2016.

Hey 2016.

I’ve been waiting for you.

I’m afraid of you, a little bit. You’re all fog and mist and muddled reflections in waters that never seem to settle.

I don’t know what you’ll do to me

–where you’ll take me

–who you’ll throw across my path

–who will fall off if the path is rough

–what art I’ll see

–which landscapes will becomes the most familiar

–whose smile will be my favourite.

There’s a lot I don’t know about you, 2016. You’re a tall, dark, handsome mystery.

We have things to do, you and me.

Little things, mostly.

Westminster Abbey
This lanky, exhausted, bedraggled Libby got to see Westminster Abbey in 2015.

2015 was the year of big, strange, weird, wonderful, messy things.

2015 gave me a massive push from behind.

I tripped through 2015. But it was the almost-not-quite-a-face-plant that I needed.

I’m grateful for 2015.

You, 2016, I think you will be a good transition year.

A transition to where or what, I don’t know. But that’s why I need you.

 

– Resolutions –

I make resolutions every year, 2016, and I never keep them. They loll around on my bedroom floor until February, and they usually end up kicked under my bed.

Resolutions are my biggest dust bunnies.

This year I’m making small resolutions. If they end up under my bed, they will be mouse dust bunnies, not mammoths.

Tiny, tiny resolutions. So tiny they’re cute and a little bit disconcerting.

  1. Write a sentence every day (other than on Twitter).
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Read (at least) 15 non-university required books. Preferably diverse ones. 
  4. Go on a solo road trip.
  5. Watch an Audrey Hepburn movie.
  6. Finish a painting.

So here I am, 2016.

Have at me.

 

 

Etta and Otto and Russell and James (Can. Summer Reading Challenge Week 1)

Week 1 of my Canadian Summer Reading Challenge has ended.

I read Etta and Otto and Russell and James, the debut novel by Emma Hooper. I’ve been wanting to read this book since this interview popped up in my Twitter feed earlier this year, and I finally went out and bought a hardcover copy a few weeks ago. The concept of the novel appealed to me right away, from the moment I read Emma’s interview.

After reading reviews online and watching book vloggers from various parts of the world review it, I knew I had to read this quirky, Canadian novel. Following (guess who) Etta, Otto, Russell, and James, the 305-page book offers the readers a fresh, surreal, almost fantasy experience in watching 82-year-old Etta walk from Saskatchewan to Halifax to see the ocean.

I finished Etta and Otto and Russel and James. #amblogging #canadianreadingchallenge

A post shared by Libby (@libbysometimes) on

Living in mainland Nova Scotia, I’ve always been a mere hour’s drive away from the nearest beach, basin, or waterfront. My maternal grandparents loved the ocean, which my mother inherited, and sea shells, sea glass, and star fish have always been a part of the interior decor in my grandparents’ house and mine. Even though the ocean has never been a large financial or traditional part of my upbringing, I’ve always had access to the ocean through day trips, stories, and beach-themed bathrooms. Sometimes I forget that not every Canadian has a relationship with the ocean that I’ve grown up with.

My grandparents loved the ocean.

Etta’s desire to see the ocean for the first time in her eighty-two years of life is something I’ve never experienced, and never will, and it was lovely and enlightening to follow her desire across the majority of Canada.

Jumping back and forth from past to present, the novel blurs conventional storytelling in a beautiful, complex, confusing way that I thoroughly loved. There’s a lot of blank spaces for the readers to fill in for themselves–or maybe they’re left blank simply because it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t have to make sense, it just is.

The relationships between the characters are not defined so deeply in the novel so the reader knows exactly who they are and what they’ve gone through together. We’re given tidbits, teasers, and hints to keep us guessing. As Emma said in her interview,

“It’s meant to drift in and out of understanding a little bit, and it’s meant to make the reader not work but be involved so you can’t just sit back and be totally passive and just skim through on a surface level.”

