Halifax: From Belonging to Self-Actualization

continued from Climbing Maslow’s Pyramid in Halifax

With my dorm room and food supplies secured, I could begin to seek fulfillment of my higher needs: belonging, esteem, even self-actualization.


I learned about the University of King’s College masters’ program in Creative Nonfiction at a conference in Oxford, England, in July 2016. Now, just over a year later, I was enrolled in the MFA program and about to meet my fellow students.

I came down from my dorm room to the lobby seating area of Alexandra Hall a little early for the welcome barbecue hosted by the U-Kings president because I figured my fellow students might do so as well. I hoped I would recognize a few friendly faces from the meet-and-greet I attended in Toronto last November.

I had crammed for this moment by poring over the biographical sketches we were required to submit earlier this summer—a paragraph about ourselves, a paragraph about our book projects. (Each MFA student develops a book idea over the course of the 2-year program.) I had created a scatterplot chart as I studied the 28 students. Being nearly face-blind, I hoped this crutch would help me coordinate the rush of first impressions about to wash over me. I studied it again before coming downstairs. And sure enough, they were there. I began introducing myself, using the shorthand I had devised—“Hi, I’m Sarah, writing on collard greens. And you?” “I’m Rose, Herman Hesse.” “I’m Gwen. Murderers.” She rolled those Rs with a satisfyingly Scottish burr.

Alexandra Hall, University of King’s College campus

“Writers should wear bells around their necks, as lepers once did, to warn people of their presence,” wrote novelist Nicolas Freeleng. These students didn’t ask to be in my memoir, and faculty advised us to respect the confidentiality of the school program, so that’s as far as I will go as I exploit these characters for my own purposes. From here on, I’ll generalize.

We were like the travelers in the Canterbury Tales—a random mix on pilgrimage to our Halifax shrine of knowledge, telling our tales to each other in a contest to win approval and some day, a book contract. The Canterbury Tales characters are said to be a satire of the three estates of church, nobility, and peasantry. For us, those three estates could be the young, the mid-career, and the retiree. Picture us if you will:

  • Young students fresh from or a few years out of school, eager to memorialize a coming of age experience or the vanishing culture of their childhood;
  • Working professionals yearning to launch a switch or upgrade to their careers through writing a book;
  • Retirees attacking the bucket list goal of becoming a writer, chasing to ground a pet topic, reminiscing about a life experience, or finally turning that youthful masters’ thesis into the book they’d always intended.

More than two out of three intended to write some form of memoir or autobiography.

Class of 2019, Sarah in orange top, front right

About a third of our class time in the first week was devoted to hearing each other’s book pitches. This was a strategy both to acquaint us with each other and also to give us practice at articulating our book ideas. The packed auditorium-style classroom grew warm, and the pitch period came in the afternoon, as our collective energy was drooping. I could tell when my fellow students lost their ability to focus by the way they started commenting on the content of the story presented, rather than the quality of the pitch. It’s like when I say I’m interested in life stories and people start telling me a story from their life, rather than asking about life story work. We’re humans—we always go to the story. I gave my pitch in the middle of the middle day of the sessions.

I started with my book’s hook, then described my audience, my qualifications, my intention to co-author the book to develop my ghostwriting skills. I am the first person in the four years this program has existed to come with the intent of writing someone else’s book. From the applause I felt I’d knocked the pitch out of the park. But by the end of the last day of pitching, I felt a thin crack of isolation begin to creep across the surface of my social interactions. I was one of only two people writing a business book, and the only one whose “I” was not actually him- or herself but another protagonist. I became a bit less intriguing to my fellow students.


I had one more opportunity to capture the group’s attention. Two evenings in the second week were dedicated to micro-readings by students in the university pub. I signed up for a reading slot on the first night, choosing a piece from my blog titled “Getting My Mantra” because it described a college experience, and it conveyed a moral lesson about not cheating.

I practiced assiduously for days, repeatedly recording myself reading it aloud on my phone, then walking around campus listening, critiquing and tweaking my performance. That night my reading brought a huge round of applause and a corresponding rush of endorphins. I stayed on drinking beer with my fellow students and faculty until the last pitcher was drained. I couldn’t sleep for hours, so buzzed was I on the approval of my tribe.

