Two of three parts of a full year of post-secondary education are changing seasons in Toronto. So when the weather is mild, gloomy, and wet, I can’t help but be reminded of my three aborted years at the University; years, it seems to me now, which I mainly spent in quiet self-reflection shuttling myself between classes and my apartment. I don’t think I ever took public transportation for that purpose, and I can only remember taking a taxi once, or perhaps twice, when I felt the weather (rain) merited it. My coat, my usually bare hands, and my neck, I am sure, took the brunt. My legs, already strong, grew stronger. My beard turned green from moss, and my lungs tainted from pollution and smog.
Though I am, I don’t feel as if I am attending school right now, I think because I lack this physical connection. I’ve driven past (or taken a streetcar which passed nearby) the Humber College campus only once, two or three years ago, and that was when I first learned of the writing program I am enrolled in now, which I’ve since seen mentioned in the Toronto Star and advertised in Harper’s. I’m ashamed to tell you that I can’t remember where my mentor, my sole contact to the institution, lives, but I know it is not Toronto and have a vague idea it’s a small town in Ontario that begins with the letter “B”. Like me, he does not make the commute. We send pages back and forth over e-mail. I recommend the program for anyone interested in novel writing who has a stable social life and does not need school for friends, reassurance, or validation. If I’d entered the program as soon as a year and a half ago, the results, probably, would have been disastrous.
Monday I have some time (hours) after work, and I find myself at the Robarts library. In the weather, the high wet, concrete ceiling above the second floor entrance looms like that of a Gothic cathedral. Wind whips over the ledge on the west side, and a curtain of rain follows it. It seems to me that architecturally Robarts is unappreciated, as, even though aspects of it are outdated, it is an impressive and fitting monument in a city that sometimes feels cold and unfeeling. Robarts’ detachment is almost comforting. It is the Toronto experience made corporeal, or at least that of the experience of living in the concrete-dominated core.
It has its moments otherwise. The stacks, despite their size and remoteness, somehow manage to be intimate; the wide selection of books often lends itself towards browsing a collection that, at times, seems mysterious, Byzantine, and total. Many times I have wandered there in the search of a particular book and come away with something related only tangentially: an oversized folio of photographs cataloguing an archaeological dig from the the early 20th century; a fragile book in Japanese with very thin pages, fine gold-leaf molding on the spine, and breathtaking ink illustrations; a book on Latin America, which, when leafed through, reveals a back-and-forth argument concerned with bias scribbled on the pages, seething with invective and threading its way from the first to the last page.
It strikes me that I haven’t visited the stacks in some time, at least as long as I’ve been out of school. I don’t have my old student card so I attempt to take the second elevator and walk down the stairwell, but all of the stairwells claim to be “For Emergency Use Only”. This could be a precaution against exactly what I’m doing. I wonder whether the alarm will sound if I open the door. I took the stairwells on the other floors, accessed via the protected elevator, frequently, but I can’t remember if they had the same warning. If they did, my affiliation with the University would have secured me; now I’m wary. Like a rabbit posed at the entrance to a warren in the book I am reading, sniffing the air and wondering whether the cry of an owl is approaching or receding.