Category Archives: Artist

A smartphone in my tool box

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Shiny shiny DIN rail, awaiting installation

After years of using hand-me-down cellphones from my dad, I finally decided to get a brand new one of my own… And ended up with a pretty fancy smartphone.  It’s impossible to validate the environmental costs of this choice, so I won’t try.  Instead I’ll just assure you that I plan on using this new phone the same way I do most things:  Until it’s completely worn out.

Having a phone with a pretty good camera integrated into it has totally changed my work as an electrical apprentice! And not just because I can occupy myself with art projects during the slow moments… Though let’s be honest, I’m really into that.

But art aside: Now when I’m sent off into the far reaches of a building to find a sensor or valve or junction box hidden in a ceiling somewhere, I don’t have to rely on my memory of the layout or my hastily scrawled directions! I can simply take photos of the building plans, and bring them up to reference as I search.

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It's amazing that this schematic now makes total sense to me, since it sure as hell didn't a couple weeks ago.

When I finally find what I’m looking for, I no longer have to struggle to explain to my foreman what it looks like, how it’s arranged, the specifics of its location:  Instead I show him the photo I took, so he can see for himself.

(…And therefore have confirmation that YES, the sensor is broken in pieces, YES, the valve isn’t connected to anything, YES, there’s no junction box at all and the fucking conduit just turns and disappears into the roof.  Le sigh.)

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Why? Why no junction box? Why?!!

As an electrician working in established buildings, I’m often looking at wiring done by previous sparkies, and sometimes replacing things they’ve installed. So, it’s important to know how they wired a component before I remove it, for when I need to rewire the new one.

I always carry a small notebook with me, and even with the camera I take copious notes on everything I do, and really it’s easy to quickly jot what coloured wire was in which labeled connection. Still, it’s even easier to take a photo of the circuit.  I like to take a “before”, with the original component, and an “after”, of how I’ve installed the new one. And then when I’m rewiring the next 40 or so thermostats, I don’t have to translate my notes into something visual: I pull up the “after” photo, and make my new thermostat look like that.  I can also show it to my foreman and get his approval without him needing to physically visit the location of the component.

This is a thermostat, for realz.

I’m not about to start recommending that all electricians or tradespeople start carrying fancy communications gear, or even supposing that having a smartphone is making me a better electrician… Fuck knows I still have a loooooooong way to go in developing those skills!  But in a bunch of small ways, it really is improving my productivity (to use the corporate keyword).  It’s not that my note-taking or descriptive abilities are crappy, because I think they’re actually quite excellent (Seven years of university was good for something).

And yet as someone new to the trade, I don’t always know what I’m seeing, and so have trouble describing it…  Or I don’t even notice issues or errors that’re completely obvious to an experienced tradesperson.  Being able to take a quick photo and use it for my own reference or to explain stuff to my boss just makes my job so much easier.

Also, as mentioned previously, more fun… Because everyone needs to kill time when hanging out at the top of a ladder inside a dropped ceiling by taking ridiculous self-portraits.

I am serious. And inside your ceiling.

A dress for a 30 year old.

I know I said I wasn’t into sharing much of my DIY projects these days, BUT… Here’s the dress I sewed myself for my birthday.  Well, I actually finished it yesterday, two weeks after my birthday, but I’m not counting.  It’s still my present to myself, and I’m just relieved that A) IT FITS and B) I LIKE IT.  I’d never made a dress before, or any complicated sewing pattern with more than two pieces, so this feels like quite the accomplishment.  Also, it only cost me a couple dollars, because I got the fabric from the thrift store… And as I may have mentioned before,  ready-to-wear dresses rarely fit me very well because my chest is around two sizes smaller than my hips.  In sewing for myself, this isn’t much of a problem:  All I had to do was use the right size for each portion of the dress, then figure out how to fit them together.  I love a good puzzle!  And I love making stuff, especially when it actually works out.

Pride, and little creations

Monday morning after the big local Pride Week finale, and you’d think I’d have slept in. Instead, I was awake at 5 am, tired but buzzing with happy thoughts: A recurring theme these past several days. It’s hormones, I’m sure, but hey, at least I’m not wallowing in despair or full of inexplicable rage, as has been the case in the past.