We see little windows into Etta, Otto, and Russell’s past, but we miss the sixty-plus years between the time the war ends and Etta leaves for Halifax. We don’t know what happened between Etta and Otto, Etta and Russell, Russell and Otto. We’re left in the dark like a bystander rather than the intimate experience we as readers are used to having with the characters.

I really loved this novel for its unique format and style, and its habit of twisting cliches so you barely even notice the cliches, and I know I’m going to read it again. This is one of those books where you know you missed something the first (second, third) time around.

*Update: quick note on the end of the novel I forgot to add. I’ve heard mixed things from different people about how they feel about the novel’s end. While there is no obvious conclusion, and it’s left in the hands of the reader, there is a clever link to one of my favourite lines in the book. “It’s a loop, Otto. It’s just a long loop” (pg. 304). The book’s end could be its beginning. You could read it again and again in a long loop. Which I probably will.

So one week down, fourteen(ish) more to go! This week I’ll be reading Great Village by Mary Rose Donnelley.

Country mouse in the city (WINTER EDITION)

Nova Scotian winters have a notoriety for being unpredictable, messy, and invoking the good humour of its residents. As someone from a rural area, my experience with snowstorms entails school cancellations, Dad plowing the driveway and section of the dirt road with his little Kabota tractor, and sitting clandestinely around the warm glow of the wood stove, waiting for the snow to melt off the internet antenna so we can check Facebook to hear the news from neighbours throughout the community.

This is the first urban snowstorm I’ve had to endure (the last snowstorm class was happily cancelled and I stayed curled up in my little apartment all day). No, today was my first venture out into the Arctic city.

Living five kilometres off campus, I foolishly thought I could hop on my regular bus and make it home before dark.

gcyjp

LIES.

Rookie mistakes.

I’m not going to continue whining about the weather because we all know exactly what it’s like if you live in a place where it snows in excess.

I am, however, going to marvel about the wonderful things that happen when you walk through Halifax during a snow storm.

The two buses I attempted to travel on were stuffed full of people who had shared weather and bus-related jokes with me at the bus stop. The bus drivers were so cheerful I wanted to hug them, and thoughtful enough to let people off in the middle of traffic with the promise that if they saw them later, they would pick the enduring traveler back up.

After making the executive decision to get off the bus following twenty minutes and twenty metres of distance achieved, I headed out into the final frontier.

[I would like to take this moment to apologize to my boots for calling them bulky and ugly.

You are perfect, Boots, don’t you ever change. Your steadfast tread protected me from the snow-covered sidewalks that had deceptively hid their icy intentions underneath. Your thickness prevented the mutiny of my toes from my feet. You keep doing you, Boots.]

Chances are, if you’re walking because the buses are stuck in traffic two kilometres deep, other people have also abandoned ship bus. These people become your allies, your companions, your Fellowship of the Ring. They become Viggo Mortesen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, John Rhys-Davies, and Elijah Wood.

Because guys with beards get even better looking when tromping through the snow like a wild ranger, amirite?

These companions are the only living things you can see within visible distance (which, to be honest, isn’t very far).

By the time you leave backed-up traffic behind, there are no cars heading into the city, and the roads are empty and the sidewalks are ankle-deep in snow. I opted to walk on the road, something that is the only option in rural areas anyway, but occurred to me might not even be legal in the city. (Can someone please tell me if I committed a crime or not?).

Viggo Mortesen and Orlando Bloom stirred up a conversation a few metres in front of me. “When did you start?”  “Around five.” “Oh, same.” “Do you want some water?”

At this point it’s dark and everyone I encounter is red-cheeked, sweaty, and panting because let’s face it, Halifax is literally just one giant hill and snow is damn hard to walk in if you’re not an athlete or in possession of snow shoes.

On a flat stretch I caught up with Sean Bean, who had passed me on a particularly steep hill due to my lack of physical strength and fullness of bladder. (Sidenote: use the bathroom before heading out into a snowstorm). He asked me how long I’ve been walking (an hour and half since my departure from campus) and I asked him where he started from. We both chuckled tiredly at his remark about it being good exercise, wished each other luck, and went separate ways where the road split.

