine said that she would move to Toronto because she wanted to see life at all hours of the night, to see people and vibrancy. And she said I could go anywhere and do anything, that I didn't have anything holding me back. And Ottawa has been compared to Winnipeg, where the small size of the city makes people know each other indirectly. Whenever I visit Winnipeg I almost always see people I've met or seen before. Although a smaller city, like a smaller college or university, can also lead to less impersonality between people since it's more tight-knit. Some people like that. I like that, but I don't think it's impossible to find a tight-knit group of people in a large city. The idea of pursuing artistic endeavours to the extent where you lose your desire to get to know and appreciate other people is disturbing, even though a necessary trait of any art is solitude.

The standard of living is also an important factor. Just as Toronto is thought to loook down on Ottawa, people from NYC or LA probably look down on Toronto. But I met people from NYC and they said Toronto is much better, and I've heard from an intelligent former native Californian that it's every liberal American's dream to move to Canada. As as enticing as living in NYC is, I wouldn't want to deal with mice, cockroaches, bedbugs, thieves, pollution, overly crowded streets, expensive items and living expenses, being looked down on for being Canadian, and other issues that would continually arise in order to live in NYC or LA. How much of my personal well-being would I have to sacrifice in order to say "I live in New York City" ? That's where I see Ottawa as having an edge over Toronto - the allure of a large city doesn't always match the toll it takes on your body and mind. I get stressed out here...but I got stressed out living by myself in Ottawa as well.

At different literary events I've heard the speakers make odd allusions to Ottawa which has sent the audience chuckling. I mean odd in the sense that they weren't being insulting. I can't remember what they said, unfortunately - all I remember is the vibe they created.

But this was the first sign that tipped me off about the tension between the cities: when I first moved to Ottawa I was walking around the Byward Market and saw a large banner that said TORONTO APPRECIATION DAY, but in front of this banner there was only a single little man hitting a small drum in a discordant manner. There was also a guy with a large camera filming him and also people's reactions.
Most people were just puzzled, but I saw the humour in it - the man hitting the drum represented the amount of appreciation people living in Ottawa (Ottawan, though I don't like that term) held for Toronto.
I laughed as I walked by and took it in, and the cameraman smiled and filmed me. I wonder where the footage went. Ruminating on it now, I wonder if the battle is continuing in the same media format, or different.

What was I going to achieve by continuing to live in Ottawa? What would've happened to me if I'd have stayed there? Walking through the Rideau Centre (this is another trait of Canadian cities - they all have a mall which marks the downtown core, somethng that Ottawa and Toronto share), I remember seeing a large poster for nuclear power, touting its benefits. This unnerved me slightly, like seeing a gun shop in the States for the first time.
Did/does Ottawa rely on nuclear power? I didn't know and still don't. But I felt that Toronto held more literary opportunity, and so I moved here. The city of Ottawa is laid out perfectly, its architecture, museums, streets, the parks, Hog's Back Park, the way to Hull...despite the fact that Ottawa was originally built on top of a swamp, it's lovely. I didn't have good luck with people there though, which was also part of the reason why I left. Yet Toronto held more allure for me and still does, even though I'd feel off wearing a Blue Jays cap.

Edit: but now, on April 9th, 2013, I'd feel comfortable wearing the cap. It is a great city.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I - the Play, SummerWorks Festival 2011

I have a role in the play I, which is part of the SummerWorks Festival here in Toronto for 2011, and it's been great to have been a part of it so far. The Pulse Theatre Collective produced the play - written and directed by David Hersh and starring Emannuelle Zeesman - and their website can be found by clicking here.

The play is about a young female writer named Eugenia who moves to Paris (leaving her family and friends behind) to write her magnum opus. She meets the ghost of the playwright, who goes by the name of I, whom she's looked up to since childhood and he proceeds to become her mentor, although he quickly becomes tiresome and then eventually a threat.

My role in the play is small - I'm part of the Chorus and we represent I's mind. Which is a great concept, representing a ghost's mind. We're the ghosts within the ghost, it could be said.

I (the play) is metafictional and intertextual as it's based on a play by Eugène Ionesco. What appeals to me about the play is the role of I himself, who's played by David Macniven. I (the character) is self-aggrandizing, self-unaware and uninformed of basic concepts such as different religions, and cannot treat Eugenia with the respect and intelligence she bestows on him, instead baiting her into allowing him to play more games with her. Although this is interlaced with humour (and the play is very witty and funny, with an Abbot and Costello wraparound style)it still reflects on the character of I in a greater sense.

Because I gives Eugenia advice which is fundamental for success in writing, yet due to the nature of his character it wouldn't seem as though Eugenia would be apt to take it. I tells Eugenia that writing is a discipline, and that it needs to be done continuously - which reflects the advice I stumbled upon from the artist Chuck Close not too long ago.
Yet with all the stress Eugenia has to endure through I's mentorship, and his lack of real knowledge, it would be easy to cast aside his advice and just to do what she wants and feels.

To me this ties in closely to a parent-child relationship, where a parent might not know everything and can repel their children against their (maybe hard-fought) advice. And it also relates to the general idea of an author, and how some people look to them for the answers to all their questions.

Sometimes the artist is better off not known. There can be a transformation from an icon to a human being. Autonomy. I delves into this, albeit in a humorous fashion. Just throwing away all of our impressions and forging our own path is what Eugenia and I represent and also showcases the parent-child relationship where a growing child can decide not to follow the path of their parent. The rebellious artist, not knowing what will come of their endeavours. But if they stick with it, as I advises to, they can succeed.

I also tells Eugenia of what it takes to separate literature (wheat) from books (chaff). How a book has to either be someone cherishes or despises. And what would an author really want to create? One or the other or both? So these opposite ends of the spectrum graduate a book into literature. Which I think is sound advice to give to a young author because reading is only worthwhile if it sparks emotion and intellect.