Being Alone

Where is your loneliness?

Not in the the perilous drama of a shipwreck—
drifting beyond deserted shores
Not in the cautious intent of space travel—
forever orbiting towards a sunrise

It’s in the cheap insulation of apartment walls,
the neighbours whose names you don’t know,
the checkmark in ✓Seen 11:45 pm, the sheepish
trips to the liquor store, the diplomatic voice
of a clerk asking for the money you owe

It’s in the stillness of highways before dawn,
the silence at the end of a book, the burst of wind
from slamming doors, and the knowing, that after everything
they’re gone.
It’s in your chest cavity, aching and ashamed

Feel that hot electric pang and build
that pain a cradle—give it a name
nurse it from fledgling flame to full-blown fire
let it radiate
Sooner or later, it will fade

Then the glow of coals will warm you
until you can reach out again: call a friend, get coffee,
paint, tell a joke, smile at strangers

We’re at our happiest when we risk another burn

Stranger

I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
“To a Stranger”, Walt Whitman

You sit, scribbling on a napkin
halfway across the café. Sipping
steaming cups of cappuccino
with maraschino lips. I know
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone

From your bag comes every book
I’ve cradled in the bath and treasured
on my nightstand. They have been written
for our conversations, and yet
I am to wait —I do not doubt I am to meet you again

Finally you rise. The buttoning
of your coat precedes the forward
scraping of your chair. We share a glance
before you find the door and step through.
I am to see to it that I do not lose you

Settle

stare from window sill at streets
made narrow, strangled by the jagged
angles — concrete towers stab
through cloud or cloak of smog

they rise as you rise
from itchy bare mattress
(cheap sheets forgotten
at a former address)

wade through clutter
shudder at the boxes
that tower from the floor
push past, find the door

outside the boulevard is black
from rain. stand, soaked
shrug off that you heard
the sound of your name

How to Feel Settled in a New Place

Whether it’s for school, work, family obligations, or simply an attempt to leave a stagnant routine behind, most of us experience the disorienting business of picking up our belongings, and setting them down somewhere new. This action can take place on a small scale, such as when we leave our noisy, cockroach-infested downtown apartment for something a little quieter, if more rustic, on the outskirts of town. Or, it can be a massive move overseas or across the country, complete with an unknown language and a staggering sense of alienation. Regardless of the scale or reason, it’s difficult to conjure up those familiar adjectives about a new place — cozy, restful, Netflix-coma-inducing — and feel settled in a foreign environment. There are new neighbours (some maybe a little too friendly), new smells (hello, pulp mill), and new wildlife (that spider may be venomous). The following are some tips on how to feel settled in a new neighbourhood.

1. Surround Yourself with Familiar Objects that Bring you Comfort and Joy
Of course, this doesn’t mean schlepping every possession you’ve ever owned to your new abode. The key here is quality. It could be an evocative piece of original artwork, framed photos of loved ones, or perhaps a collection of rare beanie babies from your childhood (comfort is not about judgment). Ideally, display these objects in a place you will see every day. If they are well-chosen, they will remind you that you are still you, even if your new dig has hideous pastel wallpaper.

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Some of my favourite belongings: my plants, a hand-painted gnome, and 90 kilograms of books.

2. Go for a Walk in the Area Immediately Surrounding your House
Not only will this pilgrimage help to orient you, it will allow you to uncover the hidden gems in your neighbourhood that can often be missed when traveling by bus or by car. Perhaps there is a park nearby where you can direct your good intentions to go for brisk morning jogs. Or, maybe there is a corner store that sells emergency chocolate or wine. You may realize you live near a haunted-looking empty lot and make a mental note to avoid it after dark.

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Closed-up shops looking more than a little sinister on an eerily quiet Sunday afternoon.

3. Know your Amenities
What sorts of amenities does your new neighbourhood have? It is helpful to know of organizations such as immigration welcome services, women’s centres, LGBTQ support centres, government buildings, police stations, hospitals, and recreation centres. In many cases, it’s useful to simply strut into these places (if you think you qualify for their services) and introduce yourself as new in the neighbourhood. Often, you will be loaded down with information pamphlets, business cards, activity guides and, if you’re lucky, free welcome candies. This can be a gateway to finding relevant resources, such as community food box programs (because honestly, fresh produce should always be relevant).

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This intimidating amount of fruits and vegetables comes from my community’s fifteen-dollar Good Food Box.

4. Draw a Crude Map of your New Surroundings
You can now beautifully render the amenities you found out about and re-name landmarks to better suit your purposes and personality. This also becomes a handy mental image to have on hand when old friends and relatives ask how far the nearest grocery store is from your new house, since, according to your map, it’s roughly three concrete buildings away from the public square, which is a gas-station away from your house. You will be giving lost drivers directions to nearby hotels in no time.

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Here is the most accurate map I’ve made of my new town.

5. Keep in Touch with Old Friends
Just because you’ve moved on to a glamorous dorm room or an urban studio apartment doesn’t mean you should forget those who have supported you through your humble beginnings. Through the magic of social media and good old-fashioned phone calls, you can report back all of your fascinating adventures. If you want to make it even more retro, invest in a pack of stamps and mail letters and postcards to your loved ones. Most people appreciate receiving mail that isn’t related to the third final notice regarding their student loans.

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Pictured here: a fresh pack of good intentions.

So there it is, five simple steps towards feeling more settled in a new neighbourhood. If you have any advice you would like to add, please comment below. Stay tuned for a related poem on the topic of “settling in”.