Rainy Day Brews

I have had a turbulent relationship so far with the weather of 2014. Kicking the year off with the aftermath of one of the most destructive ice storms in Toronto’s recorded history, we learned first-hand the difference that harmless-looking little drops can make, as the incessant frozen drizzle brought towering trees, fancy homes and vehicles to destruction, and effectively plunged most of Canada’s largest metropolis into cold and darkness throughout the holiday season.

This was just a preview for the long, cold, dark winter that would follow us for the next three months without pause. After moving from Toronto to Peterborough, Ontario in January, my husband and I adjusted ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t see much of our new town while we hibernated alongside neighbours in our homes as a slate-grey sky dropped mountain after mountain of snowfall upon our humble abode. The loneliness that already accompanies winter bleakness was exacerbated by being a new face in a new town while working from home, as it isn’t easy to make new friends when no one wants to even leave their house for three months, including us.

And then, as if by some sort of forgotten miracle, signs of spring suddenly started to shed their optimistic rays upon us. There was sunshine! And warmth! The thermometer read 16°C today – amazing! And tomorrow it’s 21°C – unbelievable! People are having weddings again! And look at all the bicycles! Drive slowly to avoid the kids playing ball hockey in the street! Aren’t you excited for summer?

Never mind that as the snow melted most of the towns north east of Toronto started to flood, including our lovely Peterborough Little Lake putting a couple public parks and parking lots underwater and making some halfhearted threats to deluge the basement of the local art gallery. But still we responded more with amusement and fascination as small crowds convened over the footbridge to take pictures or watch winter-weary tweens dare each other to wade into the frigid overflow, filling the air with shrieks of shock and delight. Meanwhile older Peterboroughians responded to the increased lake capacity in their distinctly outdoors-adventurous way.

1398028986456   VIA @HARLEYWPAYNE ON TWITTER, from http://www.ptbocanada.com/journal/2014/4/17/look-flooding-in-peterborough

And then, this week. It started off well enough — on Monday a beautiful sunny day in the plus-teens Celsius. On Tuesday it rained. And rained and rained. I had the day off and tried to go out, defying the effect of weather on my mobility, but the chilliness and wet along with a head cold I had acquired over the weekend only made me more miserable. On Wednesday it rained. I didn’t try to go out as my head cold worsened. I started feeling more and more distant from other human beings. I downloaded Candy Crush, breaking my personal cellphone game ban and giving into addiction. Today I woke up to more rain. As my body craved sleeping an extra hour in the morning rather than running to the gym, I took it. Heavenly.

Scanning through my Instagram feed that morning, I later noticed that I wasn’t alone among my friends in my mid-week rainy day blues, and many of them had turned to the comforting aroma of coffee to help them make it through the otherwise dreary day. Determined to make this day better than the previous days of the thus-far disappointing week, I decided that a freshly ground brew was the perfect way to start today off on a sunnier note.

If only I could photograph the amazing aroma...ground to perfectionbreakfast brew

With every sip of fragrant brew, the sky seems a little bit brighter. Spring is here, and this is just part of it. There will soon be leaves on the trees. There are lots of friendly faces around, both new friends and those yet undiscovered. Summer is coming. And I am writing.

Better luck next time, weather of 2014!

On how I discovered the public library (and abandoned my e-Reader)

I know that I am not alone when I describe a childhood filled with books that were carefully catalogued and curated, and who has subsequently had to rethink her relationship to words and reading upon entering a digital age. As writers and publishers have grappled with the transition from print, we readers have had our own journeys and hurdles of how to keep our love for the written word quenched and thriving in our increasingly transient, budget-conscious, and digital-driven lives.

My first move from print to digital occurred when I no longer had a place to keep my books. I was based in South America where I traveled to countries in Africa and Asia each month for development work, and I realized that carrying only “the necessities” couldn’t include the at least half-a-dozen books I had on the go – no matter how “necessary” I thought they were, they just wouldn’t all fit in the one backpack that I had to strap to the front of the motorcycle that would take us to the villages we were headed for the next few weeks.

