Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2019/ Twenty Years

Twenty Years

I do not have an exact date, but late August/early September of 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of me moving to Kitchener-Waterloo. I moved here for grad school, and like so many others I never left.

Twenty years both feels like a long time and not long at all. (The word of the day is "zenosyne".) I have lived in Kitchener-Waterloo longer than I have lived anywhere else. I never made an explicit decision to settle down here, but I guess that is how it turned out.

Having said that, I am not committed to staying here. As Kitchener-Waterloo increasingly becomes a suburb of Toronto (hello Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor housing prices have gone up, and I do not know that I will continue being able to afford rent here. But it is not clear where I would go; most other places in Ontario have expensive housing costs too. And Waterloo Region is a rich municipality, thanks in part to the tech sector (and thanks in part to insurance). I often feel resentful because I have not cashed into the economy with a high-tech salary, but the reality is that I have been able to scrounge a living on the margins of society because the area is so wealthy. There is no lack of intellectual stimulation: one can attend talks and seminars and user groups almost every weeknight free of charge. (And yes, as my waistline demonstrates, all too often there is food at these events, because tech companies and universities are rich.) Because the region is rich the streets are in good condition, so I can cycle where I need to go. Because the region is rich it can support a nonprofit sector including the cult, which has provided me with income, cheap bicycles, cheap clothes, cheap food, and cheap computers. The hand-me-downs are often donated by rich people, and are of better quality than I might expect elsewhere. Although I often feel deprived, materially speaking I do not have much to complain about.

How about socially? Part of the reason I moved to KW for grad school was because of WPIRG. By first getting involved with them and then subsequently with the cult, I tapped into a community of people who appeared to share my beliefs. A few years later I was struck hard by cognitive dissonance and lost many of those beliefs (thanks (?), John McCarthy), but I still associate with some of that crowd. A couple of years after moving here I got involved with KWLUG, which introduced me to a community of tech zealots. In retrospect these ties have been weaker than I wish, and I feel like an imposter to all of these communities, but they have provided me with stronger networks than I had been able to find in the GTA. Would I have developed these networks had I stayed at home or moved to a different city? It is tough to say. Could I redevelop similar networks if/when I pull up roots and move away? I doubt it.

Looking around my room I see that I still own some possessions from twenty years ago. There is a bar fridge from my first apartment (that probably has not been turned on in ten years). I still have a couple of shirts that I wore back then, and I still wear them occasionally even though they have mysteriously shrunk over the years. I still have a heavy cast-iron saucepan that I use to this day. I also have a lot of books and papers from that time that are still weighing me down.

I suppose a lot has changed since 1999. Here are some of the things that come to mind:

But a lot still feels the same:

On a more narcissistic note, how about me? What do I have to show for twenty years of life in Kitchener-Waterloo?

Overall, I feel I should be grateful for ending up here, if for no other reason that Kitchener-Waterloo is wealthy. I could have ended up in much worse places. My original plan had been to stay in Toronto and go to grad school there. Often I wonder whether my life would have been better or worse had I stayed. If I had stayed I might have done better in grad school and might be financially stable now; on the other hand my emotional and psychological instability might have torn me apart. If I had not gotten a real job and become financially stable then being poor in Toronto seems much harder than being poor here. I suppose I feel relieved that I did not end up somewhere worse (McMaster had also been a possibility), but I still feel too many "what-if"s to feel deep gratitude for how things turned out.