On Friday, the Pride event for under-19-year-olds that my queer dance party collective organized was AMAZING. Around 50 kids showed up, and I personally was so nervous about everything going terribly wrong that it was more than halfway over before I realized how great it was. During the last minute organizing decisions, most of which centered around creating policies to safely deal with intoxicated youth, I realized that I’ve got no knowledge about or experience in working with teens. Luckily, lots of rad people stepped up with excellent ideas and protocols for creating respectful, fun, safe spaces! And I stuck to serving (non-alcoholic) drinks at the bar all evening, which gave me a great chance to have brief chats with most of the youth. I also had a fantastic view of the dance floor, so I can tell you with good authority that the youth were really into the DJ. At the end of the evening, we had a couple parents thank us as they picked up their kids, and even a few of the teens themselves made a point of letting us know how much they appreciated our work. I can’t say for certain that we’ll take on such a party again next year, but for now it feels nice to have had this success.

Yesterday at the Pride festival itself was another first for the collective: We actually had a table! For a loose, anarchistic group like ours, this was a big step. Since we still had the button maker we’d borrowed for the crafting station at the youth dance, we decided to bring it plus all the required supplies to Pride. It was so cool… People loved making buttons! And they couldn’t believe we weren’t charging anything. The funniest thing was how many folks asked if we were some kind of promo gear company, or other media business. No, just your local radical queer dance party collective, making stuff and having fun and co-creating a revolution… You know, the yooj.

I made A LOT of buttons, mostly just mini collages of text and images from magazine, plus glitter glue.  Almost all of them got snapped up by the people who stopped by the table but didn’t want to make their own… Which is going to be fun:  I hope I’ll randomly see these little creations of mine around town in the coming months!  I did manage to keep a few though, including the three on the left in the pic above… Oats made me the one on the right, because she said it looked like me.  Note to self:  Pink barrette? Also, consider sculpting eyebrows.

collecting cavities like nobody’s business

Lately, I’ve been having a bunch of dental work done, cuz I have the time and am finally covered by Oats’ extended health benefits.   I last had my teeth checked and cleaned by a professional around four years ago, also known as the last time I had extended health benefits (at that point, it was because I was still a student at the university).

As a side note, isn’t it completely weird that dental isn’t part of the Canadian universal health care?  There’s so much data out there about how maintaining healthy teeth prevents all sorts of other illnesses, and yet we’ve got to pay out of pocket for dental work… Which means people like me try to squeak by with just flossing and brushing.

(For more on this topic, please check out the awesome Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarashina’s piece “Things to do if you are a hustling class artist or other person with no trust fund or much of an economic safety net“.)

Considering how long it had been, my teeth looked pretty great, or so said the dental hygienist who gave them a thorough cleaning.  However, that wasn’t enough to save them all.  My old dentist, who was friendly and cheap and had an office right out of the 1970s (or so I imagine… I wasn’t alive yet in that decade), didn’t believe in removing wisdom teeth until they were infected:  I had one that got all swollen and so he took it out, but said he’d rather leave the rest.  My new fancy dentist barely glanced at the remaining three before simply stating that they were collecting cavities like nobody’s business, and it wasn’t really worth it to keep them in.

Now looking at two of these teeth, a couple days after the extraction, I see what she means:  I had no idea how completely disgusting they’d be.  I’ve got one left, but it’s impacted so requires me to be put under by an oral surgeon.  For these two, my dentist simply numbed my gums then yanked like hell, with some twisting thrown in for good measure. Once she saw them, she laughed and said that if she’d know how curved the roots were, she’d have insisted on the oral surgeon taking them out too.  I’m glad my teeth are so amusing… I’d like to continue to be amused by them, by making them into pendants that I could wear on a chain around my neck, but Oats thinks it’s too strange.  I don’t know… I first thought of it when she was taking me home after the surgery, a time in which I admit I was in a bit of a haze, but after two days of sleeping I still like the idea.

Summer hit hard

Summer hit hard a couple days ago, with sun and heat and days that seem to go on forever.  At this time of year, I completely lose my ability to guess what time it is, because it’s just as bright at 6 am as it is at 8 pm. I also lose a lot of my ability to focus, so this blog post will no doubt wander more than usual.

Yesterday afternoon I biked out to the lake for the first time this season, and as another first, Mo came along:  Running next to my bike for an hour and a half each way, with a long swim in between!  We’ve been practicing this trick at the sports track of the local high school for about a month now, and I went at half my regular speed to ensure he didn’t completely exhaust himself.  It’s safe to say that he didn’t, since he then spent the rest of the evening bouncing around the yard as per usual.  What a dog.

