Mythic cities and scripts

I got up early yesterday and then went back to bed, rising for a second time, much later at 11am. It was blizzardy out and I made coffee and toasted bagels and was lazy and let myself stay in. I watched New York, I Love You and it got me thinking about cities and mythology. There are certain cities that come with a story sketched in and are just waiting for people to step in and live out those roles. Even the names of those cities conjure the stories to be lived there: New York, Paris, London.

And even less boisterously mythic cities have grown a sort of mythology, a picture we draw about how life might play out there and what dramas you might experience if you lived there too: Portland, Dublin, Rome, Berlin, and so on...


When I lived in Dublin, I had always a strong sense of those moments when my life there clicked into that script. Sitting in Grogan's and having an epic conversation about Beckett or Behan. Snap! Classic Dublin moment. Or even driving down the country and being stopped by a flock of sheep on winding road.

These moments sound cliche in storytelling. But they're real and feel like meant-to-have experiences unfolding when you're living them. It's like the full mythology of the place coincides with your little life and you become that person, living that life, in that mythic geography.

The flip side is it doesn't happen all the time. Or, after a while it can really feel like role-playing. It can be as if too many books, movies and television shows have been set in those places and it's hard to just be in them, without becoming a footnote to all those other tales. And what happens when you're in those places and never experience those perfect moments of synchronicity between life and myth? You feel like you're in the place but not of it.

Toronto - in my mind - has no myth. At least, if it does, it's not one that I've ever been told. I'm not sure what that perfect Toronto moment is supposed to look like. And sometimes, I feel a lovely lightness in that; that there's nothing supposed to be happening to me on any given day, any role I'm supposed to be filling, no meant-to-have experiences to be had on Queen St. or Bloor. And so, it's a city that I never feel that mythic sort of synchronicity with, but I'm happily living in.

And I can understand completely why people want to live in mythic places, why they want to step into those already-written stories and play out their individual part in it, why they want to tap into those epic yarns of success or romance or creativity. And sometimes I yearn for that sense of meaning in a place too and agree that cities without mythology can seem like boring places. But, most days, I think I would feel more alienated being in those places and not still finding my role than I am here, without any role, just deciding how I want to play it.

And I know all of this is way too much of a reduction of place and identity. But it has me thinking about the role of place as a character in storytelling, as masculine or feminine, smothering or indifferent, benevolent or cruel. And about my own relationship with where I am and where I've been.
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