“Here is the country not in its Sunday best, but in its old clothes, unpaved, unfenced, full of character, ungroomed, unvisted, barely penetrable.”
-Elizabeth Hay, Alone in the Classroom
Recently, after a long hiatus, I have returned to writing in earnest. Not only have I been keeping up with these blog posts on a regular basis (finally) but I have also waded into the writers’ community here on WordPress. Aside from the – albeit important – fact that writing is good for my mental health, reading the wonderful posts by other like-minded creatives has encouraged me to continue expanding the amount of time I devote to the craft; you can only improve with practice, right?
In returning to my writing with more and more energy and zeal, I have also picked up the threads of my unfinished debut novel. Though I have never taken down the post-its that have served as a makeshift storyboard since I began working on this book *gasp* six years ago, the story itself has sadly lain largely dormant for the last three. Apart from a few halfhearted attempts to return to this world I had begun to create, I have not well and truly reentered it until this past weekend. And, let me tell you, it felt amazing. Almost like a homecoming of sorts – it felt right.
But, I did not set out in this post to write about my novel. I’ll get to that perhaps once I have finished at least this thread on the Gurski Grad Trip from all those years ago.
“Yet as he walked up the familiar ways, the streets remembered themselves in his mind.” – Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
As much as I truly do love travelling alone, every single time I have fallen in love with somewhere on one of my solo trips, I have almost immediately felt an intense desire to share it with not any one person in particular but with every person in my life. This is different from the feeling I have when dreaming up a new trip – usually these visions involve a specific person or set of people (ex: I would love to visit the South of France with my Mom and Sister – Mum was an au pair there at one time). But once I have gone past the dream and really fallen for a place, I just want everyone and their dog to see it, experience it, and (hopefully) love it… as I did.
I could go on and on about the many (and I mean an absurd amount) of places I think everyone should see, and perhaps this blog will get to all those places eventually. But for now, in keeping with the narrative already established, I’ll settle with talking about one little village that has found a distinctly dear place in my heart.
Nestled at the base of the famous (infamous?) Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s rough western coast is a teeny tiny village called Doolin. And it is one of the most heartwarmingly lovely places I have ever visited.
“This pause in time, within time…When did I first experience the exquisite sense of surrender that is possible only with another person? The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another in close companionship. – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
There really is nothing sweeter while traveling than taking a day to relax near the end of a long trip. I know what you’re thinking: but that doesn’t make any sense, Erin! At the end of a trip you only have a finite number of days to see everything before heading back to comfortable, familiar (and, by extension, apparently less exciting) home. Right?
Well, bear with me here. In my experience, choosing to take a day’s rest in the final week of a trip is extraordinarily beneficial. Now, by a day of rest, I do not mean that you stay in your pajamas in bed curled up with a good book and bottomless tea (although, if that is your main definition of rest – by all means, indulge). For me, a restful day means one during which we do not write anything at all on the agenda. We choose instead to mosey around the village we have alighted on at a completely unhurried pace and simply enjoy each other’s company and the delightful fresh air.
Note: I can confirm that this method of relaxing works just as well if you’re travelling alone – who says you can’t enjoy your own company in the fresh air?
“To be a historian is to be questioning, to have a vivid imagination and an insatiable curiosity.” – Anna Whitelock
I realize this might seem like I am trying to define who I have always been using the benefit of hindsight – you know, the way every autobiography ever written makes some kind of broad statement about how so-and-so has always been a natural leader or something of the sort? However, I believe my parents would back me up in this statement: ever since I was a very small child, I have delighted in learning about the past. I went through many phases: Egyptian Pharaohs, Celtic Druids, English Monarchy, Irish Revolutions, etc… but the bedrock of my interest was always the same – I wanted to learn everything I could about how people lived before I existed. How did they go about their days? What could have occupied their minds as much as their very existence occupied mine? Did they think about the future? Or struggle to make it to another sunrise? The study of recorded and analysed history could only take me so far – my imagination always carried me further.
“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?
“…throwing open their windows for the cool breeze the storm had left as an apology.” – Louise Penny, The Murder Stone
Sometimes the sentences I rediscover in my quote book are not particularly profound, or insightful, or perspective-changing. Sometimes they are merely sentence fragments, sometimes only a few little words. But every piece of literature in my modest collection has one thing in common – it’s all great writing.
The quote that began this post spoke to me today for a particular reason, which I’m sure will become clear by the end of my musings. But, for now, let’s pick up where we left off.
“But Three Pines itself was a village forgotten. Time eddied and swirled around and sometimes bumped into it, but never strayed long and never left much of an impression.” – Louise Penny, The Cruellest Month
One of the most incredible things about travelling, in my humble opinion, is arriving in a place that seems completed unhurried and unconcerned b the passage of time. You do not even have to go far to discover such a place – even in a country like Canada where 1000 year old ruins may not exist around every corner. Simply walk into the center of your nearest forest, or down to the banks of a local river outside the city center and take a careful look around.
Chances are that while much has changed in the intervening centuries between when Europeans first inserted themselves on this already lived-in landscape, you are looking up at the same, or at the very least a similar, sight as the First Nations people once did before their world was turned upside-down. Many lives have come and gone but the land was here before and will be here long after mankind meets its fate, whenever that may be.