Farewell to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

Nova Scotia is a dark and stormy coast that births brave and beautiful people who dance and sing and make music that is perfect and pure.

Halifax is that feeling in your heart. That ache and crest. That inconceivable rush when you kiss someone for the first time and everything is unfettered and flushed and on fire and you haven’t a breath in your body.

Halifax is wishing to live in that moment forever.

Halifax is the biggest sky you’ve ever seen. It’s a blue that burns.

Halifax is your neighbour practicing their bagpipes at 8 AM on a Saturday morning. It is a farmers market selling Annapolis Valley cider and hand-knit socks.

It’s riding your bike through The Commons, just before sunset, and marveling at a world bathed in a rose gold glow. For a moment, everything pauses. For a moment, the world collectively releases its breath.

Halifax is, for a moment, letting yourself go.

Halifax is walking along the waterfront, wind-battered and rattled, wondering what the winter will bring. It’s wondering how anyone could live through this.

Halifax is living through this.

Halifax is running and running and running and realizing that no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun everything.

Halifax is letting your hair grow and your nails heal. It’s three months of restless sleep and restless nights and tears of such surprising heartbreak that, no matter what, you are never ready.

Halifax is getting caught off guard. It’s letting yourself get caught off guard.

Halifax is a city built on folklore and myth, sea shanties and Stan Rogers.

Its days are fueled by harbour hopping tourists and university students.

The Rotary. The Arm. The Waeg. The Coast.

It’s the ego of knowing that Nova Scotia is the best maritime province, but never saying that it’s the best maritime province.

It’s a night that stretches, wraps its arms snug around your shoulders, warming you with a laughter unlike one you’ve ever known.

It’s laughing until you cannot laugh. Doubled over by bad dates and mingled fates. Staring at the gallows of death and disease, and daring them to try.

It’s a love that transcends continents and causeways.

It’s a love that cascades.

Halifax is family, sitting in a kitchen and talking.

Halifax is sitting in a kitchen. The indefinable comfort of sitting in a kitchen.

Halifax is a barbecue where one person starts singing, and then everyone starts singing.

Halifax is just knowing all of the words.

It’s Sonny’s Dream.  And Gillis Mountain. And The Whistling Rover.

It’s unironically loving Rita MacNeil.

Halifax is a city that quietly swallows you whole.

Nova Scotia makes your blood run a little hotter. Gives your legs a new strength.

It forces you to stop. To stare at a sky, and feel the limitless of a place that is haunted and vaunted, and never unnecessarily so.

There is magic here.

Nova Scotia is new Scotland.

It is my Scotland.

And though I am far away, on the briny ocean tossed, I know she heaves a sigh and a wish for me.

2016: A year in review

So much already has been written about 2016. By almost every account, the year has been a raging dumpster fire – a hate-filled inferno consuming everything and everyone in its path.

And yes, a lot of really, really bad things happened this year.

But a lot of really good things happened too. And because life isn’t one giant binary, a lot of good and bad things happened all at once – sometimes at the exact same time.

My year has definitely been one of nuance. Sometimes black, sometimes white, but always very colourful.

Far and away, however, 2016 will be known as The Year That I Ran.

By my rough calculations, I ran around 3,000 kilometers in 2016. Much of this can be attributed to my marathon training and the fact that I ran every single day while living in Halifax. In fact, it has only been since falling ill over the past two weeks that I’ve actually slowed, and for the first time all year, ceased my endless striding.

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Besides my marathon (my 3:35 marathon!), I ran three trail races put on by MEC, and medaled in each. My first, a 15 KM trail race where I came third; my second, a 10 KM trail that wove its way along the old Musquodoboit railway where I came first; and my third, a 10 KM around Shubie Park in Dartmouth, saw me place second.

I take strange comfort in the asymmetry of it all and think of the many kilometers I will clock in 2017. Maybe I will finally clear a sub-40 minute 10 KM. And as Marc keeps patiently reminding me, maybe I will also join a running group.

For three months I lived in Halifax – a dream world where summer never ended and I wore sundresses and jean jackets every day. Where I rode my bike to the public library and read historical fiction and ate warm kale salad and peanut M&Ms by the handful.

