A Birthday Card for William Shakespeare

Dear Will,

I wasn’t planning to write to you this week, but you have sort of demanded it. I had another letter planned. I have a longish list of writers to write to, and you are among about a dozen highlighted names – the big guns – the letters that are going to need to be epic. One doesn’t just whip off a quick letter to Shakespeare.

Well, screw it. It’s happening. Rilke will have to wait his damn turn. It’s your 400th birthday, and your spirit is a-movin’. You have been in the air. In the last week you have been in my face three times. Four, if you count Google.

Screenshot 2016-04-24 16.18.33

First: I live with two teenaged boys. They are exceptionally intelligent kids, and I am the intellectual weak link in my family. Often, though, they will pause their usual talk of Star Wars and quantum mechanics to indulge me in conversation about musical theatre, my cat, and whatever literature they are reading at school. The younger, O, is reading Romeo and Juliet (ah, grade ten English!), and his daily updates as he discovers the play are quite wonderful. He likes it a lot better than A Midsummers Night Dream (sidebar: when I asked him what he would like his name to be on this blog his response was ‘Demetrius’. Amazing, but I’ve decided against it. Since I played Helena, it is a loaded name for me). He is enjoying the drama, the language, even, I suspect, the romance. It is interesting to observe a 15 year old boy engage with you in such a sincere way. I am touched that he wants to engage with me on the subject. R&J is actually one of my least favourite plays of yours. I don’t see it as a great love story. I see it as teen lust gone bad. I’ve outgrown that, thank God. I will freely admit, though, that when I was a lusty teenager I memorized the balcony scene and would casually recite it in the hallways of my high school, hoping to impress the football team. Needless to say, not an effective strategy. It would have worked on me…shakespeare 4

 

Second: Maybe inspired by all the breakfast Shakespeare talk  with O, I quite spontaneously booked a summer trip to Stratford, Ontario, home of the amazing Stratford Festival (and, to sully things, birthplace of Justin Bieber). Among the plays I chose is the stage version of Tom Stoppard’s amazing screenplay, Shakespeare in Love. Here, I will admit that I have replaced all known images of you in my mind with Joseph Fiennes, who plays you in the movie. Maybe you really were this hot. Who knows.

shakespeare-in-love
Am I right?

The third thing happened yesterday, and I can say next to nothing about it because it happened while I was judging a student writing contest. I came upon a piece inspired by you, featuring you, and it was so clear how inspired the writer was by your work. It was wonderful to see you brought to life by a young voice, to see young people so hungry to understand who you were. I read this yesterday, absolutely randomly, and only learned later in the day that it was your birthday. You see? You forced yourself onto my radar.

Or maybe it’s just that you are still everywhere. There are debates as to whether you are still relevant. I don’t understand this. I think that most people would name you if asked who was the greatest writer of all time. At the very least, your legacy has been vibrant and lasting. 400 years and high school students are compelled to write about you. 400 years and we are still scrambling to get good seats to your plays. 400 years and you are revisited, reimagined, you are inspiring new works from today’s artists. 400 years and we are as enchanted as ever. You should know that your birthday overshadowed the Queen’s. I think that would please you.

william-shakespeare-quotes-01

The truth is, we don’t know what day you were born. You were born about 453 years ago. What we are remembering on April 23rd is the anniversary of your death. What we are celebrating are your words.

We have much to discuss. Everything, really, when you surmised such a clear and poignant understanding of what it is to be human. We will speak again.

Happy Birthday, you bloody genius.

With love,

L

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Faith and Chance: A Letter to Emily Dickinson

Dear Emily,

I didn’t plant crocuses.

I have nothing against them. I actually adore them – they are the first, fierce little signs of spring, and are always a welcome sight. I should plant some. I would like to. But I didn’t.

