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the travel experience.

December 8, 2010

i will put pictures in this post to punctuate my rambling. also so you can see the places i am talking about. also people have a brief attention span so maybe big coloured photos help with that.

this post is going to deal with travelling as it relates to writing – how our writing changes based on travelling we do, and how travelling and being brave helps writing in a different way.

the cliffs of slieve league. there i am.

to any of you who don’t know: i am a nervous person. i am anxious. i’ve seen three different therapists for anxiety – mainly in my early teenage days. i’m sort of type-A. i like to have control over things. (this is also why i am not so great on recreational drugs.)

this applies to travel. i like to plan everything – most things – in advance. i like to be early. i like to have my shit in order. i like to know what hotel i am staying in at what time. i like to have flights booked. i dislike bus stations. i dislike hostels. i like itineraries. i like order.

this summer, i took a big leap of faith and spent my savings account on a trip to ireland. i am always very jealous of my friends who pack a knapsack and make their way across europe, but i finally came to terms with the fact that that is not my thing. i want to spend all of my money on one country. (and in my case, it was one part of one country – northern ireland.) i want to find every nook and cranny, crook and nanny, every piece of odd dialect and great, great accent. i want to explore every ruin, every museum, every quiet art gallery. i travelled – by myself – to first dublin and then to derry, northern ireland, weaving back and forth between donegal and derry, north and not, and it was the best trip. oh, the best.

(i swear this is leading to a writing post. just bear with me.)

i found myself uninhibited by lovers or significant others or friends or family. i was very alone, and very lost, and it was very great. i went to the exact things i wanted to go to, saw the exact things i wanted to see – the churches and the libraries. (on a side note, if you are in dublin, go to marsh’s library. it’s the oldest public library in ireland, and i did get teary-eyed when i was inside. tiny, filled to the ceiling with old dark wood shelves of books. it was my mecca.) i was glorious. i was scared shitless. i spent many evenings curled up in my dublin hotel bed, watching irish tv and eating biscuits because i had nobody to go out with to experience the dublin nightlife. (that changed when i met up with friends in donegal!) there was nobody holding me down. i could go out at any time. i could sleep in as long as i wanted.

the top of mt errigal, highest point in donegal.

this trip affected my writing in two ways.

one was very basic. i learned more about the place i was visiting, and how it related to my thesis, and therefore i could fill in the blanks that i needed to fill in. i learned dialect, slang, nuances – things i would have never learned had i not been brave and taken that trip.

the second way was a little more interesting. my writing got a little braver, there. actually, i restarted my thesis about half way through the trip. it was partly because i was doing first-hand research for the book, but it was also because my writing changed. i realised that my old writing was maudlin (well, more maudlin than it is now, i suppose) and pale. i was not biting into the meat of the subject at hand. i was circling around the idea of it – of the troubles and the violence and the very inherent being of northern ireland. so i restarted the thesis, and i know it was the right thing to do, but it scared the shit out of me. somewhat like how i was scared shitless to travel by myself.

there’s got to be a connection there somewhere. it was as if the big leap i took in making the decision to travel made my writing just a little more incandescent, just a little more brave.

wearing my styling jacket on the giant's causeway.

earlier in that same summer, i worked in northern ontario, about forty miles south of james bay. (people laugh pretty hard when i tell them this. does it not seem like something i would do?) i worked at kesagami lodge, a fly-in fishing lodge that was extremely remote. the only ways in and out were DHC-2 beaver bush planes, which are ancient planes that can only be flown in good, visible weather. it was very remote, very wild. we dealt with bears on a day to day basis. i did things there i never thought i would do. technically i was a housekeeper, which meant that i served food, made up rooms, cleaned the bathrooms (GOOD GOD), did bartending duty, did dishwashing duty, did laundry for the camp. a lot of manual labour. i effed my back up but good. but duties did extend beyond just the “girl” jobs – i helped the boys pull the 1000 lb boats up the wooden rails a few times (boats have to be pulled for the night so that they don’t clang around on the rocks in the shallow water and get ruined.) i helped with dump burn (setting fire to the food scraps and garbage for the camp so that the bears didn’t gorge). i did wood haul, wearing bug gear into the back woods to retrieve wood for the fires in the lodge. i helped pick-axe and shovel out the waterfront in order to make room for new wooden rails for the boats. i helped moved 30 000 lbs of rock in order to fill new gabion baskets.

an unedited picture of the kesagami sky.

it was definitely a new experience. the most beautiful terrain i have ever been in. the biggest sky i have ever seen. nowhere else in the world could i wear my rain slicker and sit on the dock side by side with the other workers and watch red lightning slice a purple sky, coming across the lake towards us. the best thunderstorms i have ever seen, stirring up the water into mini geysers, the clouds like a twisted van gogh painting. a place with 5 foot long pike in the lake water, monsters, things that take forty minutes to reel in, big prehistoric beasts. it was a place where i fell in love over and over again – with the men i worked with, with the friendships i made with the women i worked with, with the ululation of the glittering lake water, with the way the weather changed every 30 minutes, with the rain on my tin cabin roof, with the walkways speckled with moist toads, with the huge star-pricked sky.

a beav coming in for a landing.

my writing changed here, too. i have never been one to write the pastoral. wordsworth always bored me. i never really appreciated the outdoors, nature. but i very much started writing about northern canada while i was there. i guess this makes sense, but for any of you who really know me, you know that i prefer to write about people. i do not find outdoorsy poems (“fucking lichen and shit”) interesting. i do not find outdoorsy writing interesting. but all of a sudden i was writing these things. and it went beyond there – i was interested in fossil island, the island in the lake that was a native burial ground. i was interested in the cree culture. if i had stayed in toronto for the summer, my writing would have remained in a single boring groove, but by forcing myself way way way WAY out of my comfort zone, i started to write things about fish and men with northern sun-tanned skin and fillet knives and the colour of deerfly eyes.

i cannot go back to that writing style. i wrote a few poems while up there and i think that they are beautiful. they were fairly well received in my poetry class, and i love them very much, but try as i might, i can’t reproduce them.

so that is how northern ontario changed my writing. it took me out of the city – shook the city out of me – and made me instead focus on the way that black bears’ ears are set, on the look of the pine beetle’s antennae, on the way red lightning hits harder than white lightning, on the smell of a snake in the morning, the feel of a pike’s back.

learning how to work a boat motor.

i have so many goals. i have so many places i want to go. i wonder if i will ever be able to just let go and do what i want to do. i wish, sometimes, that i could just pick up and go, but i don’t think that that is me. and i think that that relates, too, to my writing. i don’t write a myriad of short stories when i am working on my thesis. i am so wholly dedicated to this one task. i like to concentrate on the one thing at hand, not be flighty. good or bad? i don’t know.

but i do know that travelling does open up my crazy mind, and cracks a new fissure of creativity into me. whether i correctly and efficiently use that new slice of creativity is solely up to me, but it is provided for me.



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