At age 46, I did an elimination lifestyle, like an elimination diet, but with my entire life.
Betty, an acquaintance from the burlesque scene, took my housewares to distribute to the women’s shelter she volunteers for.
Gabrielle from queer tango rehomed my plants.
My friend Tara bought my vintage blue armchair and like circus performers, we balanced it on our bodies and got it up the fire escape to her attic apartment.
I grouped my books into categories: queer for the LGBTQ centre, indigenous for the friendship centre, academic for the university bookstore, general for HighJinx, and I biked around Ottawa, dropping them off.
Then I sold my bike to some guy from Kijiji.
I got the bulk of my possessions down to one Greyhound bus shipment of boxes. My friend from the gym, Noreen, kindly stored my handcrafted puppets in her basement until I could get a friend to drive those to me in Toronto (art can’t be shipped Greyhound).
Free of everything but a suitcase and a backpack, I took a one-way train trip from Ottawa to Toronto. My hypothesis was that I would be happier there for two key reasons: (1) I’d be closer to my family, and (2) I’d have better odds of dating and meeting a partner (no small feat at middle age, even more so for a lesbian). And by eliminating other variables, I hoped to find out what was making me unhappy.
I’d lived alone for ten years. My landing pad in Toronto was an Airbnb in Parkdale. Over the course of the month I spent there, I lived with six people. Then I moved into a house in the Annex with a friend of friend and his roommates. Three more people. When our values clashed, I moved to the home of a friend of my boxing coach. Her condo was also an Airbnb, mostly catering to couples moving to or visiting Toronto, but also random travellers. Over the nine months I lived there, I shared the space with a total of twenty-four people. (6 + 3 + 24 = 33 roommates.)
So why at middle age did I quit my good job and throw myself into that chaos?
On an elimination diet, you stop eating common allergens: wheat, soy, eggs, and so on for a while. Then you try eating them again, one by one, and watch what happens. Foods that cause you pain get eliminated for good. Science!
Anyone with gluten intolerance can tell you cutting out wheat transformed them from a cranky, gassy mess afraid to go out in public to a happy social being.
I eliminated the solitude of living alone. I also eliminated my job, friends, city, and most of my stuff. Some of my friendships endured the distance and thanks to social media, it’s easy to stay in touch. Some things, like my gym life, I put right back in when I got to Toronto.
I landed a job with a tech start up turned ecommerce giant. It’s mostly work from home, but a few months in, my young bosses put me on stage teaching organic marketing for entrepreneurs, pop up shop style in a space with exposed brick walls in the tech-slash-fashion district.
On my lunch break, I took my company-issued, sticker-covered MacBook Air to a vegan cafe for a gluten-free lunch, looked at my reflection in the plate glass and was thrilled. This was Toronto.
My employer flew me to Montreal and Ottawa to do it again. That’s right: I circled back to where I began in Ottawa. A city I love deeply. It was even more beautiful than when I’d left it eight months before. The National Arts Centre and Rideau Centre renos were done as well as some Canada 150 improvements to the Byward Market. But I had no regrets about leaving.
My experiment was producing results. My parents and I had a fantastic visit in Toronto, and spent time with my cousin’s family in the Beaches. I’d been to visit my sister in Kitchener on a quick and easy day trip. I was able to attend a family gathering in Guelph (sadly, a funeral, but I couldn’t have made it from Ottawa). Objective (1) to get closer to family was realized. As for (2) date, I was meeting tons of people and did date one, briefly. She was lovely, but dating wasn’t for me.
I’ll run through the other variables. My job was cool, the social scene in Toronto was cool (thanks especially to my friend Joh who invited me to great parties), the women’s boxing gym, the yoga studios, the CN Tower, the Junction, Leslieville, Parkdale, High Park, the Gay Village, all cool.
But coolest by far was my roommate’s cat. She hung out with me all day while I worked in my room, sat on my chest while I laid in bed and read at night, slept at my feet, played with the catnip toys I’d bought her while I watched tv in the living room. Looked at me with her gorgeous green eyes and purred.
Through that relationship, I got to the heart of my malaise. I missed my dog.
Still a puppy when I moved to Ottawa in 1999, my dog passed away 14 years later and took my heart with her. I think I’d grown so used to that hole in my chest that I’d forgotten it was there.
I didn’t get another dog, I just couldn’t deal with going through that again. And I knew that having a dog was a huge commitment, a lifestyle in and of itself.
Cats were way easier! Roommates, not so much. I knew what I needed: a decent one-bedroom apartment with a view good enough for an indoor cat.
All Toronto offered within my budget were basement apartments. Thankfully, I didn’t need to stay there. Because my job was still 99.9% working from home (the speaking gigs were one-offs), I had the flexibility to go anywhere in Ontario. Two hours away from Toronto, in London, I found an affordable, large apartment with an incredible view.
I also have a friend in London, the best kind: an old, dear friend. My folks are just a couple hours drive from London, compared to a ten hour drive from Ottawa. My sister in Kitchener is an hour away. My brother’s in Thunder Bay, but his oldest daughter is in London, and he and his other kids are moving here too.
Amazingly, like Toronto, London has a women’s boxing gym run by a queer woman. I also belong to a gym around the corner from my apartment that offers yoga and other classes. When it comes to shopping, I have a Sobey’s and Farm Boy in walking distance. Len’s Mill Store is a better fabric store than any I found in Toronto (in addition to puppets, I craft quilts and hand embroideries). I can bike or bus anywhere I want to go and reuse my bus transfer for the return trip, which beats the TTC for affordability. Best of all, I share my home here with my newest family member: my sweet cat, Amelia, who I adopted through a local rescue organization.
I took everything out of my life and realized I wasn’t allergic to anything in Ottawa. Rather, I was missing vital nutrients: a pet, a good friend, and family. As for dating, meh. Not a requirement for my happiness. If it happens in the course of life, fine, but if not, that’s fine too. I remain deeply grateful for my work from home job that enabled me to move towards what I needed in my life and hold it close. I have my heart back.