I am certain crocuses never grew there because I made that garden from scratch last year. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted a garden. I was living in a new home with my love and his sons, and I was craving solitude. I needed to escape them sometimes, and an outdoor project, a creative, life-giving one was perfect in many ways. It had been a challenging year. I wasn’t well. I wasn’t quite myself. I loved the order of earth in my hands. I felt in control, which I often need. I felt sane and secure and silent.

Emily Dickinson 3

It’s funny, Emily, how gardening helped me make sense of my world. It was easy to get lost, to surrender to the simplicity of what I was doing. It is such an act of pure faith, growing something. Especially when you don’t really know what you are doing. I researched, I asked other gardeners, I spent hours at the garden centre and what started as a little idea took over. A front flower box turned into a 20 foot border, which turned into a winding rock bed in the backyard (built after two glasses of wine at 9 pm in the rain), which turned into a flagstone path. My little urge grew and suddenly my small patch of the world was in bloom. I spent the summer in my garden and grew back into myself a little bit. Then, it grew cold. I wrapped my shrubs in burlap and cut things back in time for the frost, and I left it.

Today was the first glorious day  of Spring. I found my gloves and my trowel, took myself down to my garden, and got to work. Under leaves and bits of trash blown in from the street and the twig-dry remnants of last years flowers… was life. It was all there. It was creeping up and out and ready to return to me. I hadn’t planted crocuses. But there, brazenly standing in the midst of the dead forget-me-nots, was this:

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I did not plant it, but it grew.

A garden is full of secrets. We can plant and weed and prune, but we do not know what seeds sneak in, we do not know what gifts will be revealed, with or without our willingness to receive them. You know this. You were a gardener. You had a gift and knowledge of flowers that I am only learning, and you often sent gifts of posies to dear ones with little verses attached. Your verses were gifts, and only as part of something larger – a bouquet, a letter. No doubt they were carefully created and thought upon, but it is possible that much in the way I see myself as a garden enthusiast, rather than a real gardener, you may not have regarded yourself as a real poet.
Many of your papers were destroyed after your death, at your request. Many, but not all. It is clear you were a passionate and deeply intelligent person. You were educated, you were among the first educated American women. You were lucky to be a product of the Massachusetts in the mid 1800s society paved my Emerson and Thoreau that opened the doors of existentialism. Despite your Puritan upbringing, you were able to become quite well read. You loved Shakespeare, the Brontes (it blows my mind to think of you, so far away from me in time, also being influenced by books that I have read and loved. Ah magic, ah reading!) Your father, noticing your affinity for words, bought you books, though he discouraged you from reading them, lest they ‘joggle the mind’. Louisa May Alcott famously said something similar – funny, since she is also of your place and time. Perhaps your progressive society was not so progressive.

Emily Dickinson 4

You wrote in secret. This is the incredible thing. You wrote and you wrote and you wrote. Yes, you published perhaps a dozen poems, and yes, you made inquiries and developed long correspondence with admired literary critics, but your name was unknown in the literary world. Oh, it was whispered in your community as you became more and more reclusive, wearing only white clothes, speaking with visitors only from the other side of a closed door. You were as enigmatic in your life as in the single, smirking picture of you.

 

Nowadays, we have labels. Anxiety. Agoraphobia. Depression. We are working to lift stigma. We are becoming accepting of the oddities that you struggled with. You could not even leave your room to attend your father’s funeral in the parlour downstairs. You were obsessed with death, immortality, and yet also so feverishly in love with life. How bittersweet that you lived so little of it.

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You formed strong attachments to men who you identified as ‘teachers’, ‘masters’, you wrote many letters, you put great stock in their opinions of you and your work. It seems you almost enjoyed submitting to them. You were not well able to empower yourself, it seems. You enjoyed guidance. You believed it. You believed it when the few poems you eked out into public were brushed aside, not further encouraged. You knew, though, as we always know, what the most sacred part of you was, in your case, poetry.  While you perhaps lacked the tenacity to push for its manifestation in the real world, you cultivated it so preciously for yourself.