I gave my mom this hammock when I was 13 years old, in that phase where I had enough income from babysitting jobs that I could afford to buy gifts for people but didn’t have much sense as to what they’d actually want so would just buy them things that I wanted.  Wait, am I still in the phase?  Hmmmm…  At any rate, my mother never used it, and gifted it back to me when Oats and I were driving back west from Toronto last fall.  It’s so comfortable, I can’t even describe it.  Mo likes to sit on me while I read (or while I take a million photos of him).

A couple weeks ago, during a big yard clean-up, we found a hazelnut tree, a currant bush, and a blueberry bush, all growing quite happily despite having been hidden by weeds and piles of brush.  They’re getting more sun now, and we’ve added my old grapevine nearby for company.  It’s glad to be out of its pot, and I’m glad to think that we’ll actually have some exciting fruit in the next few months.

What I’d really like to grow is a pistachio tree, but I think the climate is too wet around here.  In the meantime, my dad gave me this little jar of crema di pistacchio that he bought in Sicily, and I made it into the best gelato I’ve ever had.  I used David Lebovitz’s recipe from his blog (and then spent way too long reading every other recipe he has posted, and then ordering his books from the library).  My ice cream maker came from a free bin in my old neighbourhood, and though I can’t say I’ve used it more than a couple times, I grew up making all kinds of frozen treats in the exact same model of maker under my stepmom’s expert tutelage.  Maybe that’ll be my new hobby this summer:  Homemade gelato.  It’d sure be a great way of using up the jars of jam that have accumulated from the past four years of canning, and perhaps also my recent failed attempts at homemade yoghourt.

I’ve decided that the only canning I’ll do this year is teaching.  Due to the big move last fall, and spending most of the winter on renovations and house-arranging, my lovelingly preserved food was hard to access until a week or so ago.  I barely made a dent in last summer’s haul, let alone ate up the less popular remainders from the years before.  Now it’s all on shelves and a bit overwhelming.  The greatest lesson here is that I should test out each recipe at least once before making more than a single batch of it:  For example, I have dozens and dozens of jars of quince jam, and we all hate it.  Why did I make so much of it?!!

(Answer:  Because I had a ton of free quince, was under a time constraint, and wasn’t very creative)

But teaching is different:  I may only get to take home a  single jar (if that), yet at the same time I have more fun and enjoy a sense of satisfaction that’s a bit different from just doing it all myself at home.  Plus, it forces me to be more organized and plan ahead!  Though this isn’t always something I manage to achieve:  Last Tuesday I’d already reached the community garden where I was running my class, and it was due to start in 20 minutes, when Oats called to say that I’d forgotten one of the legs for my tripod propane burner… Aieeee!  I turned around and went back home for it, but remained a little flustered for the entire evening.  Not my best teaching moment!  Since then, I’ve made myself a little checklist of everything I need to bring with me.  I’ll get to try it out at this week’s class, which is at a high school, with their environmental club.

In other household news, I’m practicing being a grad school widow, in a precursor to Oats’ entry to an MFA program:  She’s painting a mural on the wall of the steps that lead from the street up to our house, and I have barely seen her all day, nor am likely to as long as this weather holds.

I’m only teasing, with the grad school widow schtick:  I think her art overall is fabulous, this mural in particular is totally fantastic, and I’m super-stoked that she’s so passionate about creating beautiful things.  It’s also quite rad that it’s doesn’t have much to do with me, because I’ve got my own million and one things to think about and do.

That’s actually our number one secret to a sucessful marriage:  We are both very easily entertained by our own funny minds, and while we do like hanging out together, we spend a lot of time doing our own things (sometimes while in the same room… for hours… without talking… I love it). Hey, am I allowed to give out marital advice yet?  It’s been almost 3 months, and we’re still together… That counts for something.

Because I’m staying.

I met this queer punk kid back in the summer, when he came up to my stall at the farmers’ market and asked if he could have our leftover veggies. It was the end of the day, and a fair enough question, but I was busy with inventory and serving the last minute customers. Which is to say, I was abrupt with him: I pointed to the other punk going down the row of vendors and pulling a massive bike cart, and told him we give everything to that dude for Food Not Bombs, and suggested he ask them about volunteering.