I bemoaned the sensory experience of the page, but during two years spent living out of a single suitcase travelling over 5 continents, practicality won out. I purchased my paper-light, portable e-reader with my birthday money my parents wired me and it was love at first sight. The charge lasted for weeks – long enough for a couple of airplane trips and the little bit of light evening reading I had time for while travelling. It had the capacity to hold dozens – nay, thousands – of books that I couldn’t dream of carrying before. It told me what percentage of a book I had read. And it even gave me little “awards” for finishing books and reading a certain number of pages in a row – gimmicks that I scoffed at in the beginning but which secretly fueled my appetite for validation.

A few months later disaster struck – I came home, hooked up the e-reader to my computer and something didn’t synch properly, corrupting all of my files. I had just spent the last four weeks getting 53% through Anna Karenina, what was I going to do now? Reformat the thing and flip through four hundred pages? Aint nobody got time for that. I was livid, and about ready to fling the eReader like a Frisbee off the balcony of my 11th-storey apartment (I didn’t, I just stuck it on the back of my bookshelf where I didn’t have to see it sitting there mocking me anymore).

Regrettably, for a while I just stopped reading books – unproductively taking my anger at my eReader out on the entirety of books. That was also around the time when I got a smart phone and discovered mobile versions of 80s computer games I used to play as a kid, still able to waste my time as much now as they could then. I look back at my post e-reader period as a bit of a Dark Ages in my reading history.

The reading renaissance began when I moved back to Canada and got a tablet computer, by which point my hunger for the written word had reasserted itself and demanded satisfaction. What I loved about the bookstore on my tablet was the ability to preview books before buying them, the attractive screen layout options and page-flipping animation that hearkened back to my cozy memories spent with paper books. I  finished the remaining 47% of Anna Karenina, read a couple of other classics and some best sellers along the way, ruining my eyes with the backlit screen in the process, and running my bookstore bills.

Enter the public library.

I have a confession to make: I don’t think I every really understood how a real public library works until last year. This is unexpected when you think that I spent years of my childhood tramping back and forth the two miles between library and home with plastic shopping bags full of fiction and non, to get my first job in the children’s section when I turned thirteen. But in the village library, your options are pretty limited to whatever the clientele of farmers, commuters, and stay-at-home moms will be interested in. The best books had waiting lists sometimes 6 to 8 months long, which is how I ended up reading the first two Harry Potter books while they sat on the “on hold” shelf waiting for the borrower next on the list.

So by the time I outgrew the limited children’s/YA fare, I surveyed the options of local historical fiction, mystery and romance novels available to me in the adult section, and my visits all but ceased unless I had to use the computer to check my circa 1999 new Hotmail account. My next encounter with libraries was academic in nature, used mainly to bolster the bibliographies of my research papers for those professors who insisted that online journal articles weren’t sufficient in proper academic papers.

Fast forward to now — I’ve been living in Toronto for a few years before finally, on a whim, I get my first library card. Converging with the aforementioned love/hate relationship with my eReader, it suddenly occurs to me that the novel or business book or biography that I’ve been trying to decide between over the last few weeks are all available in the inter-library loan system. And in multiple copies. I hop on to the Toronto library website – and yes! There are in fact 23 copies, and one of them could be at my local branch – literally just next door to my apartment building – in a few days.

The first time I picked up my requested books from my branch, I was suddenly thirteen years old again – back at my local library with the same excitement of visiting an old friend. I scanned them through the checkout counter, thumbing though their pages – some yellowed and rippled with time and multiple readers, others new and glossy, giving me the privilege of being one of the first to crack them open. At each visit I receive a gift of books that I actually picked out awaiting me, free of charge, only asking that I bring them back once I am done with them, so that others can have their turn and I can move on to the next title on my ever-expanding reading list. But until then, for this week at least the words, the pages, and titles are all mine in a way that they never managed to become on a screen. That’s not to say I won’t pick up my tablet or eReader again to engage with the written word, but that my life can — and should — still have room for both.