You lived at home with your mother and sister, whom you had made promise would destroy your papers upon your death. When you died after a fairly sudden illness at 55, she went through your things. She found 40 volumes of poetry, each lovingly and meticulously written out, folded and sewn together, containing over 1800 poems between them.

What a find. What a gift!

emily d 9
You were most productive when withdrawn from society – most prolific when isolated. True, you had passionate, intense friendships mostly through letters, and you formed deeply felt attachments to people. You took it very hard when you lost them, whether through death or other circumstances. But you preferred to be removed. I wonder how you would feel today, when it is so easy to live behind a computer screen. I imagine you would have had an enchanting Instagram account. You might have thrived in this insular, technological world we have now, though you would likely find it sometimes so shrill, so throbbing with life that you would return to your place behind the door, alone in your room. I envy you for that. I do not have a room of my own, a door I can close, and sometimes life, family, even love pulse too hard and I need an escape. There are days I would live better behind the door.

Perhaps you would have published, if you had had the right support, if one of your ‘mentors’ had seen your brilliance. For whatever reason, although you loved your poems enough to bind them into books, you wished to destroy them upon your death. But we don’t always get to choose our legacy. Your sister had them published and you will go down in history as one of the great poets. That’s what happens when you have the faith to plant something. What grows there isn’t up to us.

I will plant some crocuses for you this spring.

 

 

-L

Emily Dickinson 2

The Fever: A Letter to John Keats

 

Dear Mr. Keats,
There is much you do not know about yourself. That is true of many living people, but you in particular left this world with a skewed vision of yourself. You never knew the impact of your art, and for one so devoted to it, that is a true shame. One of my favourite sonnets is yours, and I am fascinated by your letters, but it isn’t so much your work that has always struck and inspired me. It is you, your life.

Maybe it is your struggle that moved me. You are considered one on the great Romantic poets, one of the greatest poets of all time, perhaps. I knew that you were brilliant, famous, vital before I had read any of your Odes, considered by some to be your greatest hits. It was the Jane Campion film ‘Bright Star’ that put you on my radar. It is a beautiful film, real and lovely and passionate, and yet, watching it, I found myself stopping many times throughout, pulling books from my shelf, discovering that in my book hoarding madness I had your selected letters, several volumes of your poetry. It took me four hours to get through the movie because a door had opened up. A fever was renewed in me.

You died an utter failure. That’s what you believed, anyways. You felt this so strongly that you had your grave inscribed ‘Here lies whose name was writ in water’. You felt that you had made no mark. Writing was all you had spent your life on – not money, not fame, not even really love. You wrote, you were unappreciated, and you died in a small room, far from home, with nothing to your name. It was small, but had a lovely view.

Keats 1
Rome, the Spanish Steps, from where Keats’ bed was placed.

After you slipped across the bar your friend, the artist Joseph Severn who had accompanied you to nurse you, sat in vigil and sketched your face in candlelight, damp hair melting on your face, a strange expression of pain and release, as though you had at last exhaled yourself out of this world, into the next one.
I have been to that room. I sat there and summoned you. I came to Rome with my uncle and cousin at the very height of a broken heart. My uncle planned a beautiful trip for us – cathedrals and galleries and piazzas, and the thing I wanted most to see was a small museum devoted to an English romantic poet at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.

It felt holier to me than any cathedral. I so hoped that your spirit still pulsed there, waiting to flood the veins of a sad young Canadian girl. Maybe there was something to glean from that room, a shred of the fever that took you. Really, if you lingered in Rome at all you would more likely be out on the steps in the sunshine, watching tourists, maybe nursing a pistachio gelato. But I sat in your room and imagined you there with me, nudging me.