Elijah Wood was carrying two bags and lugging a suitcase on wheels up a hill as I was going down. He joked about his travels as we passed. I hope he got to where he was going to, and that it’s less blizzardy there.

IMG_20150202_180904265There is a moment, when your companions are gone and you pause to take a breather, that you realize how quiet it is when there’s no cars. You can actually hear the snow falling. You can hear silence, something that in the city you feared was lost and only available in weekend visits to the country.

So thank you, Halifax. Thank you for making a massive mess of the roads and turning the most good-natured people out of the buses and to the snowy trails to each individual’s Shire, each person’s home. Thank you for providing a little bit of companionship during my ninety-minute trek, and for the moment of peaceful silence in between the snowflakes.

Thank you for #stormchips.

And I will thank you even more if you cancel classes tomorrow. 🙂

Safe travels everyone!

Country mouse in the city

Country mice, my brothers and sisters.

Having spent the entirety of my life surrounded by woods, fields, golden rod, and camouflage and/or plaid shirts, the jump from rural Nova Scotia to Halifax has been a bit of a culture shock. Where are the barns? Where are the farmers? And what are these “crosswalks” you speak of? Thai food? You can get that here?

There are so many people.

People everywhere.

(Shut up, I know Halifax is a small city.)

It’s different here.

I’ve interacted with more strangers in a month than I have in my entire life. I’ve met a bajillion people, some of them on the bus (s/o to the lady who bid me good day), some of them on campus (day students represent), and some of them around the city as I walk from bus stop to bus stop (s/o to the Newfoundland couple who waited forever with me).

 

Everyone is busy, walking fast with purpose behind their smartphones and really cool sunglasses. There are so many young people. I’ve never seen so many people between the ages of 18 and 26. Everyone is attractive and hip and apparently we’re heading back to the late 1990s/early 2000s in fashion (I’m not sure how I feel about that). All hail grungy band t-shirts.

No one here wears camouflage. No one. It’s bizarre. The ratio of camo-to-plaid-to regular clothing in my hometown is something along the lines of 23:15:2.

Kids in the city walk to their bus stops by themselves without fear of being mugged or stolen (country students like me are scared of walking by ourselves in daylight because someone is obviously going to steal a fully-grown adult in a street with 100 witnesses).

The houses are extremely close together. People don’t have yards. (Growing up in the literal woods, this is weird for me to grasp.) The air smells like fast food, car exhaust, and butted out cigarettes.

I miss the smell of golden rod and asters and the earth exposed when corn crops are harvested. I miss the smell of fresh lumber and the woodstove.

flowers
At my country home I have a field of wilde flowers in my backyard. #oscarwildepuns

Buses.

Buses suck.

(If you follow me on Twitter you’ve no doubt been made aware of this).

Until I moved to Halifax, I have only been on a public bus once, when I was little and my cousins took me to the Discovery Centre. Let me describe to you what it’s like to take the bus from the perspective of someone who grew up isolated from civilization.

It’s a giant metal tube full of suspiciously oozy smells that may or may not be wafting from the dozens of people crammed into it. You have to sit next to people (touch them) who in the worse cases, smell like they’ve never showered and sing to themselves, and in the best cases smell nice, leave you alone, and don’t make shifty eye contact (also sometimes the gods are nice and you sit next to an attractive guy with a beard and a lunch box and he gets off at the same stop as you). If you’re terribly unlucky, you sit in a wet seat (sometimes on a day when it hasn’t rained in a week) or have to stand and hold onto those sticky yellow poles for dear life.

Some bus drivers are cranky. Some are hopelessly friendly and I want their energy. At least one of them looks like Stanley Tucci.

