Nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in the spring
Vladimir Nobokov, Mary
Perhaps it is because it is springtime, or because this latest lockdown truly does feel as if it may be one of the last, but I found that Nobokov’s concept of nostalgia in reverse greatly influenced what kinds of articles and blogs resonated with me this month.
Whether it was a longing for a lifestyle I have never perfected (fitting writing into my daily routine); an urge to continue traveling the world…heck, even browse a bookshop at my leisure; or the deep desire to use my inherent privilege to help make a positive and notable difference in this world for those who have been marginalized for too long.
“…patience and perseverance generally enable mankind to overcome things which, at first sight, appear impossible. Indeed, what is there above man’s exertions?”
– George Borrow, Lavengro
How is everybody doing? Hanging in there OK? Can anyone believe we have been in the grips of this pandemic, at least here in Canada, for half a year already?
As I’ve written in previous posts, the last six months have been hard. I recognize fully that my Covid experience has been incredibly privileged compared to the vast majority of humanity. To start, I have a roof over my head. I’m warm, dry, fed, healthy, safe and am able to bubble up with at least part of our family. Both my husband and I have been able to keep bringing in paychecks and we have only one dependent who is an infant and therefore does not need to be homeschooled (I’m not supposed to be schooling an 8-month-old…right?). So, yes, all things considered, my situation could be much MUCH worse.
However, none of these privileges can fully combat the fact that we are living through a global pandemic, and one that looks on track to last a while longer (PSA: Wear your masks, people!). Not only is the isolation and fear crushing some days but learning to parent while not having access to our much-beloved support networks has been much harder than I could have possibly imagined. Yes, now we have at least one set of grandparents and a few uncles and aunts in our bubble able to help but that leaves two sets of grandparents, many uncles and aunts, and the rest of our extended family largely out of our daughter’s life for the time being. And this alone is, well, heartbreaking. As I wrote in a previous post, this is not in any way, shape, or form what I envisioned for the first year of Aria’s life. Not by a long shot.
Don’t worry, though, dear reader! This post is not meant to be all doom and gloom. I am actually going to offer below some coping mechanisms that seemed to have worked to largely bring me back to a place of calm and positivity in the midst of so much chaos and negativity. I hope they will help someone, anyone, to find even just a little bit of light in the darkness but, remember, it is still OK to not be OK. Take a deep breath. We will get through this, together.
“Moments like this act as magical interludes placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn – and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.” – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
How is everyone doing?
We are now, let’s see, 6 months into COVID-19 self-isolation measures. Half. A. Year. How is this possible? How can it possibly feel like no time at all has passed while also simultaneously seeming like we’ve been in isolation forever? Is this how hermits feel all the time? The mind boggles.
Like many others, I have struggled during this time to keep on top of the many productive tasks I set out to consistently chip away at despite having what appears at first blush to be an unlimited stretch of time laid out before me each morning.
Wait, scratch that, who am I kidding? I have a 6.5-month-old daughter…I wake up before the sun and by the time I catch a moment to take a deep breath that same sun is somehow on its way down again. I wonder if the days feel as unreasonably short to a baby as well.
Motherhood aside, as this is not what I wished to post about tonight, I can summarize the last few months in one single word: Rough.
“Would history be there for her to see, or would it all have been tidied away? Was it fair to expect that sixty years after an event – on the whim of someone who had shown no previous interest – a country would dutifully reveal its past to her amateur inspection?” – Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
The quote above from my book of words spoke to me after I had read through my journal entry from November 4th, 2015. Though the places we visited that day were much older than 60, and had far longer memories, much of their history was indeed tidied away…and showed no interest in revealing their secrets to me. A bit of research all these years later has shined some lights on a few things but I have so many questions! Regardless, though I do not have all the information to fill the glaring holes in this post, the show, er, blog must go on.
Who you are is defined by the next decision you make, not the last one” – Rachel Hollis, Girl, Stop Apologizing
Hello dear readers, if you are indeed still out there. It’s been a few days. OK, it’s been over a month, but who’s counting?
I am, to be honest. And I’ve been struggling really hard not to spend a good chunk of my time every day beating myself up at least a little for how much I have allowed my writing goals to take a back seat this year (and I’m talking the back seat of a 747, not a mini-cooper).