I had lost myself, a little bit. I had come from four years of unlimited, uninhibited creative luxury in university to a sudden shift – teacher’s college, then the job hunt, and then the job, all rich and new but draining. I had been living in the suburbs for a teaching gig, and they sucked my soul. And, I had just been left by a boy who was good and kind and who was utterly wrong for me. All of this, the jarring shift into a new job, new town, a misguided meander down a romantic path had left me spent, unsure of what I was doing, and creatively starved. I blamed the job. I blamed the sub-division. I blamed the boy. And then, the contract ended, the lease ended, the love ended, and I was back in the city, looking for a new job, heart aching despite the new freedom. I felt that I had been given a second chance, an opportunity to re-focus, and yet, I couldn’t write.

Keats 2

So, I found myself with a few minutes alone in your room. I felt that there must be some magic there. I thought of you there, gasping out the last of your life, only 25, a year younger than I was, having devoted it all to writing, and I made a promise to us, myself and you, that I would write. I would write as long as I was well and able. I would write if I was rejected, if I was unnoticed, if I was a failure. You were a failure again and again, and you left certain that your work had been for nothing. But you had fought fiercely for your failure. There is such dignity in that.

I bought a notebook of fine Italian paper, covered in a print of the ceiling tiles you must have stared at on your deathbed. The next morning I slipped out of my room at 6 am and onto the hotel rooftop where I could see the whole city. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. (I also managed to get myself locked out up there, and had to wait until an obliging valet passed by to let me back in). I came home from Italy awakened, and that summer words came so quickly that sometimes I woke in the middle of the night just to get them down.

 

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I made that promise to you, that I would write, with a very heightened heart, in a far away city, in another time. I have not always upheld it. Sometimes my heart is too full or too still. Sometimes my life is vibrant and stable or unstable and I am living well or too hard. Sometimes there is only a thin stream of words bubbling in me, and it is a huge struggle to gather them up before they pass by. Often, they pass by. Lately, though, I have been fighting harder for them. I need to.

Life wasn’t very fair to you. You had lost both of your parents by 14, and the keepers of your inheritance ‘forgot’ to inform you of it. You had a lifelong struggle for finances. Your youngest brother contracted tuberculosis, and you were left to nurse him, care for him until his death. You were going to be a doctor, you could have had a placid, stable life, but your need to write was too strong. You left medicine. I sometimes wonder if I would ever have the courage to leave teaching – I love it, but it is not enough to sustain me.

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You likely contracted tuberculosis from your brother. We know a lot more about it nowadays, and it is much less common, but in the early 1800s, it was very commonly stigmatized. It was associated with weakness, repressed sexual passion, even. In your case, the doctor also cited mental exertion. Your desire to write was so strong, and your need to succeed so desperate – founded not in your ego, but in your dire finances – that perhaps the pressure got to you.

And yet, you were always aware of your mortality, even before you were ill. It was almost as if you knew your time would be brief. You knew the work needed to be done and you approached the work with feverish commitment. You were consumed by it.

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In one of your final letters to your friend Charles Brown, you say ‘I have a habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence’, as though you were already dead. True, you were leaving England, leaving your love, Fanny Brawne, leaving everything you were attached to. You knew you wouldn’t return.

I wish that you could have witnessed your real posthumous existence. I wish you could have seen how you thrived, how you lasted, how your love of beauty and nature and life itself has lived on in your work.

A week after I wrote to you, I found a beautiful tree outside of my yoga studio with dozens of quotes attached. I reached for the first one I saw, and there you were:

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You see? You name was not writ in water. It is bound to the very trees.

 

-L

 

Take a walk through Keats’ house here:

http://www.keats-shelley-house.org/en/video

 

Where the Words Came From: A Letter to Al Purdy

 

 

Al Purdy 1

 

Dear Al,

I am writing to you first because in many ways it all comes down to you.

