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.
Wisdom may be rented, so to speak, on the experience of other people, but we buy it at an inordinate price before we make it our own forever.
Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice
As I was going through my book of quotes today (woefully out of date as it is since my novel reading has fallen drastically over the past few years…) I came across this sentence written by the brilliant Canadian author Robertson Davies – one of my husband’s favourites!
What struck me about this quote was the image of a price for wisdom. For me, that price seems to be time as I have so many things I am curious about, so much I wish to learn, and yet all of this takes time. Time which is hard to find as a first-time-mom working from home during a pandemic.
“…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.
“In town, there was silence bled into by whispered talk”– Elizabeth Hay, Alone in the Classroom
Today is the day I finally return to my retelling of the trip I took to France with my Dad back in 2015. Fingers crossed I can actually finish this story in a timely fashion! The last travelogue took me, what, a few years? In an attempt to get this done in a timely manner…this post is a long one. Fair warning.
Recommitting to writing for what feels like the 1000th time isn’t easy but, hey, it’s bound to stick sometime. At least that’s what I keep telling myself every time I miss a day of writing for whatever reason. One of my resolutions this year was to try to put less pressure on myself when it comes to achieving non-essential goals. My husband will tell you I consistently keep a daily to-do list of more than 10 things I want to achieve, which would be fine if I didn’t get anxious, stressed and incredibly emotional when I don’t achieve each and every one of these goals. Since these negative feelings are often accompanied with a whole heck of a lot of self-criticism, I’m trying to make it easier for me to achieve my goals as a way to feel more accomplished and less self-critical. And if I don’t achieve one or more of the things on my list one day, or even several days in a row, so be it! I mean, I am a new mom and only human, for goodness sake.
All this to say, this is me attempting to return to a weekly post on here at a minimum. I can’t promise I’ll achieve this every week, but you better believe I’m going to try. And if it doesn’t happen? I’m not going to beat myself up. I hope you, dear reader, won’t be too disappointed either.
There were moments, of course. Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
I feel as if nearly every post on here this past year has begun with some kind of apology for being away for so long. And this one, unfortunately, is no different. Though writing is one of the great loves of my life and I am trying to figure out a system by which time is regularly spent tuning into this aspect of my person, I do feel the need to cut myself some slack for what has honestly been a few lackluster years as far as writing is concerned.
You see…though I mean it when I say that writing is one of the loves of my life, the last few years have been spent discovering the others – my other great loves: my husband and my daughter.
In 2019 alone, Louis and I got married, I left a job that was no longer fulfilling me, we found out I was pregnant with our first child, and we bought our family home where we are now living (happily ever after).
I would say this would constitute a pretty big year for anyone. Even still, I managed to return to my writing here and there as things periodically and briefly slowed down – as evidenced by my sporadic posts on this blog. But it wasn’t enough. The writer in me never felt satisfied.
Protest as she might, however, my inner writer needed to be patient just a little longer as the biggest change – the biggest of all I’d say – led me to ignore her completely for the last few months of 2019 all the way until today.
I’d like to think that despite her constant niggling at my self-conscious brain, my radio silence was warranted by the best possible reason. On January 27th at 11:44AM in the morning, Louis and I welcomed our first child into the world: Aria Adele.
Before I continue this post, however, I should probably write something of a disclaimer regarding my photo policy for any posts written about motherhood or our parenting journey – and this does not constitute any judgment of how other parents choose to do things. As far as public platforms go, I will not be posting any photos of Aria’s face, even though she is incredibly cute and I am dying to show her off. Louis and I made this decision as neither of us are huge into social media and we want Aria to be able to make her own choices about her social media presence, or lack thereof when she’s older. Apologies ahead of time for depriving you of baby photos!
But back to why Aria’s birth at the end of January led to me ostracizing this poor writer for the first part of this year. Not that I need to explain myself, of course, but the writer is demanding compensation for being ignored for so long.
Leading up to Aria’ birth, I was exhausted and impatient. Daily. Though I had continued to exercise every day all the way into my 8th month of pregnancy, the last bit kicked my ass for lack of a better way to describe the experience. Despite sleeping more than I think I have since my teenage years, I was tired. All. The. Time. Everything became a chore – even the activities I had always found to be both rejuvenating and relaxing. Writing, reading, yoga, even socializing were abandoned one-by-one until I was left lounging on the couch day in, day out half-heartedly bingeing various shows that continued to feel like fillers regardless of how good they were objectively. I felt like time was somehow crawling and racing forward at the speed of light simultaneously and the sensation made my head spin.