When I actually allow myself to pause for a minute and attempt to cut myself some slack, however, I find myself reflecting on what actually happened this past year that pushed writing from the priority I wanted it to be to the “wouldn’t it be nice” archival section of my brain. Not only did I get married in June, in a largely DIY-wedding (shout-out to our wedding party of 20 people and all of the family and friends who made this possible), but I also became pregnant with our first child (due in mid-January), bought a house, got a new job, and moved out of Ottawa (the city where I was born-and-raised). Any one of these things could potentially throw a resolution or two out of whack but all of them? Suffice it to say pretty much every single resolution I wrote about in my last New Years themed post was successfully defenestrated somewhere between January and December of 2019.
But here’s the funny thing about resolutions: they are entirely self-imposed. No one, and I mean no one, is going to judge you for not achieving them. Even if you’re the type of person who shouts their 10 New Years Resolutions from the proverbial rooftops, by the time the first week of January has passed even the people who love you most have already forgotten what exactly you had set out to do with your new year. And by December? Most people don’t even remember their own resolutions, why would they remember – and thus judge you for not achieving – yours?
So, recognizing that I am by far my own harshest critic, I have been working hard to focus not on what I didn’t do this year but instead on what I did. I’d say playing a huge role in pulling off an enormous bilingual wedding is a pretty solid start. Growing a human? Not unimpressive. Finding a new job in a completely new niche and making it my own? Fairly notable. Buying and helping to set up a new family home? At least worth a smile and a pat on the back.
These accomplishments are nothing to sniff at and I need to remind myself daily of how much has transpired this year and, yes, even marvel for a minute at the fact that I am still smiling despite the months of stress and constant anticipation for the next big thing.
Even if nothing about my hectic version of 2019 resonates with you, I bet the following observation will. Along with all the specific achievements I listed above, and even more than any of them or all of them combined, the aspect that I find most remarkable is my ability to dream up a new list of resolutions even after my last ones crashed and burned so spectacularly. I mean, how incredible is the human spirit that even after setting goals and getting nowhere near the finish line on any of them, we can resolve anew to better certain aspects of our life in the coming year? I could just as easily tell myself resolutions were simply not for me and give up on the idea entirely (and, indeed, if resolutions are not your thing, no judgment! To each their own), but instead I sit down at my desk yet again and put pen to paper to determine what my big goals are for the year. Never doubt the power of perseverance, even when it seems most futile. Something is bound to stick at some point!
So, as far as 2020 is concerned, I have decided to narrow down my resolutions to three big ones in the three main areas of my life where I want to see improvement (you know, while I simultaneously learn to be a parent…):
Mental Health: This year, I would like to explore my coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety (meditation, reading, exercise – especially yoga, time with loved ones, entertainment, writing) and put into place a game plan for when I am feeling overwhelmed or panicky.
Fitness: This year, I would like to return to my bare minimum of doing yoga every single day (once I am recovered from childbirth that is) and add exercise from there. Even with a kid, if I could get back to exercising every day of the week, say just for 20 minutes some days, I know I can get back to a place where I feel strong and healthy and comfortable in my own skin.
Career: Finally, this year I aim to take the leap to put myself out there as a writer and editor. I know I have the ability, I just have to have the courage to try. Even if my efforts only produce enough recognition and payment to provide some extra cushion to our budget, I can say I am getting paid to do what I love. How cool would that be?
So there you have it, three broad goals for 2020 to put myself firmly on the path I have strived to walk all my life: one that leads to a happy, healthy and fulfilled existence I can be proud of. The lack of specificity was entirely on purpose, by the way. I have found in the past that setting specific goals (I.e.: I resolve to not have a single panic attack this year or I will write for 30 minutes every day) tends to encourage making excuses for why I cannot check that box off on this particular day until a month goes by without any real progress. I find the more broad I make my resolutions, the more likely I am to chip away at them instead of allow them to hang intimidatingly above my head.
Ultimately, I am trying to look forward as much as possible instead of back – to define myself by my current and future decisions, not my past excuses. I have no idea if this new strategy will be successful but I do know it is worth a shot.
