How the Quest to Cure Urban Rage-Blackout is Taking Me (Way) North of Bloor

by | Jul 27, 2015 | Big Blog, Nature and Outdoors | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: Arianne Shaffer is a writer and storyteller living in Toronto and is the star of a new video series shot on Manitoulin Island in Northeastern Ontario – North of Bloor. In the days leading up to the shoot, she shares with us her excitement and trepidation about going North.

Apartment Balcony. Toronto
July 24, 2015

It’s been at least three years since I’ve actually walked in a real forest and seen real stars. That thought occurred to me when I had my most recent episode of URB, shorthand for Urban Rage Blackout.

Rage-blackout is the tender name I’ve given to anger-induced monologues that are usually spoken at someone or something. My friends have (mostly) come to enjoy them. I think a little rage handled with humour is healthy. Sometimes, I rage mop (when verbal monologues do not blow off sufficient steam and only the vigor of deep cleaning will aid). Patriarchy—also shorthand for everything I think sucks in the world and that I usually blame for my rage-blackouts—gets my floors super clean.

An URB is when I feel the squeeze of a city on my soul. When I notice too deeply the colour grey and how it seems to line everything. Urban rage-blackouts can sometimes be spotted in advance. For example, I know I need to get to quiet and nature (or at the very least to my apartment balcony) if I’m rude to the people at the post office for no good reason. Lack of patience in civic settings is an early warning sign that I need to look at more trees and less screens (which are also grey).

But here’s the thing: despite knowing the warning signs, despite being super-positive about all the nature out there, this blackout totally took me by surprise.

Why after more than five mostly blissful years of being utterly urban, did something suddenly snap?

I’m not a total stranger to nature. My summers as a kid were spent fighting off mosquitos at socialist summer camp in Muskoka and at my family’s cottage near Bala. I’d sometimes go canoeing with my dad early in the morning and, if we were lucky, we could spot a loon and once…baby loons! That was the most Canadian experience I have ever had. Well that, and having my first ever concert experience being The Barenaked Ladies. Even dashing around Lake Muskoka on a motorboat that actually had a Canadian flag on it (see photo below) I was still not convinced that this whole Ontario thing was for me (again, see photo). Who wears ruffles on a lake? I do, apparently.


Since those summers, my Ontario has been about cities. I’m still shocked after a near dozen years of being based in Montreal that my hometown of Toronto drew me back, and more than that, it delights me. Shhh…don’t tell my Montreal comrades…but I love it here. And to be clear, I love cities.

Nature hasn’t piqued my interest since being back in Toronto these past five plus years. It’s not been on my mind. I’ve been okay to be deficient of it. Stages and microphones, bars and my little apartment, my community and the creative force of this city have nurtured me enough…but what about the wilderness and what about real quiet? I’ve been too busy for quiet. As my friend Steve loves to point out, Torontonians love to tell you how busy we are. It’s unattractive. And, it’s true.

We’re so busy connecting, networking, creating, start-uping, dating, socializing, traveling, talking…so much talking…! And to be clear, I love to talk.

And then, one winter day, I was talking on the phone to my friend Nika (the Director of this series), and all of a sudden, I went off on how I feel I might lose my mind unless I hit the wilderness soon. To be fair, I was more talking at her…rambling more than a bit as I neared what I knew as a complete urban rage-blackout. No more concrete, no more cars, no more constant refrigerator hum, I mean why is it always humming?

Nika steered me away from someplace quite ugly. We got into a conversation about access to wilderness. We talked about what it means to live in Canada but have little-to-no desire, information, or interest to explore the endless terrain above our cities.

She said: “I have an idea. A video project. You, me, the North.” She sent me links. I clicked. I clicked some more. Was this what I was looking for? To find something worth travelling north of Bloor?

As soon as I saw that Manitoulin Island was home to pink rock faces I was in. Finally, a decorated nature façade pretty enough to lure me True North.

I’d like to fancy myself much more adventurous than I actually am. I told Nika’s crew that I was ready for a serious survival trip. I wanted a shocking cold plunge into wilderness. I was ready to learn to hunt, build a remarkably impressive fire with wet wood, fight off bears with my sphere-like fists, and forage for plant edibles with the help of a weathered guidebook I’d keep in my back pocket. I’ve watched enough Herzog films to feel like I could handle anything. Plus, I did used to date a serious wilderness man who taught me how to tan a deer hide, so if we needed leather on our journey, I could provide us with that (assuming a deer was available).

The author, as a child, geared-up for a nautical "outing" The author, as a child, geared-up for a nautical “outing”

While the crew seemed happy that I was up for anything, they’ve decided to ease me in and kindly prevent me from getting killed. More than that, they reminded me there’s much more to True North (in our case, True Northeast) than just wide-open, unabashed wilderness. There are incredible communities, people, history, culture, and yes, there is also landscape and wilderness.

This is it, I thought. A quest. And a test. Am I really looking for wilderness? Or am I just looking for a way out of this city? Why now? Why North?

So I’m ready to start my adventures by going to Manitoulin Island. I’m ready for sounds of sticks breaking under my feet and the smell of the lake on my skin after an early morning swim. Romanticized notions of what this trip will be? Perhaps. But I’m ready, ruffles and all, to explore a part of this province that is a lot further north than Bloor Street.

Follow Arianne’s Instagram arianneshaffer feed as she heads North this summer …

About Arianne Shaffer

A Toronto based comedian and consultant for clients such as Kindle Project, Arianne offers storytelling workshops to a number of people including artists, peacemakers, social justice advocates, and entrepreneurs. She is the collector, archivist and writer for Love Letters to a Friend -- a project that she developed as an ongoing, online archive of love letters.