And that was the end of that. With each passing day, the memoirists became more narcissistic, stuffed like foie gras geese on advice and encouragement about their projects. The momentary adulation of my “Mantra” performance disappeared without a ripple into our collectively accumulating self-importance.

The program ended with a marvelously Harry Potter-like ceremony called Matriculation. We wore academic robes to shake hands with the deans of the school and have our names inscribed in a 270-year-old book.

Sarah “matriculates” into the U-Kings 2019 student cohort.

I was riding pretty high on Maslow’s pyramid at this point. Inhabiting a little campus with 50 or more people who care as much as I do about storytelling is indeed an experience of love and belonging. With the right cues, repeating Latin incantations with academics in funny robes and hats can feel a lot like self-actualization.

I checked out of my dorm room that weekend, scribbling a list of what I’ll bring next time, starting with emergency rations and a camp cook set. Climbing Maslow’s pyramid was done for the year: now I had to start writing my book.

© 2017 Sarah White

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Brief but Wonderful

In a time-starved world, it feels wonderful when we have the opportunity to really slow down and delve into something, whether it’s spending an afternoon reading for pleasure, or wandering the halls of an art museum, or lingering over a lunch that turns into cocktails with a friend. Oh dream on, when was the last time I did any of those things? Since starting grad school, “brief but wonderful” has become more important to me than ever!

I’m becoming an even bigger fan of flash memoir–that wonderful distillation of memories into their essence of emotional and factual truth–and more in love with the red pen of ruthless editing, as ably demonstrated in a blog post on Brevity.

Regarding flash memoir: I have a class starting in Madison next week through Wheelhouse. Two sessions, Tuesday November 14 and 21, 7-9pm at Union South. Description and registration link  on the Wheelhouse website, here. There’s parking under the building, so for a couple of cold winter evenings, it’s a good choice!

Regarding Brevity: I have recently discovered this flash-memoir online publication curated by the great Dinty W. Moore of Creative Nonfiction  (I’m referring to the magazine and writing center at University of Pittsburgh by that name). For a look at the editing process check out this recent guest post on “Attaining Brevity” by Allison K. Williams. She recommends an old-school process of printing out your draft and scissoring it up, then retyping, that reminds me of how my journalist parents taught me to write papers in high school. It worked then, and it still works.

So–if your world is as time-starved as mine,”go small” with me by taking a few minutes to read Allison’s post or a few evenings to work on writing flash memoir.

Sarah White

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His Hand on My Arm

By Seth Kahan

My father lay on the hospital bed. At 84 he was weak and vulnerable. Not the man I had been estranged from these last 30+ years.

When I was young he had been my best friend. He reached out to hold onto my soul as we struggled together with my family’s mental illness. He steadied me as I swam through my teenage years, full of rebellion and idealism. He came and got me when I was swallowed by a cult in my 20s, and gently lifted me up and back onto my own two feet.

Then followed the mysterious absence, the abdication of his throne, the great vacuum in my soul From my late 20s to most recently—I am 58—he was conspicuously absent. He showed up to be a grandfather to my children and gave them his heart. But, when I turned toward him and asked for guidance, he said only, “You look like you’re doing pretty well to me.” With that sentence, he turned and walked away, out of my emotional life. What I didn’t understand at the time was that depression was robbing his energy. His soul sunk down into his body and was barely visible.

Now, here I was at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, my father clearly near the end of his life. I had come to help my sisters choose the nursing home he would be released to.

For the last year or so I had been supplementing his pension to help pay for assisted living. After 30 years of relative absence, I was paying to help this man whose only recurring words to me were, “I have to get out of here. I am bored. I want to live in my own apartment.” This man who could not keep his meds straight, could not walk without assistance, spent his days in bed sleeping and watching television. Even so, he was conscious of his dementia’s onset. His decline appeared to rob him only of his mental agility and short-term memory. He recognized me and all the members of his family. He recalled details and interacted with lucidity.

