I wrote this column for this week’s Pique. It’s mainly a response to what I saw as a horrible piece written about Vancouver for the Walrus blog belonging to Stacey May Fowles, a Toronto novelist.
Turns out Mrs. Fowles is director of circulation and marketing at the Walrus. And today she called our paper requesting a copy, which we’re sending her right now.
In my piece I called her a hack and a travel writer who’s looking to make a career out of travelling to cities and trashing them.
My piece is attached below. You be the judge of my career and tell me whether it’s done or not.
Down and out in the mountain kingdom
September 16, 2010
By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
About a month ago I read a piece that made me very glad I hadn’t written it.
Titled “Return to No Fun City,” it was published on the Walrus‘s website in its blog section. The piece itself was written by Stacey May Fowles, a novelist based out of Toronto who looks to be building a career out of visiting other cities and trashing them.
Her target in this instance was Vancouver, my beloved hometown. I’m not averse to seeing Lotusland lampooned in the press. Indeed, I agree with many who find it a pompous, airy, lazy city held captive by mountains and sea. But the ones I agree with are usually people who’ve bothered to learn a thing or two about the place.
They’re nothing like Mrs. Fowles, a hack of a travel writer who uses the technique of memoir to excuse herself the laborious task of researching and talking to people.
In her piece, Fowles travels back to Vancouver after an absence of 10 years. She had once lived there for a year, chasing after a boy she’s not sure loved her all that much. She goes to the city to write a novel (and one has to hope it’s not about VanCity).
Her whole experience consists of her sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for herself that she’s there; wandering aimlessly by herself through a glass downtown; and a bar in Gastown, where she sits with her notebook and frowns, resenting anyone who doesn’t strike up a conversation with her.
I may look to be overstating things, so here’s a sample of the piece:
“I sit in a bar in Gastown, a lonely traveler desperate for conversation, while businessmen ordering manhattans throw me awkward sidelong glances. Only the bartender obliges, and even he is a bit standoffish. The feeling is different, but familiar – I am no longer invisible by virtue of my poverty, but because people are choosing to ignore me.”
Gee, I wonder why.
Much as I abhorred the piece, I saw a mirror image in it of someone I used to be: an ambitious, arrogant journalism graduate who came to Whistler straight out of school and vowed to shake things up as they’d never been before.
I set myself apart, spending most of my free time alone in cafes or at home playing video games.
Out in public, I objectified the community, seeing its residents as merely boardheads and ski bums. I resented the 14-year-old serving sushi in a tye-dyed shirt who took too long to get my order, my anger growing as I convinced myself he was a microcosm for the community. I looked at snowboarders lounging at the Crystal Lodge and wondered what they hell they thought they were doing with their lives.
I tried hard not to “know” anyone here, lest I become like them. With the amount of time I spent not talking to people, I could have written a memoir to rival Mrs. Fowles’s.
How relieved I was when Regan Lauscher, the disaffected Olympic luger, took to her blog on CTV.ca and lambasted the community for not lining the Sea to Sky Highway with a welcoming parade for her and her fellow athletes when they trained in town.
She went far beyond anything I would have said about Whistler. She resented the community for rejecting her because she’s Albertan, conservative, and because of the allegedly militant attitude that Meadow Park staff took with her teammates while they trained there.
Like many Whistlerites, I was offended at her remarks, but deep inside I thanked her for helping me see how wrong I was.
Before I got to know Whistler, I assumed it wouldn’t like me. Because I wasn’t an avid snowboarder, I assumed it wouldn’t accept me. Because I didn’t take risks with my life, I worried it would not admire me. And because my harder-partying days are behind me, I worried it would not welcome me. For all of these things, I resented the place.
After long periods of introspection, I came to new conclusions. I opened myself up more and learned to see unique facets of a dynamic community. I met brilliant entrepreneurs who’d laid a foundation for Whistler’s economy and were still running their businesses here. I learned to appreciate a vast network of bike trails that took you deep into the backcountry and across some of the wildest, most pristine terrain you can find.
But how do I really feel about Whistler now?
I admit, I still spend long periods by myself. I play lots of video games and spend plenty of time on my laptop in cafes. I feel lonely and irritable sometimes.
But that’s my problem, not my community’s. Mrs. Fowles ought to take note.