I bought a pair of boots and I jumped on a plane and flew to Toronto where I stayed in a haunted hotel just so that I could see Christine and the Queens in concert. I sold raffle tickets at a Moosehead hockey game in benefit of the Canadian Breast Cancer society and watched Steve Patterson read from his memoire The Book of Letters I Didn’t Send.

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I slept poorly, save for the nights when I took lorazepam and my mind was forcefully quieted. I learned to hate the sounds of early morning bathwater.

In June, my mum and I travelled around the Baltic Sea, visiting Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Finland. Together, we bore witness to exquisite and individual beauty, etched in cobblestones and brick towers, public gardens and street cafes, war memorials, and palaces, and parliaments. Everywhere, a narrative of passion and purpose, and above all, perseverance. We marvelled, atop our rickety bicycles, at each living history, and we reached out so that we might touch and see, stopping at every street corner, so that that we might also breathe.

I also slept restlessly for most of the trip, and would nightly slip out into the quiet of our cabin’s deck, staring endlessly into the dim light of the longest dusk. And there too, I would breathe.

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This year I read too many books and watched too many TV shows. I quit my job and began a new one. I told a lot of jokes at the expense of rape culture and performed the most important stand-up set of my life in front of a sold-out crowd at the Rickshaw Theatre.

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I also told a lot of stories about periods and told one story about my mum at the North American premier of Listen to Your Mother Vancouver. On The Storytelling Show, I interviewed a lot of really cool women who are doing really cool things and who make me want to do cool things too.

Marc and I celebrated eight years of marriage on June 28th. Thirteen years together in August.

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I have no idea what next year will bring.

My heart wishes for adventure and love and laughter, with many good times with friends and family. Great runs, and a lot of time spent in the outdoors. Nights cuddled with Marc under heaps of blankets, eating olives and cheese, listening to Stuart McLean stories and reading aloud from our favourite books.

Warm summer days riding my bicycle. Bathing at the beach. Pulling weeds from our backyard and growing a small vegetable patch to call our own.

Maybe I will even write a short story or two.

I will try to breathe more. Sleep better.

And reach for the exquisite beauty in everything.

Just sit there and sweat it out

The east coast is humid as hell. The minute you walk outside, you are beset by a sticky, smoky, mug.

The coolness of our house is misleading. I am always sure that I am going to be cold during the first few minutes of my morning run. But that is nothing but a clever ruse on behalf of Nova Scotia Heating and the fact that we live in a very, very old home.

What I wouldn’t give for even a minute of respite from the oppressive exhalation that greets me as I turn to lock the front door. The world feels like an unwanted whisper from a strange man on a strange train.

Suddenly everything is too hot. Too close.

And my discomfort is palpable.

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But it never stops me from running. If anything, it just makes me faster.

I have the mistaken belief that the quicker I run, the more wind resistance I might generate on my flushed and sweat-steamed face.

And while I have yet to see any rewards for my efforts, I keep trying.

Other than three days flattened by a brutal flu, I have run almost every day since coming to Nova Scotia.

I race about the different neighbourhoods of my adopted home. My favourite routes take me to Point Pleasant Park and up to the Citadel. I careen along the South End’s tree-dappled streets, dodging new students moving into their bachelor apartments and soccer moms walking their huskies and duck toller retrievers. I ignore the workers re-paving the road outside of the old military barracks, and sprint past the tourists taking photos of the clock tower.

I have always had a tendency to make up stories about the different people that I encounter on my daily adventures, and since moving to Halifax my internal narrative has delved to new depths.

That man on the corner? Oh, he’s waiting for his man on the inside. But where’s the drop? Where’s the microfilm? Is it up that tree? Or has it been stashed around the corner, behind the fire hydrant? And is that even a real arm brace? Or is it a cleverly disguised weapon?

By the time that I’ve figured out his entire backstory (he’s on his way to meet an ex-CIA operative who he has been trying to get out of the game but who keeps getting dragged back in because of that one shady incident in Dubai twelve years ago), I am half way home.