You also have to pay attention to where you are, because you’re brand-spanking new to the city and you know nothing, Jon Snow. Google Maps is your lifeline. You sweat (partly from being in a nerve-wracking tuna can, but also because what if you end up in New Brunswick by accident???). You have to decide how early to pull the slimy string-thing — too early or late and you’ll be walking. Then you have to figure out how the doors open. Some of them open for you, others you have to wave idiotically at, and others you have to push like the little brother you never had.

Buses are always either super late so you have to allow an extra 45 minutes before class just to ensure you’re there on time, or they are super early, so you miss it and have to wait for the next one. Goddammit guys, make up your mind.

Also, traffic. In the country traffic consists of two cars, three trucks, and a tractor (sometimes with a manure spreader).

Giant stone columns are a very pretty trend here. Stone columns are VERY Fall/Winter 2014.
Giant stone columns are a very pretty trend here. Stone columns are VERY Fall/Winter 2014.

Don’t get me wrong. Halifax is pretty cool. Walking downtown makes me crave to see it as it was 100, 150, 200 years ago when everyone wore top hats and the harbour was full of tall ships and you could buy candy for like a penny.

I love the contrast between 100-year-old buildings with stone Grecian-esque pillars and the blue-glass office towers next to them, and the old townhouses with chipped pink shingles like a ruined manicure next to that. There’s so much history and culture, both old and modern.

Art is a thing here. It’s everywhere. Festivals and random sales on the sides of the roads and poetry readings.

I can walk two minutes and buy a coffee, something I could never do before. The fact that there’s so many shops, businesses, and general PLACES is still overwhelming.

I’m going to university with people who share my interests and love of learning. My professors are amazing and so deeply intelligent I just kind of sit through lecture with my jaw on the floor, drooling on the notes I should be taking. My mind is in a perpetual state of blown-ness.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “The country is cool, but you can’t spontaneously buy $8.00 cheesecake there.”

Have any of you made the leap from rural to city life?

WOTS, Oscar Wilde, and Fall

Yesterday across the country thousands of authors, readers, and publishers flocked together to celebrate reading and writing in Canada! The weather was perfect, often as we remember September days to be, and bookworms bustled around the Halifax waterfront — quite literally. Tents canopied over stacks of books and book paraphernalia and booksellers and, well, more books. Readers occupied seats as local authors read from their creations, bags of reading swag and brochures sitting on their laps and clutched in protective hands, and under one tent a bucket played home to finger puppet versions of Oscar WIlde, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mother Theresa. Mr. Wilde had the honour of coming home to live with me. Miss Austen will join him next year, and eventually I’ll have more finger puppets than fingers!

WOTS is always a blast. This year a couple of my writing friends and I spent the day wandering through tents and stacks of books and stuffing our bags with The Hobbit posters and flyers for local publishers and businesses. At one point, only an eager swarm of approximately 75 people deep separated us from Jian Ghomeshi. We managed to glimpse the top his head. We also took the opportunity to pose for awkward/hilarious pictures at various landmarks on the waterfront, like the famous Dr. Suess-esque lamp posts, and with the Bookworm.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting the lovely Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet and Flying With a Broken Wing. Laura and I have interacted through our blogs before, and it was great meeting her in person! I’ll be reading Flying With a Broken Wing through the week (I’m so busy it’s ridiculous) and I’m very excited!

In other news, it’s fall! My favourite season. Full of purple asters and ripening apples and pumpkins, and the edges of the leaves are tarnished red and gold. It’s time for scarves and knitted hats and boots (not that summer prevented me from wearing any of these…). The air smells alive with dying things and things getting ready to sleep for winter, and is meant for crisp evenings reading with a mug of hot tea.

Can you tell I’m thrilled at the arrival of fall?

I’m hoping to get more writing done this season with the world providing daily inspiration — work on my next anthology and maybe, just maybe, dip back into my WIP novel.

In the meantime, did you attend your local Word on the Street? What’s your favourite season? Any new books to read this autumn?