I, on the other hand, was solely aware of pain and anxiety mixed with primal love for my father. I often felt confused or upset when I thought of him. Loneliness, unwanted loneliness from the only man in the world who was my dad.


I edged into the hospital room. He turned to look at me, then broke into a smile. I bent over and hugged him, kissed him, said, “I love you.” He said it too, adding my name.

He had never lasted more than 20 minutes on these visits. His energy would fade just as quickly as it would shine. This time he asked for me to pour him a soda.

He wasn’t hungry, again. Once more he refused the hospital food. He had spent the majority of his adult life tremendously overweight and hungry. Now he wasn’t touching the bagels, licorice, jerky, crackers, and candy in the box on the floor—all his favorites. He was the smallest I can recall seeing him.

I had come with a particular question in mind. It came out of my mouth with an unexpected ease and patience, “Did we have family in the Holocaust?”

“Yes,” he replied, “Many.”

“Who were they? I never knew or heard any stories.”

“I don’t know. I was only six when World War II started. But we had a lot of family in Eastern Europe, family we never heard from again. They all went into concentration camps.”

“What do you remember from your childhood?”

“My Uncle Maxie. He was a big man. A prizefighter. He always wanted me to fight. He beat me up. I was no good at it. He was the only one who paid attention to me in the family. Everyone else said, ‘Bob, you’re so smart.’ And the conversations ended there. They didn’t talk to me. All I remember is the color of the carpet. I can remember what kind of floors they had in their houses because I crawled around on them when I was little. Nobody talked to me. They weren’t talkers.”

That was how we started to unfold the memory-stitched quilt of his life, one random panel at a time. We went smoothly from one section to another in no particular order.


When I was little he was a university professor. It was the 1960s. Drugs and rock and roll were part of our lives. My mother was crazy with schizophrenia. It added to the madness in our home. Janis Joplin and my mother’s anger fits. Hare Krishna monks singing on campus and The Who blaring “Tommy” in our living room at 2 am.

“Do you remember turning me on to grass?” He smiled. “Tell me what happened.”

“We were driving to one of your students’ gatherings out to a park outside of Austin at night. You asked me if I had friends who were smoking pot, if I had tried it, if I knew what it was. I told you I had heard of it, thought my friends were smoking, but never tried it. ‘Well,’ you said, ‘there might be some there tonight. You might want to try it and see what you think.’”

He looked across his blanket at me from the hospital bed, “How old were you?”

“Twelve or thirteen.” He smiled and turned away, closing his eyes.

He put his hand on my arm and held me while we spoke. We reminisced about my childhood. We laughed about how he would wake me up in the middle of the night playing the Woodstock Fish Cheer full blast on our stereo when I was 11, “Give me an F! Give me a U! Give me a C! Give me a K! What’s that spell?! What’s the spell?! What’s that spell!!!”

He told me about his work as an advertising executive on Madison Avenue in the 50s, and how his father was a furrier in New York in the 30s and 40s.He recalled his adventures In Bulgaria where he met his second wife, and their travels through Greece.


For two hours the conversation flowed back and forth with incredible ease. It seemed to give him energy and he held my arm through much of it, like I was helping him walk down a long hallway.

When he began to fade, he started to say how good he felt that he was not alone. I hugged him, kissed his face and said goodbye.

As I walked out of his room, he named our family members with his eyes closed: my two sisters, me, my wife and the names of my two children. His last words before he drifted off to sleep peacefully, “I am not alone.” There was peace around us for the first time in a very long time.

Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com) helps leaders identify, influence, and leverage emerging trends for business growth. But he can still hang out and tell stories.


I met Seth in 1975 at Franklin College, where his father was part of the journalism faculty and Seth was the too-bright teenager hanging out on campus because his rural hoosier high school had nothing to offer him. I am grateful to have in my life friends like Seth. – Sarah White

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Climbing Maslow’s Pyramid in Halifax

Continued from Halifax Inserimento…

Physiological needs form the base of Maslow Pyramid—shelter, sustenance. Then come social needs, esteem needs, and if one is lucky enough to attain the peak of the pyramid, self-actualization.

