Books, nostalgia.

A friend of mine told me that Macondo Books in Guelph was going out of business, and were having a sale this weekend. I went, not just for the sale, but to say goodbye.

Maybe that sounds corny, but it’s true. I always found at least one great book every time I went there, and the environment itself was welcoming. It never smelled musty, it was bright, and there were books stacked on every possible surface, as proven in this photo I took in 2011:

I bought a few books, lingering in the store longer than was probably necessary, and then my husband and I walked around downtown on our way to lunch.

Two high school friends of mine went to university here, and during that time I made several weekend trips to visit them, both on-campus and off. Then I moved to Calgary, and my visits to town became nostalgic. One of those friends took me there a few years after graduation, and we walked around the university’s campus, noting all the things that had changed.

I don’t get to Guelph as often as I probably should, but I always have some sort of emotional response when I do. Usually it’s the aforementioned nostalgia, but sometimes I start to think about the educational path I took, about how I only ever viewed university life as an outsider. I’m happy with the way my life turned out, but my relationship with traditional education has always been complicated and knotty, and I think it always will be. But I’m getting too old for wistful what-ifs now, and in fact I’m starting to find them annoying. So while I’ll never believe the closing of an independent bookstore can be a good thing, to me it felt symbolic to visit Macondo for the final time.

For lunch, my husband and I went to a restaurant I’d never been to before. The diner my friends and I always went to for breakfast was closed for renovations. Some of my old familiar landmarks were gone or changed. I discovered a bookstore that wasn’t there last time I visited. Maybe there’s a little symbolism in those things, too. Symbolism all over the place! I would be a terrible writer if I didn’t go looking for it, right?

Peeling Rambutan

I’ve been reading poems like mad recently, so I got excited when Teri invited me to an evening of readings hosted by her friend, poet Gillian Sze.

Even getting there felt sort of poetic, visuals full of meaning. My husband and I drove down Dundas in the rain, passing through the Junction, Little Portugal, Trinity-Bellwoods. Neighbourhoods that seemed so physically and spiritually remote when I lived in Toronto. We parked in Chinatown and walked the rest of the way through Kensington Market, a rainy warren of colour and umbrellas.

There were four writers and poets reading – Teri, Alexandra Leggat, Jessica Hiemstra, and Gillian – and they were all wonderful. Teri read my favourite story of hers

I bought a copy of Gillian’s book, and I’m having trouble putting it down. I long ago forced myself to admit I was useless at reviewing books even in the simplest terms, but suffice it to say it’s deeply satisfying. Go check it out!

Another shore.

lakeerie01 lakeerie02 lakeerie03
On Sunday Lake Erie was almost impossibly still, with some ice on the horizon. I had to keep checking the spot where the water shrugged against the beach to make sure the entire lake wasn’t frozen solid. We parked at a shoreside fish & chips shop in Lowbanks, closed for the season, and I made a note to return in the summer. Birds chattered above us and in the distance, and a greying dog named Trixie barked her hellos from the sand before bounding off. We heard her later being coaxed back into her car. (I know, girl, I know.) Even though we were only an hour from our home, the road trip mood was strong and so we stopped at the Tim Horton’s in Dunnville, the parking lot studded with motorcycles and people lounging about in t-shirts, their faces lifted to the sun.

Rules of transformation

Toronto crosswalk, July 2000.
Toronto crosswalk, July 2000.

A few days ago, I had to go to Toronto for a Finnish class. It was the first time I’d been to Toronto since I moved away in mid-January, and I was expecting it to feel disorienting. I felt a slight surge of alarm as I got to my old subway station and didn’t disembark, but aside from that, there was nothing major.

Afterwards, I was happy to cocoon in my parka on the bus back to Hamilton. It’s not anything special. It’s a stretch of highway I’ve been on hundreds of times in my life. But it was comfortable, it was quiet, the sun was low and the light was weak, and I had a cup of perfect Earl Grey tea I was more than willing to burn my tongue on.

When I moved to Calgary, I did so on a Greyhound bus. I spent 52 hours in total on it. It was such a narrow, contained little world for those few days. My Walkman died before I left Ontario. My life became little more than jockeying for first place in the washroom lineup at rest stops, eating packaged snacks, and watching out the window as my gigantic country slipped by. I wrote a lot. Fiction, but I also kept a record of everything I said in those 52 hours. It wasn’t much.

I’m probably making it sound dire, but it was actually nice. It was a big thing to do. I was 21. An Elvis impersonator serenaded us at the Dryden Greyhound station.

The trip from Toronto to Hamilton is nowhere near that long, but I found myself lulled back into that little egg of space, high up from the road, where I placed my gaze vaguely out the window and just let everything be important. And when we returned to Hamilton, for the first time I felt like it made sense for me to be there.

Some times.

The summer after Grade 10, my family and I went to visit my great-uncle and great-aunt in northern California. We ended up all getting colds, and spent a few days recuperating in their home. For some reason, I only brought one tape with me – Elastica’s first album. I listened to it over and over until I grew to hate it. After that, I listened to talk radio at night. It was so quiet outside, a deep, unsettling quiet. And I can still remember the low, almost monotone radio voices. I listened through headphones, so they were right there in my head, sounding so eerie in the dark.

(I don’t hate that Elastica album anymore, by the way. In fact, I find it comforting. It reminds me of those closed-in few days where there was no outside world at all.)

Somewhere around Grade 11, one of my friends loved this band. I remember listening to this song in his car once, very loudly, when we were on our way to some Swiss restaurant with some friends, though I don’t think we planned on going there. I think we were just hungry and happened upon a place and were intrigued by the concept of ordering fondue in a restaurant. Since we were ignorant teenagers new to the world of fondue, we ordered too much and sheepishly asked for it to go at the end of our meal. We were presented with a large plastic ice cream tub of melted cheese. In the car, laughing our heads off at how ridiculous we were, we had the bright idea to leave the tub on someone’s doorstep in the wealthy neighbourhood. In that naive, almost pure black-and-white thinking of high school, we thought it would be a funny prank to play on someone rich. This song always makes me think of that day, embarrassing for many reasons.

The power.


When the lights don’t come back after an hour, I start to grow anxious, imagining the worst (it appears prolonged blackouts have had that effect on me since 2003). And then there are reports of flooding in Toronto, which make me doubly anxious after the terrible floods last month in southern Alberta, including my former home, Calgary.

I’m at my parents’ house, which means an abundance of flashlights and candles. We fill up jugs of water. We turn off our cell phones. As the time drags on, I can’t help constantly listening to the small battery-powered radio, and I’m reminded of 2003, people gathered around radios in the parks, the newscasters sounding nervous and uncertain.

My dog and I go out and walk through the drizzle. The world is going dark in a soft way I never normally see, not even in the suburbs. Aside from that, it all seems the same. The same stillness. In Toronto, there are people stranded in a flooded train, but here everything feels just fine.

When I return, my mother is still doing crosswords by candlelight. My father is sitting on the back steps, looking at fireflies flashing just above the grass. A neighbour is playing guitar and his fingers squeak along the strings. It gets even darker, even quieter, but we have it pretty good.