I met you in my OAC writer’s craft class in 2001. It was the year  after you left us, and the collection ‘Beyond Remembering’ had come out. My teacher was my father (the luck of a small town, and my inclination to take all Lit classes possible resulted in my being in his class thrice). That was the year after my Grandpa died of lung cancer, as you did, and there was a sort of comfort in this. A great admirer of yours, Dad brought the book into his class.

Seeing the sky darken & the fields
turn brown & the lake lead-grey
as some enormous scrap of sheet metal
& wind grabs the world around the equator
I am most thankful then for knowing about
the little gold hairs on your belly

-Winter at Roblin Lake

 

I had never read poetry like this. It was… unpoetic. And poetic. At turns, breathtaking. You sounded like a real person. I didn’t know you could just be a real person and write like that. I could hear the hammer across the lake in your voice, taste the tainted beer. It was a liberating thing, to realize that poems didn’t need to live in life’s most gloried moments, but in the real throbbing thing, life, stirring in the moments between the moments I wrote poems about.

Al Purdy Quote 1

You weren’t always good. That slays me. You didn’t hit your stride until you were 40. That thrills me. That buys me a decade. So many artists peak early, and it is easy, at 32, with a few poems published, and a couple of plays only whispering around stages to feel unprolific. I have always bragged that I am not ambitious, but that is a lie; I am afraid. What if it all goes badly? Where did you find the courage? What clicked in for you, at 40? How were you able to sit down in your back room and read and read and write and write, how did you spin your strands of words to gold?

I ask, but I know. I know how the beast can stir in your belly and rise up, breathing out the true you. Some call this the muse. Some call it God. I call it the spark. It’s an elusive bastard. You know that.

‘We made our speech from moving water

a sound that seems to ache

when there is no pain

whispering faintly in the heart’s darkness…’

– In the Beginning was the Word

 

In a way, you are the inspiration for this little experiment:

I studied Creative Writing at York, and one glorious day my poetry professor brought us up to the archives, where they had pulled out some boxes that might be of interest to us.And there you were. Holy hell. There were drafts, handwritten, by you, Al. I might have accidentally cried on one. I’m sorry about that. But the thing that really got me were your letters. There were so many. There were so many relationships and friendships and worlds built between your typewriter and somebody else’s. That doesn’t exist anymore. That’s kind of sad. So much has been lost in our new digitized world. I don’t think you would have liked it.

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I read your letters to Margaret Laurence, watched appreciation bloom into friendship. I watched you relax with each other, saw your words loosen and become more personal. I watched you both struggle and succeed, and (somehow this hadn’t completely registered for me until then) underneath the incredible talent, the literary fame,  I saw two people who worked damn hard, felt doubtful about their work,  and encouraged each other. I saw diligence. I lack that. This is an exercise in diligence, I guess. And, I need to admit, in resilience.

We will see what happens.

You’ll hear from me again,

Yours,

L

 

Recommended Reads:
Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy
Ed. Sam Solecki
https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/beyond-remembering-the-collected-poems/9781550172256-item.html?ikwid=al+purdy&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0
Room For Rent on the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996
https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/rooms-for-rent-in-the/9781550171488-item.html?ikwid=al+purdy&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=1
The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology
https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-al-purdy-a-frame/9781550175028-item.html?ikwid=al+purdy&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=4

The Depths of Despair go Two Feet Deep: A Letter to Lucy Maud Montgomery

 

Dear Maud,
When I was thirteen, a miracle happened.

My parents gave me permission to go to Prince Edward Island for a whole month with my very most bosom friend Abby. This was a very big deal, because when I was thirteen P.E.I. was the Holy Land. It was the land of Anne.

Abby and I sort of knew each other from school, but bonded over a small misunderstanding when she absolutely stole the table I had been frequenting at the public library for about seven years. After enough silent treatment for her to get the message, we bonded over our love of musical theatre, our disdain for grade seven boys, and, of course, all things Anne of Green Gables. We were very fast friends. What a gift, what a joy, then, that our parents were going to let us stay with family friends in their house by the sea. We would frolic in meadows of wildflowers! We would have deep poetic realizations while tumbling gracefully across sand dunes! We would visit Green Gables.

