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:
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.
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!