As a fifteen to seventeen year old in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I spent most of my time watching shows like Gossip Girl, 90210, and movies like The Devil Wears Prada. I longed for a world where I lived in glamorous New York City or Beverly Hills. These people had never heard a fiddle – never stood outside longing for something to go on. They never listened to The Rankins’ Mull River Shuffle at a High School Dance, all of their peers suddenly alive as the tune picks up.
As a young writer I encountered numerous people who told me that I could not make it. I could not be a published author in this world where “people from here” don’t often, if ever, succeed. I was once told I had a “better chance of ending up in asylum in Dartmouth” than becoming a published author. Um, ouch? The negativity that surrounded me and my lofty goals was breaking me down. I felt like I couldn’t be the strong, independent creative person I was, and still be a part of the culture on the East Coast.
The sad part was that I love that culture. I cry every time I hear The Island, and I frequently hear It’s Getting Dark Again play through my head – oftentimes unprovoked. I’ve never felt more at home than on the shores of Cape Breton – staring off into the deep blue ocean that my Irish and French ancestors crossed. I feel my history in the air, the soil, and the bones of old houses built long ago, some standing, and others fading to ruin. The lighthouses passed and present are also part of my DNA, etched so deeply in my cells that removing them would be fatal.
For work last year I went to Connecticut for two weeks. The flight landed in none other than the fantasy land of my teenage years. I had finally, technically done it. I was in New York (well, the airport, but it still counts). I was too pensive for my own good. I was traveling alone since 4 in the morning – with an hour’s stop in Toronto, so I was perhaps a little over-tired. I remember being fascinated by the view out the window – and honestly, a little confused as to how small and spread out the city that never sleeps looked from an airplane. I suppose from that high everything looks small. As I stared out that window I teared up. I realized in that moment that there was nothing, not even my birthplace, stopping me from reaching the heights I wanted. No barriers other than ones imposed by the views of others. Also, I kind of realized that New York didn’t look all that great.
As somebody with an anxiety disorder it was a feat of strength in its own to fly there all by myself. Nothing bad happened, and I came out of the trip feeling independent and like I could conquer the world. Okay, Connecticut isn’t exactly a battlefield, but I’d overcome my fear of traveling. I was not trapped in The Maritimes. I could go wherever I choose…
I’ve lived in Fredericton on and off for the better part of 6 years. It’s still part of The Maritimes, but the small city has given me the wings to fly. As much as I love Cape Breton, and home, it’s been so important for me to see that there’s more to the Maritimes than the little slice of the world I called home. There’s even places with shoe stores, and book stores, and all the luxuries that I felt gravely robbed of.
A lot of my growth the last half of this decade has been growing up. It’s been 10 years since I was 15-16. In those ten years I have written two non-fiction books, am working on fiction, have become an advocate, and am a web designer. Anything I aspire to and want to do – I feel confident that with hard work, I can achieve my goals. But this isn’t about me. This is about realizing that our home does not limit us. Our home is a beautiful wonderful place with talented artists, musicians, and wonderful tradesmen. We are a strong and resilient people that have seen pain long back – the expulsion of the Acadians just to name one. We continued and we persisted.
We live in a place where most of the land, the trees, and the beauty remain. Unmarred, for the most part, by scyscrapers and Metropolitan Museums of Art. We are not New York City, and we never will be. I’ve never been happier to not live in New York. Because, of course…
Whenever the fiddler rosins the bow, my first and last thoughts are of home.