What I've Kept and What I've Left Behind

I've been back in Toronto for 18 days now.


I've been doing lots of Toronto things, like getting bubble tea and reading in coffee shops and buying snacks at Asian grocery stores. I've been living my best life as an unattached (and arguably unhinged) mature single woman in the city.



I'm incredibly grateful I had a place to stay in Burlington - my best friend is a saint - but any part of me that ever thought I could live in the suburbs permanently is long gone. (Spoiler alert: that part never existed.)


Technically I'm homeless, but I prefer "urban nomad." My homelessness is somewhat intentional and somewhat not: I'm not working full-time, I have no savings, and I'm in transition from Ontario Works to ODSP, while I continue to write, work part-time and recover from burnout. I'm relying on the kindness of friends and strangers to have somewhere to stay rent-free, or close to, for at least the next month or two.


Sometimes I wonder if I chase chaos or if chaos chases me.


Either way, stability eludes me at the moment, except in one very important area: I've never been more certain about who I really am. This kind of knowledge doesn't come easily, at least it hasn't for me, and it doesn't come when you're married to an inauthentic life, like I was working 9-to-5 office jobs after graduating from art school in 2013.


Unfortunately the inauthentic life I left behind was a financially stable one; however, given my level of instability in that life, "stability" wasn't sustainable. It didn't run too deep in the end. It's okay - I'm swimming out to deeper, more authentic waters, choppy as those waters may be right now.


So what have I learned about my authentic self?


By the time I made the journey to the suburbs on December 31, I'd gotten rid of most of my possessions. In the months that followed, the things I'd chosen to keep helped me piece together my true identity. The things we surround ourselves with, after all, are markers of who we are and what's most important to us.


The possessions I chose to keep fall into three main categories:

  1. What I'll loosely call "witchy shit."

  2. Writing and drawing shit.

  3. Other shit.


Witchy Shit


I'm a bit witchy, meaning Tarot cards and new age books and crystals and whatnot. Over the past few months, I've realized those things are not wants, but needs. My spiritual self is a hugely important part of my authentic self. She's been poorly treated and neglected, so the Tarot cards and crystals stay.


I've also kept some yoga shit, which isn't that witchy but it's in the neighbourhood of witchy. I have my yoga mat and meditation cushion. Those things stay, too. Yoga and meditation are both critical to my well-being. I didn't think they were necessary in my past life. I was wrong.


Writing and Drawing Shit


Obvi. I have my sketchbooks and markers and pens. I have my laptop and my various notebooks (one for ideas, one for journalling, one for poetry, etc.). I'm a bit witchy but I'm a lot creative.


Of course, creativity and spirituality go hand in hand. (That's something I've been learning too, and not the easy way. Neglecting one hurts the other, and neglecting both is big trouble. Explains my ongoing sense of spiritual crisis and existential angst the past decade while I fixed punctuation in financial statements, business reports and government documents.)


Other Shit


I need to downsize the other shit, but it's a bit hard to do when I don't know exactly where I'm going. Is it better to have too much or not enough and have to buy stuff again later?


It's all relative: I have a lot less than I used to, but still more than I need, if the measure of "need" is what I'm actually using. I'm trying to travel as lightly as I can.


It turns out that many of my possessions, especially my clothes, only made sense for my inauthentic life and inauthentic identity. Most of my clothes felt like they belonged to someone else, so I got rid of most of them. I don't want to ever wear high heels again, or wear something I hate to fit into a dress code. I currently only own about five pieces of clothing that really feel authentically "me." They're all black, interestingly. Fits in well with the witchy shit, I suppose.


I'm Not Leaving Myself Behind Anymore


I liked Old Mel's money and apartment; unfortunately, I'm not Old Mel - I just played her in real life.


I'm becoming Real Mel. It's odd to become something you already are, and deep down, always were, but it seems like this is exactly the process I'm currently engaged in.


I've been a straight-passing, depression-supressing woman conforming to norms and expectations much more than I've been able to live with. In truth, the enterprise of passing as "normal" and "fine" is one I started undertaking in childhood.


I'm not normal and I'm not fine. What about it?


It isn't comfortable admitting who I really am to myself or anyone else because it feels like the pieces don't fit - to embrace one part of myself is to negate something else.


But contrary to what we've been taught, we all have pieces that don't fit. We don't fit neatly into labels. Humans are complex, messy and contradictory creatures.


I can be bisexual (I AM bisexual) and refuse to carry the misperceptions of what that means (for example, I embrace the fact that I'm only currently interested in dating younger men). And I can be cheerful and depressed. And witchy and rational. And so on and so on.


I was groomed from a young age to prioritize my image and reputation. I see now that I shrank parts of myself that stuck out or didn't fit, and have continued to do so for years. When such big pieces of my identity "didn't fit," I lost myself and essentially had to make another self out of tape and cardboard.


On the flip side, when there's no longer a mould to fit into, the parts that stick out - the messy, contradictory and chaotic - don't matter anymore. They can stay.


It's okay to live in temporary chaos if it's for the better. It's okay not to know.

I'm paying a price for struggling to reclaim the person I lost - Real Mel - but I can't take Old Mel with me, so that's a price I have to be willing to pay. I don't need that money or that apartment or those clothes. I need to be Real Mel. I'm getting to know her better as the weeks and months go by. The key seems to be LEANING INTO the chaos.


It's okay to live in temporary chaos if it's for the better. It's okay not to know.


I want to know. But I have to learn to deal with not knowing to get where I'm meant to be.


Knowing doesn't help if the need to know keeps you trapped in something familiar but stifling.


So I'm taking my yoga mat, notebooks and Tarot cards on the road for as long as it takes. I can't go back to who I was pretending to be. Even if I wanted to, she's not home anymore. She left with all of the things I've gotten rid of: the clothes I bought for her to hide in and the uncomfortable shoes I wedged her into.


I walked too many miles in her shoes.



- M.B.