So, what resolutions have you set out for yourself this year (if any)? What’s your take on what kind of resolutions are most successful? I’d love to hear more perspectives on this.
I promise I will return to my France trip on my next post, thank you for indulging this little tradition of mine for my last post of 2019.
And remember, whether you succeed in your resolve or not, life is beautiful.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
This post is going to be briefer than most but as it is serving as the intro to my next grouping of travel tales, I think this is appropriate.
I wasn’t quite sure how to start this particular piece so I started where I always do when my access to the creative recesses of my mind is blocked: I started going through my quote book and my journal to see if anything sparks inspiration.
In flipping through both tomes, I came across both the quote that began this blog (side note: if you see yourself as a creative, or aspire to be a creative, or are curious about the untapped potential of your own creativity, do yourself a favour and read that brilliant book) as well as a couple of journal entries from the months leading up to this trip. As per usual, I was immediately struck at how well these two sources fit together – it really feels as if some unknown force is guiding me towards the exact inspiration I need to read sometimes.
“One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story.”
– Neil Gaiman, American Gods
I can’t believe I have finally reached this point in my tale – the end. It has been a long time coming, much longer than I had envisioned, but I am truly proud of myself that I have made it this far! I suppose it also helps that I already know what I will be writing about next: my trip to France around Remembrance Day 2015. And this time around, I actually kept a pretty devoted journal during the trip itself so I shouldn’t be relying entirely on memory. However, I must warn you, my trip to France was fraught with emotions – and not always easy ones. But for now, let’s finish the telling of this adventure up, shall we?
Though technically the trip my sister and I took ended in Dublin, the last place we spent any significant amount of time was Wicklow Town in County Wicklow. And this destination was another one which made an appearance in my travelogue entirely by accident…
Originally, Kristen and I had been hoping to make it to New Ross, not far geographically from Wicklow but certainly farther when you consider that we did not have the luxury of taking our own car around the Emerald Isle. If you have never been to Ireland (or the U.K., or Europe in general for that matter) and you happen to hail from North America, here is a free bit of gentle advice: do NOT expect the road systems to be like ours. Ever. Don’t do it. You will find yourself thinking a hundred kilometer trip is going to take an hour on a fairly straight highway and will find yourself still on some winding (though beautiful) road 3 hours later wondering if you might have taken a wrong turn somewhere, desperately moving afternoon plans around to try and still fit all your desired destinations in.
I don’t say this to imply that their roads are not as well-designed as ours, goodness knows I have my issues with the 401 (and don’t get me started on the haphazard muddle of on- and off- and a-little-bit-of-column-A-a-little-bit-of-column-B ramps we have going on in Ottawa), but they are certainly different and take some getting used to. I’ll get into this more in my posts about my trip to France – that time we did rent a car – but suffice it to say that the majority of the roads in Europe were built long after cities and towns and farmland had sprouted all over the terrain whereas those in North America were built across large swaths of as-of-then undeveloped (read: not unoccupied) lands. The result in North America is long stretches of largely well-groomed highways allowing one to travel at a pretty consistent speed and reach far destinations in a decently short span of time. And thank the stars for this because otherwise we would be an isolated people indeed – everything is far away! Don’t ask me to take you to both Halifax and Vancouver in one trip – it ain’t happening. Would you take me to Moscow and Paris in the same one-week sojourn? I didn’t think so. But, I digress.
In Europe, while there are some main highways on which you can drive rather fast from one end of the country to the other, in order to get to most of the smaller towns and villages, you are forced to skip these oft-controversial paved thoroughfares in favour of smaller and less straight-forward country roads. Often, these country roads are barely wide enough for one car, let alone two, and good luck to you if you come across a truck while passing through one of the particularly narrow channels graced by stone walls on either side. Again, this is not to disparage the roadways across the pond. This is just to warn potential North American travelers that the driving conditions over there can take some getting used to.
Now, what was the point of this diatribe you might ask? Simply that the route from Doolin to New Ross would have been decently long and confusing (though filled with stunning vistas) should we have rented a car to make the journey. As it stood, we were quickly running out of both cash and time and as such were forced with choosing between a long and multi-stop bus trip between the two villages or instead choosing a different destination for our Irish swan song.
