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Call me Mr. S., and since suffering a stroke, by which I mean the massive upheaval that has taken me cross country from Vancouver to Charlottetown, not only I have literally lost touch with the left hemisphere that is the Pacific coast, but I’ve also lost normal functioning in my cerebral left hemisphere.
I sometimes complain to my family: Who cancelled the plans to Bard on the Beach? But when they gently, patiently remind me that “We are still going. It’s called Shakespeare by the Sea”—I seem to not understand. With my new eastern location, anything east of Boundary does not register. It’s as if nothing of importance can be expected to occur or exist elsewhere.
When I face west and look in a mirror my present reality does come into view, but this constant Vancouver orientation does have its drawbacks. It’s as if I’ve totally lost the idea of Burnaby and the world beyond: When I shave I leave the right half completely neglected; when I eat I only eat what is visible to me, the portions on the left half of the plate; when I watch hockey I cannot recall who the Canucks are playing, having only a vague memory that there are other teams. It is always a surprise to me when others point out that the Canucks did not win the Stanley cup. “How could they not?” I say, “The other teams never score.” My intellect remains, so I can be reasoned out of my absurd fixation on the perfect goaltending of Luongo, and over these last six years of Vancouver absence I have learned to doubt my own perceptions.
In all of these things and more my attention simply cannot be drawn away from the left coast. According to the neurologist I have hemisphere inattention, a subcategory of hemi-inattention, and there is no cure, only the workarounds that can trick the mind into seeing what it normally cannot. With a simple and small video attachment to my glasses I can go about my daily routine perceiving the world around me as others do, but for the most part I can’t stand it.
Using the video monitor like a mirror, what comes into view is not the gentle island of confederation advertised in tourist brochures, but a black-hole kind of horror of a non-Vancouver world. Most days it is too distressing and I abandon my monitor for the pure delusion of kicking up fall leaves on UBC campus, holding my breath all the way across Capilano suspension bridge, or eating a salmon burger on the deck of the Jericho Sailing Centre. In so many ways, these video workarounds don’t make my perception normal, but abnormal. Imagine the so-called real world not having the North Shore mountains, as if they had suddenly fallen into the sea. Imagine no Yaletown, no movie star sightings, no Georgia Straight.
Having learned to trust the video monitor and not my eyes, my children have taken to teasing me. Only yesterday they created a perfect replica of the Vancouver Sun reporting a massive earthquake that swallowed the city. The article goes on to say how in an odd expansion of pride the CN Tower has grown a few feet, and that the Rocky Mountains seem to have an extra shimmer.