I had come to Halifax and the University of King’s College masters’ program in Creative Nonfiction reaching for the brass ring of self-actualization, with a dollop of esteem to come when I can attach the coveted “MFA” initials to my curriculum vitae. As social as I am, I looked forward to the residency portion of this program with great excitement. I gave not one thought to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Finding my dorm room in the dark wet hour before dawn plummeted me to the starting rung of Maslow’s ladder. Now, with a key to shelter ready to hand for the next two weeks, it was time to assure access to food.

Halifax was surprisingly slow to reveal its food supplies. That first Sunday I found out what the dorm breakfast would be—the same cereal containers, basket of gelatinous muffins, and bowl of fruit, set out each morning from 7 to 9. The only protein available was milk for the cereal and yoghurt cups—barely sufficient fuel for the studious.

It didn’t take me long to go in search of a second breakfast, heading eastward over the crest of the hill toward the Spring Gardens area closer to Halifax’s harbor. At the coffee shop I asked where I could find a grocery store and was told there was a high-end market nearby. I walked a few more blocks, but failed to find it, so settled for a convenience store where I bought cheese sticks, bagel slices, and baby carrots—the healthiest foods I could find that I could keep in my dorm fridge.

Making decisions about how to feed myself sounds so basic, and yet, being married to a chef for 30+ years, it has largely been out of my hands for most of my adult life. Every Sunday we plan our week’s menus, shop the grocery and adjust to what’s fresh and a good value, and return with an enviable market basket of healthy ingredients. We talk about food more frequently than most people—we can be in the middle of lunch and start talking about what’s for dinner—but the business of actually entering a kitchen and doing something about it has not fallen to me. I doubt anyone could be less prepared for foraging for survival in an unfamiliar place.

Sunday afternoon the university president welcomed our class for an open house, billed as a “barbeque,” which we ate balancing plates on our knees. My leftover half of a bagel-egg sandwich from that second breakfast would do for supper.

Monday was a Canadian holiday, and our teachers had warned us food would be hard to find. The campus pub would be open that evening especially for our benefit. But the “pub grub” turned out to be either burgers or frozen dishes that could be re-heated, like chicken pot pie. I rejected the proposition this could be my default student cafeteria.

Tuesday midday, when our small mentor group was released for lunch, several classmates and I went looking for lunch on the larger Dalhousie campus that surrounds the U-Kings quadrangle. We’d been told there was a coffee shop and Subway in the library building, and more eateries in the student union just beyond. But signage was hard to come by, and by the time we found the library, we were ready to settle for its fast-food options. I ordered a chicken ceasar salad, and was handed a plastic box, plastic fork, and packet of dressing. I realized this wasn’t going to lift me past the base of Maslow’s Pyramid either.

I’ve never seen a college campus that wasn’t ringed with restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores. But Dalhousie/U-King’s sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood. After the afternoon classes I ventured north, finding Quinpool, a shopping street with a pharmacy, liquor store, various ethnic restaurants—but no grocery. (In fact, one was located one door past the liquor store, but just like the gourmet market in the Spring Gardens area, it eluded me.) By nightfall I had a nice bottle of wine for my room, but three days into my 2-week stay, no solution to the food supply.

My new normal became buying sandwiches for lunch in the campus coffee shops, and either eating saved halves for supper, soggy from the fridge, or noshing on my stash of shrink-wrapped cheese sticks, dry bagel toasts, baby carrots, and pilfered breakfast fruit. I scavenged some paper plates and plastic utensils for my dorm room, taking a kind of absurd satisfaction in my tiny mis-en-place. As accustomed as I am to my husband’s gourmet cuisine, I felt both pathetic and resourceful, like a refugee.

Finally, Thursday night I ate my first meal at a real restaurant, served on white linen and china, eaten with real silverware—zuppa de pesce at “Frasca,” with a delightful Italian Verdicchio. Real silverware never felt so good in my hands! Dining with three of my classmates, I finally stumbled up from basic needs toward the social needs Maslow called “love/belonging.”

On Saturday I took a sightseeing bus from the harbor to Peggy’s Cove where I ate my first lobster roll.