This should have been an easy decision for us, and I do think we made the right one considering our circumstances, but it wasn’t one we were pleased to have to make. The reason New Ross had been on our list in the first place, as random as a destination as it might seem to most, was personal. You see, according to our family lore, this was where the Walsh clan (our ancestors on our maternal grandfather’s side) bid adieu to their island home in the hopes of finding prosperity in the New (read: new to Europeans) World. They left during one of the several famines that struck Ireland in the 19th century and, as far as we know, never looked back.
Random Historical Fact #16
New Ross is one of the key destinations in Ireland when looking to learn about the Famine Ships that carried so many out of (and, unfortunately, through) dire conditions to distant shores filled with the promise of a new life. It is the home of the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a replica of one of the “passenger” ships that actually ferried Irish emigrants away from their home shores towards North America and a fresh start. Commissioned by the Graves family, the original ship was actually built in Quebec, Canada and was first launched in 1845 – the same year that the Great Famine (though by that point it was thought to be a bad blight on that year’s potato crop) began in Ireland. When the blight continued to get worse without an end in sight, hundreds of thousands of people started to make plans to leave the Island to try and ensure their survival and that of their families. The exodus was so large, in fact, that there simply weren’t enough passenger ships to carry everyone across the Atlantic. Enter the Graves family who saw a business (and, one would hope, humanitarian) opportunity and decided to outfit their cargo ships with bunks in order to sell tickets to ferry desperate families across the water. Though ships like the Dunbrody may have been stuffed with anywhere from 160 to 300 people in one voyage, as regulations were exceptionally lax during this dire time, it still managed to carry thousands of people across the ocean – mostly to Quebec – and even to keep its fairly good reputation as far as newly-converted passenger ships were concerned. I can’t help but wonder if some of my close or distant relatives may have been passengers on this very ship – doing their best to remain calm and hopeful as they pitched about in their cramped quarters on the rough sees. It must have taken incredible courage…
Now, our ancestors not only left from those very shores but that they also hailed from the green hills of Wicklow County – we were hoping to spend some time there to try and wrap our minds around what kind of life our family must have led back then and how they found the nerve to strike out to find a new life. Perhaps it was not nerve at all but rather a leap of faith knowing that if they stayed, they likely wouldn’t see many more winters.
I am still a little heartbroken that this part of our trip did not pan out as we had hoped but I must add that Wicklow Town was more than just a consolation prize. Though not our intended destination, the town might have been just what we needed at that point in our trip – a calm respite before the exhausting whirlwind trip back home to Canada and full-time work. I can’t honestly tell you much about the history of the town or its many attractions but I can tell you this:
It is truly a wonderful place to slow your pace and enjoy leisurely walks to nowhere in particular. We spent much of our time on the coast there, rambling about and breathing in the fresh air and quiet calm of the local parks. I am sure we could have packed our day with historical and cultural fare, and I promise I will be back one day to explore its charm more thoroughly, but the long walks we took complete with a barefoot stroll (OK, 30 second toe-dip) in the frigid water was just what the doctor ordered.
It wasn’t New Ross, no, nor a town particularly tied to my family in any way that I know of; but it was a refuge from the madness of our 3-week trip and the adulting we knew we had to do once we got home. And, truthfully? I’m not sure I could have handled the inevitable emotional turmoil I would have experienced stepping on the same ground my family last felt before fleeing their home forever.
Though this last post was a bit more aimless than others, and I do hope you will forgive me for this, my one wish is that this very long travelogue has been an at least somewhat entertaining tale for you to read. At times it wasn’t easy to write, at times inspiration evaded me for months on end as life got hard or exceptionally busy, but I always knew it was a story worth telling. Maybe one day I will put all of these thoughts and stories into a book, perhaps I won’t. But at the very least, I have gotten them down on the page and shared them with at least a few souls around the planet who thought them worth their time.
So, for those who have followed me throughout this journey, or even those who dropped in now and then for a laugh or a ponder, thank you for bearing with me as I fought my way through the writing of this adventure. I can’t promise I will always be the most consistent blogger, though I am trying, but I can promise that I am not nearly out of stories yet. After all, as Neil Gaiman so wisely wrote, the best way one can describe a story, whether it is to oneself or the world (or a few hundred readers), is by telling the story.