But not before I espy the woman who just returned from reuniting with her estranged brother whom everyone thought had died in that tragic ocean kayaking accident. It just turned out that he owed money to a man from Havana and had to disappear for a couple of years. She was afraid to tell him that she had sold all of his belongings to put herself through a two-year pottery course, but he was just happy to see her. She told him that she would help him out with the money she makes from her artisan salt shaker business.

Or something to that effect.

The more I make up stories about the people I see, the more it astounds me that anyone can really purport to know anything about anyone.

I am currently reading Dan Simmons’ The Terror, a fictionalized account of Franklin’s doomed expedition in search of the legendary, and always elusive Northwest Passage. It is engrossing and horrifying and I find myself completely sucked in by Simmons’ reimagining of what it was like to be a crew member of the HMS Erebus or Terror.

Talking to Marc the other night, I exclaimed, “My God, Franklin was so dumb. I cannot believe what a loser he was.”

To which Marc very kindly reminded me that I was in fact reading a work of fiction, and we would be hard pressed to really know what anyone was like on that expedition, what with everyone having frozen to death in the barren wasteland of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago.

I quickly acquiesced that he was right.

But I remained rankled. It just seems too true to let it go.

So I’ll just keep making up my own stories.

As I sweat through the mug.

Every day.

Every, every day.

I think they said, the sky’s the limit

Of late, a lot of people ask me how I am.

I mostly tell them that I am okay.

Because I am okay. I am a lot of things, but mostly I am okay.

My life in Halifax is pretty simple: I run around the city, I work at my desk. I go for nightly walks up to the Citadel where I take photos of the city’s breathtaking cloudscape.

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The sky is big here. There are no mountains.

When I walk, I listen to Grimes and Of Monsters and Men. I also really like the soundtrack to the movie Drive.

At home, my bedside is littered with biographies of runners. I have reread Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast twice.

The more time I spend at the Dickson Centre, the more I tune out its tired yellow walls.

I don’t think I could ever be a nurse.

I make vegetarian frittatas with Annapolis Valley vegetables and aged cheddar cheese. I eat a lot of chocolate peanut butter oatcakes.

My mother likes to tell me that oatcakes are healthy.

I don’t think anything with the word ‘cake’ in it can be good for you. But they are delicious.

I ride my bike around the city: to the gym, to the library, to Point Pleasant Park. To the famers market at the Halifax forum.

I sometimes feel lonely. I have to choke back tears. I’m never ready for them, and I always get very angry with myself when I cry.

I chastise my healthy, human self for being silly and immature.

It just makes me feel dumb.

I’ve learn words that I never knew before, like neuropathy and gabapentin.

I think a lot about nerve pain and restless nights. Aching legs. A fatigue that settles like an east coast winter fog.

I do everything I can to sustain summer’s warmth.

When we were in Europe, I borrowed a lot of my mother’s clothing. Living here, I have swallowed her wardrobe whole.

There are some items I can’t make work, no matter how hard I try.

And I try pretty hard.

On Monday, we went to Sears to buy new slippers and a bathmat. Afterwards, I made her try on these pants. They looked really good.

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She didn’t buy them. They were overpriced.

Ten years ago, my mum was visiting me in Vancouver. I took her shopping on Robson Street. Her favourite store was Mexx, and that afternoon she left with a pair of wide-legged, grey tweed trousers with built-in suspenders. They made her look like a Pulitzer prize reporter, circa 1940. All she needed was a small cap with the word PRESS imprinted on a piece of paper, folded into the brim.

They were perfect.

Whenever I think of my mum at her most epic, I think of her, on that April afternoon, standing outside of her change room.

She looks at me. She squints her eyes.

“Vanessa,” she says. “I really don’t think so.”

To which, I say: “I do mum.”

“I really, really do.”

Getting it Donne

The thing that everyone forgets, when writing long missives about how easy it is to be away from a loved one, is that it’s all complete bollocks.

This became glaringly obvious to me the moment that I found myself standing in the Halifax airport check-in hall, hung over, wearing my mother in-laws old paint spattered sweatpants, with day-old wedding hair, and a stomach churning from dodgy Thai leftovers.

