Eleven months ago almost to the day, I moved from my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I’d lived for twenty-three years, to Hamilton, Ontario. Living abroad has been a learning experience in a lot of ways, and not only because I specifically came up here for grad school. But I have to say, I didn’t anticipate that during the course of my TA job, I’d have to learn about Drake.
I was peripherally aware of Drake, of course, in my typical information sponge way. I read all the hot takes on the sexist lyrics of “Hotline Bling” and watched as bold-italics-Helvetica took over the Internet. I’m sure I occasionally heard snatches of his songs on the radio in high school or college. But I don’t think I’d heard one all the way through, let alone watched any of his music videos, until I had to grade about seventy undergraduate papers about performances of Canadian identity, a large swath of which were about Drake. How is Canadian identity performed or expressed through one of these videos we discussed in class? the prompt asked. Hell if I knew. I’d been in Canada for about five months by the time those papers rolled around, and though I was able to articulate much more about Canada to my friends back in the States than simply “maple syrup and moose -- mooses -- meese?”, I had no blessed idea what actually constituted Canadian-ness. Nevertheless, I waded through probably ten Drake papers before finally getting curious and watching the music video for “Started From the Bottom.”
I’ve had the feeling for a while that adulthood is, in essence, a feeling of constantly missing someplace, of feeling split -- and that’s the exact feeling I got from the “Started from the Bottom” video. Parts of the video are set in a generic luxury vacation paradise, a standard (I suspect) for rap music videos, but the “bottom” to which Drake refers is Toronto. The city logo is emblazoned on a soccer field four seconds in. The video’s storyline features past-Drake being promoted at a Shoppers Drug Mart, and though the store’s layout doesn’t look familiar, I nonetheless can’t help but feel as if I’ve been in that exact Shoppers before. Drake rides in a helicopter past the CN Tower later in the video; the first time I saw that, I felt a strange rush of pride. Toronto isn’t my city exactly -- I don’t even live there (yet), I just go there sometimes -- but that doesn’t stop me from feeling as if it’s one of my cities.
With all that said, I actually forget I’m in Canada on an embarrassingly regular basis. I always tell people that it’s just similar enough to the States to where I can forget easily, but then I notice the smallest difference -- a Second Cup on the corner instead of a Starbucks, Caramilk instead of Caramello, an extraneous “u” in a Facebook message from a classmate -- and the Twilight Zone theme starts playing in my head. For the most part, though, it doesn’t occur to me at all.
And then sometimes it’ll hit me all over again. I’ll be standing in front of Union Station in Toronto, typing busily in one of my many favorite coffee shops, walking home from a bus stop, or moseying down King Street in Westdale, and while waiting for a walk sign to light up, I’ll realize: damn, I moved to Canada. It’s a reassuring feeling above all, because sheesh, even if literally the next thing I do is crash and burn, who cares, I moved to Canada. I moved to Canada, and it welcomed me, and now I’ve got another place to eventually miss.