Then tragedy struck.

Only a few months before we were to fly out, this headline shattered every dream I’d ever had:

Fire Damages ‘Green Gables’ Farmhouse – Tourist Attraction May Be Closed for the Season

Obviously, our trip was ruined. We couldn’t go. We could barely deign to live.

I did what any normal person would do, Maud. I gathered every book you’d ever written, because, of course, I owned them all. I packed up my Anne paper dollhouse, my Anne mug, my VHSs of the TV film series. All of it. I wrapped them in garbage bags, sealed them with packing tape, put them in a box, and I dug a grave.

After directing me to the shovel, my mother stood in the window and took pictures of me. She figured that it was more important to document this insanity than to protect the front yard. She was right. She is often right.

So, somewhere in a blurry photo, there I am: brown braids and overalls, ball cap, tears blending with dirt and rain (of course I chose to do this in the rain. It was a funeral after all.) I looked ridiculous, but I tend to commit most when I know I am being ridiculous, so I did indeed dig a two foot hole, and buried Anne, and you, along with my very heart.
A few weeks later, another miracle:

Green Gables House To Reopen For Summer Season

HURRAH!

I got my shovel, ran out and dug up my destiny. It was all intact, despite the rain. Even my melodrama is thorough.

Abby and I had a beautiful trip, wildflowers and sand dunes and all. We visited the house, which was your cousin’s home, merely the rough inspiration for Green Gables, and we soaked in the idea that you had been here. The idea that a place in a book actually existed. It was so romantic. You were so romantic.

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It was my mum who first told me about Anne. I was almost four when my brother was born, and as you can glean from the above, I did not respond well to change. I acted out. One night, my sweet, tired mother wrote me a love letter. It is one of my most treasured possessions (since she really only ever wrote me the ONE, Mum!). There is this line:

‘..if you ever feel you don’t know yourself, read Anne of Green Gables. She is very much like you – dramatic, imaginative, talkative and utterly charming!’

When the incredible mini series by Kevin Sullivan came out, and I was absolutely enchanted, most of all by the idea that I was anything like this dramatic, passionate girl. When I was older, I read the book annually. So much of who I have become is because I felt that I had permission to let my imagination, my wildness, drive me. So much of how closely I hold place, and words, and magic is because of how your writing shaped it in me. We are romantics, you and I. I have returned to you and Anne many times, and you are always anchors to draw me down into myself.

 

Maud 2

 

 

We grow up. It becomes harder to hold onto magic, and dusky twilights. Life creeps in, responsibilities, grief. When I was a child I assumed a writer was only a conduit, as though Anne was always alive and blasting through the universe and you just happened to be the one who harnessed her (and, in many ways, this is probably true). But the more I have gotten to know you, lately, the more I learn that you were not happy. You were not well. Writing Anne gave you such joy, and the sad truth is that would be the purest experience you would have of writing, as your publisher swindled you while still demanding more. You had an unhappy childhood. You were as good as orphaned. You healed in your work, and the more I know, the more I see how it was your escape. You married a man with poor mental health, which caused you much distress over the years. Your life became very dark. In her wonderful biography of you, Jane Urquhart writes:

“…it was shadow, not radiance, that often claimed her once the sun had set. Her seeming addiction to sunsets and twilights in her writing, if it sprang from anything at all beyond poetic convention, may have come from a desire to hold on to the fading light.”

Dear Maud, I am so sorry things were so hard for you. It would have made writing bittersweet, I imagine. Even your journals, which you worked on with such dedication (editing, re-writing them, knowing they would be published) tapered off towards the end of your life, adding to the ambiguity of your death.

I understand what it is like to write to stave off the darkness. And yet – whether you did it or not, your final scribblings were so desperately sad, so spent, so broken. Whether it was your own hand or your own heart that ended you, you must have used up all of your enchantment.