I was crying my absolute eyes out because I felt as though my heart was being wrenched from my chest with a rusty ice claw.

And one would think that, having done this so many times before, that I would never forget how much this hurts, but for some reason, like child birth (I assume) and the act of running a marathon (I know), I just always forget.

Call it the John Donne syndrome. Some stodgy old British genius pens one poem about how gauche it is to show emotion about leaving your spouse for an extended period of time, and suddenly (okay, like 400 years later) we all want to pretend as though spending months away from your life-long kissing partner is easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And yes, I am aware that I am protesting a little too much. It’s been a cool sixteen hours since I bade farewell to Marc at ye good ole’ Standfield International, and my tear ducts are still a little raw. I know that once I get into the groove of things here in the city, the days and weeks and months will literally fly by and before I know it I’ll be back in his arms, cracking jokes about Elizabeth May and watching Danish cop shows.

And!

Speaking of John Donne – I really shouldn’t be so harsh, because I really do love him and many of his works of metaphysical brilliance.

One poem, in particular, will always hold a very special place in my heart: A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning.

I have a very distinct memory of first hearing it in Literature 12, when Mr. Hill, our teacher, and one of my early great loves, read it aloud for the class. He fancied himself a sort of Falstaff/Leonard Cohen figure, and I am pretty sure he knew that most of the class was completely in love with him.

To this day, I don’t know if it was my crush, or the power of the oral word, but everything that he read that year has stuck with me.

At first, I thought Donne seemed pretty uptight, what with so much of his writing purposefully contrasting that of his Elizabethan contemporaries. Donne found most modern prose too smooth, too easy, and it was his aim to experiment with the concept of “dislocation”, peppering his writing with abrupt starts and stops, metaphors and ironies.

(You know, all of the good literary stuff that keeps us lazy readers on our toes.)

Check the below portion of the poem:

So let us melt, and make no noise,

   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;

‘Twere profanation of our joys

   To tell the laity our love.

 

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,

   Men reckon what it did and meant;

But trepidation of the spheres,

   Though greater far, is innocent.

 

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

   Those things which elemented it.

 

But we, by a love so much refined

   That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

 

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

   Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion.

   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

I will never, ever tire of the metaphor of the golden thread that ties Donne and his wife Anne together, and my favourite line is: “So let us melt, and make no noise.”

So let us melt and make no noise.

What a perfect image. Such a perfect thought.

It’s one that I think about often as I start a little bit of a new life here in Nova Scotia.

I am melting. And making just a little bit of noise.

I am thinking about healthy ways that I can keep busy. When I spend too much time in my head, I start to think about all of the things that are wrong and bad with me. I think about how much I weigh, or how little I am doing with my life, and why I am not writing more or running faster. I go rope-a-dope with myself as hard as I can until I am left unable to stand.

So last night I wrote out a list of goals that I want to achieve during my time here on the east coast. I found a small note pad of paper and wrote them out on a single sheet, before tucking them away in a chest of drawers.

I figured this would be the closest I could possibly get to burying them in the backyard, like some kind of elementary school time capsule.

(I think about a lot of weird things sometimes. Like, for instance, do you think if someone ran over the person who one week prior ran over their husband that anyone would believe that she didn’t do it on purpose? P.S. This didn’t actually happen and I am not this woman.)

Part of my three-month plan is to go to bed each night having written out a few things that I would like to achieve over the course of the next day. So today saw me signing up for a gym membership and registering myself for two ten kilometer races – one in September and one in October. They are both races put on by MEC and I figure they’re good bets because I’ve loved running their Vancouver series. My cousin David has also started running and he has his own goals of completing a 10k race, so he’ll be joining me on the start line.

It’s always so much nicer to have someone with you on race day.

Another catalyst for these goals is that fact that I don’t have many friends here, and I figure if you don’t have friends, you might as well just get really fit (and hopefully make some friends in the process.)

But mostly I am really trying to melt.

I am trying to be nice to myself.

I am trying to melt.

And to make good noise.