On the way back up the hill through Spring Gardens I finally discovered Pete’s Fresh, a grocery as high-end as Whole Foods. Finally I could upgrade my convenience-food dorm picnics. But lacking the savvy to make more inspired choices, I just up-leveled to gourmet chèvre, smoked salmon, and tortillas. I was consuming dangerously few vegetables, and my digestion was paying the price.

This went on for two weeks—dorm picnics, fast food, and every third or fourth day splurging on a restaurant meal. (Real china! Cloth napkins!)

I had been told, when I mentioned I was going to Nova Scotia, “You’ll eat so much fish you’ll get sick of it.” I was absolutely thrilled at the possibility of seafood satiety. That was not what I got. But I did make it past the base of Maslow’s pyramid. With my dorm room, food supplies, and (finally, thanks to laxatives) a return to digestive health, I could quit obsessing about the physiological basics and begin to seek fulfillment of my social needs.

To be continued…

© 2017 Sarah White

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Pompeii—An Adventure in Mixed Emotions

Kaye and Paul Ketterer’s trip to Sorrento, Intaly in Fall 2016 included a day trip to Pompeii.

By Paul Ketterer

A half-hour commuter train ride from Old-modern Sorrento to Old-desolate Pompeii on a bright Sunday in November provided a radical time-transition from 2016, to AD 79. To our amazement, we correctly identified the correct exit station and found ourselves across the street from the best preserved archaeological site in the world. A thirty-foot walk took us past souvenir stands to a very well organized entrance to the historical site of the Pompeii excavation. A thriving seaport, it had been buried under up to 20 feet of ash from the volcano Vesuvius in AD 79. The sea had been inundated as well, and the city entrance, once on the Bay of Naples, was now kilometers away from water. We entered up a steep cobbled street overarched by the original city gate, along with the rest of the city

buried for 1,700 years until excavation had begun in the mid-1800s. The amount of ash and debris needing to fill a seaport was evidence of the vastness of this devastation. 60,000 people had lived here, and when Vesuvius exploded, there had been time to evacuate, as the wind was blowing the ash out to sea. 20,000 stayed, however, either because they believed they were safe, or they were too poor to leave. The wind changed and the city became a picturesque hill, soon covered with vegetation. Excavators found preserved bodies of families seated at dinner, completely surprised by the blanket of ash that buried them in minutes. The site was so well preserved that many of the houses could have had thatch or tile roofs replaced and been habitable, at lease by first-century standards.

The actual tour of the city was an adventure in mixed emotions. There was awe at the advanced engineering. There was deep sadness at the scale of death that was so overwhelming. Amid the spiritual pall was the fact that death was a part of the culture that developed the city in the first place, from the amphitheater where gladiators fought to the death and frequent public executions were entertainment, to the fact that physical labor was carried out by slaves whose lives were of no account.

The entrance opened into a huge courtyard lined with huge columns in varying stages of preservation. We saw their basic construction of bricks covered with plaster. God and goddess statues had been in this hall, but all statuary had been moved to a museum in Naples. A few modern art pieces had been added, a puzzling contrast. An archway led to a piazza roughly the dimensions of a football field, lined on each side by what had been places of business and commerce, the Forum, or seat of business and government. The East side was now a fenced-in display of pottery and tools which had been unearthed. One very sad display was a cast made of one of the mummified bodies unearthed in the past century. Very much was intact.   A pause at the very modern visitor center for refreshment of various sorts, and on we went to one of the public baths. The tile work and ritualistic set-up of one room leading to the next was fascinating. Here as everywhere was evidence of privilege served by menial labor.

The self-tour then led to a series of streets consisting of a channel made of cobblestones with two-foot walls about six feet apart. At intervals, large stepping-stones allowed crossing, with gaps for chariot wheels. Water had fed into these streets, which served as the (un)sanitary sewer system. Pedestrian ways were on either side, with places of business and homes tightly built one attached to another. Some houses ran back from the street five and six rooms deep. Everywhere was tile work, brick on brick and a feeling of recent occupancy. Despite a fairly detailed map, the streets were not marked, and blended one into the next. All was on hard round cobbles. I’m sure we walked at least a mile in retracing steps. On one nondescript side street we saw the remains of the lead-pipe water system which fed the fountains every couple blocks where they obtained potable water brought to the city by aqueducts. There has been speculation that the Romans suffered from wide-spread lead poisoning as a result.