Everyone always tells you to enjoy your time as a couple during your first pregnancy before two permanently becomes three but no one added the caveat that enjoying the last few weeks of my pregnancy journey would be so hard. Each morning seemed to bleed into evening and I didn’t have the energy to do much other than get myself up from the couch once in a while to go to the bathroom. Louis was wonderful and kind and understanding to a fault, and he will tell you he relished the chance to take care of me without me bounding around doing 40 things at once, but my lethargic state didn’t allow for us to do much together other than watch episodes and read from the baby book once he got home from work every day. Before I knew it, and without having “made the most” of our last few weeks together per say, Aria’s due date had come and gone and then…well then the impatience set in.
I know, I know, everyone knows first babies are late. And I had told myself time and again that she would be two weeks late since that’s the longest most OBs will let you go before they will induce you – but this didn’t make the waiting any easier. As a first time Mom, I had no idea what to look for in terms of labour symptoms and so every single cramp, ache, heck even bowel movement, was taken as a sign that it was “go time”. And it never was. No matter what I tried, it seemed, whether it was bouncing on a yoga ball or forcing myself out for a walk or eating my weight in dates, this baby was not budging.
In fact, Aria held on as long as they would let her: I was induced 11 days past her due date of January 15th. And even with all that waiting, when they inserted the cervidil in the hospital on the late afternoon of the 26th they gave me the following warning: it would likely take 24 hours minimum to kick in. In fact, they would likely need to dose me again the next evening with the hope that things would get within 48 hours or so. However, they added in passing, there is a slim possibility you could hyper react. But that isn’t likely. See you in 24 hours.
Well, world, guess what.
We left the hospital at 5:30PM that day and by 10:30PM I was back having gone from 0 to 60 without warning: I was contracting every minute leaving me barely any time to catch my breath.
I won’t go into too much detail about what transpired over the next 12 hours but suffice it to say nothing went according to plan. But does it ever? Maybe I’ll actually learn this lesson some day.
Even with all of the complications that ensued, however, I agree with every Mom you’ve ever asked about childbirth (I’m not the only one who has always been curious about this, right?). It was all, all of it, worth it. Every second.
Because when all was said and done, when the pain and the fear dissipated at the end of the longest road I have ever walked, time stood still – just for a moment. In my arms was this perfect little girl, the most beautiful creature I could have ever imagined. And she was ours, our child. Our newest love. As I gazed at her precious face and cradled her tiny body against my chest, everything that had transpired suddenly made sense. All of the exhaustion, the nausea, the impatience, the pain, there was a purpose for all of it: her. Aria’s little hand stroked my collarbone and I knew, I just knew, everything was going to be OK.
My existence in this moment was indeed balanced on a perfect point – no matter what came next, the highs and the lows, the light and the dark, I knew Louis and I would be able to face whatever it was because now we had someone depending on us to see everything through.
Those small spaces of time, her first moments earthside, were soon over (too soon it seems) and the weeks that followed were hard, filled with moments of both joy and frustration. But what brought us through was this little human who doesn’t even yet know the love she has inspired in us.
I’m still going to continue posting about my travels, I promise, but I hope you won’t mind the occasional post about motherhood because, well, I have a feeling this might be my new passion.
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.
“I don’t know what to think until I write about it” – Joan Didion
It’s a New Year and so a new me… or apparently that’s how we are supposed to see the stroke of midnight on the 1st of January when all the people in the same time zone as you (who haven’t dozed off already) wish each other all the health and happiness for the coming year. In the past, during the first week of the year, I simply spent half of each day impatiently scratching through yet another wrongly written date and the other half wiggling out of my over-ambitious Resolutions with the help of lame excuses. By the time the middle of January had come and gone, I had already shrugged my shoulders, pronounced my hopeful resolutions as “next year projects” and gone on with my life as usual.
After all, is it not just an arbitrary decision that every time we successfully travel fully around a big ball of fire on our floating rock, we should celebrate as if being given a new life, a fresh start in which to accomplish all the things we always said we would?