And years later, when little girls grow up and learn that you were human after all, flawed and complicated , what do you owe us? Nothing. Nothing at all. And what do we owe you? A writer’s work never really belongs to them, once it is released into the world. I hope that you didn’t feel that you had surrendered all of your light.  Because oh, what life it brought us.

Maud 4

 

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) was a Canadian author who wrote the wonderful Anne of Green Gables series, as well as Emily of New Moon and many others. Her work largely features the rich landscape of Prince Edward Island, where she grew up. Anne of Green Gables is one of the most famous children’s books of all time.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Anne of Green Gables

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/anne-of-green-gables/9780147514004-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=2

L.M Montgomery by Jane Urquhart

Extraordinary Canadians Series: Penguin

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/extraordinary-canadians-lucy-maud-montgomery/9780670066759-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery+jane&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

L.M Montgomery: The Gift of Wings by Mary Rubio

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/lucy-maud-montgomery-the-gift/9780385667609-item.html?ikwid=lm+montgomery&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=87

 

 

Why I threw out my T.V:

Six years ago I moved into my very first Grown-Up-Lady-living-on-her-own apartment. It was a bright, one bedroom basement nest in a little brick house in Toronto’s East End. It was all mine. I could decorate it however I wanted, without the compromise that siblings/roommates/boyfriends required. I brought my books. I had a little bookcase in the living room, another in the front hall, one in my bedroom, and, eventually, one in the kitchen. Then another in the living room. Then a few strategically places piles. It became clear to me that I didn’t need a few little bookcases. I was a Grown-Up-Lady. I needed a grown up bookcase. I designed the bookcase of my dreams, full of nooks and cubbies, and had my mum’s carpenter friend build it for me. I picked the best wall in my tiny home, which, unfortunately, was the wall occupied by a clunky old TV that I only used to watch Jane Austen novels on VHS. So I did the obvious thing: I dragged that monster to the curb. It was easy. A few weeks later, this gorgeous thang arrived:

new tv
See? Pretty.

I took to sitting in front of it with my tea and just looking at it. It was enormously pleasing.

(Three years later I met an exceptionally lovely man. On our third date I told him this story and he got up from the restaurant table and kissed me for the first time. Turns out he found the book thing charming. Two years after that, he and his sweet sons hauled boxes and boxes of books into their home, where my books and I now live. My bookcase is next to his TV. Charming.)

So, the point is, books are a big deal. I was a kid who built a fort in the woods near my house just so that I would have a peaceful place to read. I read books at recess, on the school bus, and any other time I was expected to interact with my peers unsupervised. I met my first real best friend at the library. My love of books has, at times, become extreme (see my Letter to L.M. Montgomery) expensive (see my Visa bill) and invasive (see my home). Books are what have driven me to write. Books are how I make sense of the world, and myself in the world.

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As I read, I often find myself in discussion with the writer, especially when a work is very dear to me. I am fascinated by other artists and how they lived and worked, and there are so many who I wish I could have had conversations with. I have gotten to know many of these writers not only through their books, but through reading their published letters. It is an art form that seems lost. A letter can be so personal, so revealing. I have decided to write to the makers of art who have most revealed myself to me.

First of all, I will only write to writers who have left this world. This is because I am too afraid to write fan mail to living humans. One time I posted on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page and she REPLIED. Even though she was incredibly kind, the mere idea that we had connected gave me lots of weird anxiety. The blog title comes from the Tennyson poem ‘Crossing the Bar’, the Bar being Death, the idea of the great beyond. It is also a reference to the many times I’ve thought that I would so love to have had a pint with Al Purdy, a pot of tea with the Brontes, a gimlet with Noel Coward. So, here I will drink and chat with my old pals, and see what they have to tell me from Across the Bar.

I hope you enjoy it here!

-Lara