The street at the edge of the excavation demonstrated how much was left buried, with fully-exposed houses on one side, and doors on the edge of a fill on the other.

We exhausted-out and decided the mile-round-trip walk to the amphitheater was beyond our strength. I think the site where death was entertainment would have been too much for me emotionally.

Exiting the site, we fortified with a delicious orange slushy, waited for the train in conversation with a couple from the UK bemoaning Brexit as we countered with the Trump disaster.

In the end was awe at the human mind, at human resilience that makes the best of flawed social structure, the immense suffering of those at the mercy of wealth and power, and humility at how helpless all that is against the forces of Nature. Has there been much advancement?

 © 2017 Paul Ketterer.

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Happiness Is a Virtue

By Ellie Jacobi

I’m going to be happy if I have to die trying!

I paused as I thought about what I just said. A little tickle in my chest told me I just might laugh. But no, not yet. Happiness has become serious business for me.

My exemplar, Abdu’l-Bahá, has said, “It is the wish of our heavenly Father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness…” I hear he often repeated the injunction, “Be happy!” And although I have been making fairly good progress in developing a couple of other virtues, this one really eludes me. Not that I can’t have fun sometimes. But I definitely have a joy deficit. I came to the conclusion early in life (I really believe it may be genetic) that if I ever feel exuberant happiness, disaster will follow. So when something wonderful happens, I look over my shoulder, shudder and sigh. Or I somehow manage to straighten up too soon under the garage door and painfully raise a large lump. “That’s what you get for being too happy!” That evens things out and I am OK again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a frowning, morose person or the classic pessimist or a generally negative thinker. I even laugh sometimes. Most people don’t recognize my affliction because it comes across as self-control, neutrality or a very even temperament. Virtues all. Misconceptions all. How I long to feel joyous without the next moment thinking “watch out!”

So I am seriously, painstakingly, exhaustingly trying to learn joy and happiness. There is wonderful motivation in the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá. And there are clues as well. I know that I am “in reality a spiritual being and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” Aha! I must learn to live in the spirit. Now to find out what that means.

“Spiritual happiness is eternal and unfathomable” and “is the true basis of the life of man because life is created for happiness.” “Spiritual happiness is life eternal.” Now that kind of worries me. Does this mean I won’t have eternal life until I find out how to be happy? Probably not.

“Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener and our understanding less clouded.” Wow! Now that’s motivation to get to this happiness thing.

One practice I have begun is to constantly affirm, “I will be a happy and joyful being.” I think it’s helping. And I meditate on these clues: Abdu’l-Bahá tells me “Happiness is but the love of God.” ‘This great blessing and precious gift is obtained by man only through the guidance of God.” “When we find truth, constancy, fidelity and love, we are happy…” “True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive Divine bounty.” Hmmm.

I can assure you that happiness is not a selfish act. “The happiness of the world depends on man, and the happiness of man is dependent upon the spirit. “I want you to be happy…to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.” Oh! Responsibility!

So here I am. Wanting to make others happy, wanting to love God more, wanting to live in the spirit. And wanting to experience living in spiritual joy.

“I WILL be a happy and joyful being.”

If you see me, please smile. Or laugh. Encourage me. And most of all be happy. Pray God I will achieve this before I raise another lump.

Hey! I think I feel at least a giggle coming on!

Oops, just barked my shin on the coffee table.


© 2017 Ellie Jacobi

Ellie is a native Madisonian, but a world citizen member of the Baha’i Faith.

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Halifax Inserimento

University of King’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia, is not an easy place to get to from the Midwest. At least it wasn’t for me on my trip there in August 2017 to begin the residency portion of an MFA in Creative Nonfiction.

Inserimento” is Italian for “settling in,” literally, but represents much more than that. Inserimento is that step in the Hero’s Journey of crossing the gateway, of leaving the familiar world for the new and strange, where allies and enemies will be encountered. Inserimento sends travelers from the peak of Maslow’s Pyramid to its base, like a game of chutes and ladders. Inserimento is where the pursuit of self-actualization crashes into the search for basic shelter.

In Toronto, the customs hall was so crowded that if I had fainted, I wouldn’t have fallen down. The line for the women’s bathroom at the entry point was 20 flushes deep. I queued for the toilets, queued for the immigration gate, queued for the student visa which the agent determined I didn’t need, queued to collect my bag. It took many questions and some waiting in the wrong queues to find my way from the baggage carrousels to the domestic departures area for the Halifax flight.

I would learn later that this was the busiest day in history at the Toronto airport—a national 3-day holiday commencing that Saturday followed a construction error on Friday that severed a fiber optic connection, taking down the Internet for six hours on the Atlantic Seaboard. Planes could technically fly, but the airports couldn’t manage their passenger manifests without the Internet. The backup was slow to unwind itself.

By the time I joined the throng on Saturday evening, the concourses of the Toronto airport were awash in travelers, many of them survivors of up to 24 hours’ imprisonment. My Halifax flight was delayed, gate-changed, delayed again, until the 50 of us waiting for it bonded into a family. We watched out for each other, dozing in shifts. Finally we got our boarding call at 3 a.m. The flight arrived in Halifax at 4:00 Atlantic time. By the time I had collected my bag, the daily shuttle buses were starting.

“University of King’s College, Alexandra Dorm,” I said to the driver.

“I don’t know where that is,” he said.

“It’s part of the Dalhousie University campus,” I suggested. U-Kings had been given space on Dalhousie’s campus back in 1923, when its own campus burned to the ground.

“Ok, I know where that is. I’ll take you to Howe Hall, that’s where the conference people usually check in.”

“On Coburg Road?” I checked the address on my dorm confirmation.

“Yes.” The bus sped through the dark from the airport into the city, then over a massive bridge across the Halifax harbor. Left, right, through the dark grid of city streets, after half an hour the driver stopped his bus in front of a gray stone building. I could see a young man behind a counter inside. “Please stay till I make sure this is the right place,” I said to the driver. “The one thing I don’t want is to be left here alone in the dark with my suitcase on the sidewalk.”

Inside, the young man said he’d never heard of Alexandra Hall. “King’s College is out the door and to your left,” he said. “I’m a Dalhousie student, I’ve never been there.” I went back outside. The bus was still there, the driver in his seat, door open, but he avoided eye contact.

Do I demand his attention, demand that he solve this problem? Or just accept I’m alone in the pre-dawn drizzle with my suitcase, a crime victim in the making?

A runner jogged past. Although it was still dark I thought to myself. “If she’s running, we must be past the mugging hour.” I turned my back on the bus driver and headed downhill to the left, my wheelie case barking my calves. I came to stone gates, a driveway into a parking lot. I pulled out my phone, summoned Google Maps, asked for directions to Alexandra Hall. Google told me I was already there.

That’s when I remembered the architecture I’d seen in the summer before in Oxford, England, where I’d first heard about this graduate program. The college buildings, arranged around quadrangles, turned their backs to the outside. That stone façade ahead could well be my destination. I just needed to find the door.

I followed a low dry-stone wall to the next opening. It was just an alley between two stone buildings—but there was a large sign saying “University of King’s College.” I turned in the alley, wheeled my case a few more paces, and there I saw it—a small sign on white paper, waist-high, stapled to a flimsy wooden stand. On it were printed the words “Alex Hall.”

I turned left and there was the façade I’d seen in a Huffington blog post about “the 10 most beautiful college dorms in Canada.” Up the steps to the door, up another half flight of stairs, and finally, a check-in desk. I got my key, learned that my home for the next two weeks would be on the fourth floor, and the elevator only goes to the third. At 6am, I turned the key in my door. By 6:05 I had closed the blinds, donned my nightgown, put my sleep-pillow over my eyes, and boarded the express train to sleepytown.

Inserimento complete, when I woke I could begin climbing Maslow’s pyramid toward what I had come for—belonging, esteem, even self-actualization. But first I would have to find food.

To be continued…

© 2017 Sarah White

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