My dismissiveness immediately made him blush, and he started explaining that he knows about FNB and is thinking about getting involved, but just arrived from Halifax and wasn’t sure about how things worked in this town. I cringed inside, suddenly feeling bad for being a jerk. I’m so mean sometimes… I didn’t intend for him to feel out of place. “Cool,” I said with a sincere smile, “Welcome to the West Coast.”

What I wanted to say was ZOMG-I-remember-being-you. And I remember meeting so many others, just like you. Young, excited, new in town, punker-than-thou yet full of angst, easily wilted by a mean femme who should be nicer.

I expected that he’d be gone by the time the rains settled in for the winter, trainhopping back east or riding his bike to Mexico or off on one of the other cliched sorts of punk rock adventures that zines are make of. However, he’s still here: I saw him in a cafe downtown the other day, and stopped briefly to say hi. “I have that stuff you wanted,” I told him, “It’s all ready to go. Call me.”

I’m giving him my silkscreening gear. I’ll be keeping my two wooden-handled squeegees, because they have sentimental value, but he’ll be getting the rest of the squeegees and all the screens, frames, hinges, half-empty ink jars, yards of synthetic silk, and even a jar of photo emulsion that I mixed last year in a half-hearted attempt to start printing again. It’s old, but I stored it in the fridge, so it should still work.

This will be the third time I’ve given away some of the same equipment. Like a cat in a song, it keeps coming back. Typical of island life, I suppose: I give it away when I leave town, then I come home again and the people who received it have decided to move away themselves, so drop it back on my doorstep. Each time I renew my aquaintance with these tools, I get excited about silkscreening… But a little less so, my enthusiasm tempered by growing self-awareness.

This latest house move made me realize that it’s time to let go. Despite the fact that I now have my own room for making lots of equipment- and space-intensive art, I am appalled by how many art supplies I have and I feel oddly restricted by it. It’s like there’s too many things to choose from and instead of actually making stuff I get overwhelmed by all the stuff I could make and so do nothing.

I still love the act of printing, and see a well-executed print as the perfection of simplicity and beauty, but these days I’d rather buy prints from better artists (through JustSeeds!). The truth is I never made great silkscreened art. I mean, I could produce quality t-shirts and posters, but rarely of my own design. I excelled at technique, not artistry. And that’s okay. I did it for ten years, and I have the knowledge. In the past 4 years, I’ve barely touched my silkscreening equipment. The few times I’ve done any printing, I’ve gone back to the simplest, most do-it-yourself, handmade methods that don’t even require much in the way of gear, because that’s the sort of craft I like these days. So, why on earth do I still have all this stuff?

Looking through the boxes, I can see how it is: I’m holding on to it because it represents a person I was, in other people’s eyes, for a little while, a punkity person who taught silkscreening and lived the radical DIY lifestyle. When I started printing as a teenager, that’s who I wanted to become. The accumulated tools and supplies from a decade of developing the craft respresent the achievement of this dream.

Which is funny, because really, if being that person was so rad, then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it in the past tense: I’d still be loving life in a punk house, working to get by month to month, pouring all my spare time and energy into Food Not Bombs and doomed polyamorous love affairs, and getting ready for a springtime hitchhiking adventure. None of this really appeals to me in the least any more. Well, maybe the springtime hitchhiking adventure: That would be fun.

So yeah, it’s not so much silkscreening gear as it is an idea of myself, and since I’ve moved on, I think it’s about time that my equipment did too: Not because I’m leaving town, but because I’m staying.

As for the queer punk kid who’ll be the recipient of all these art supplies, I’m hoping he’ll stay too. I’m not placing any bets on it, this city being as hard to love as it is, but I’m hoping he’ll at least stick around for the rest of the winter.

Sights made more beautiful by the dirt and disarray

I can’t believe I never took my camera to work at the construction site. I mean, I suppose I can, because really it wasn’t a good place to be getting all artsy, given both the dirtiness of the environment and the attitudes of so many coworkers. Still, there were moments that will live on forever on in my memory and I wish I’d documented the experience with a photo.

I saw the most beautiful things, sights made more beautiful by the dirt and disarray that surrounded me. All through the spring, I watched dawn break over the city from the half-finished towers where I was installing conduit for the electrical system. By mid-April, when I was trusted alone for long periods of time, I made a point of stopping my work when the sun first rose, just to greet it. I was on my own in a wing on the seventh floor of the building, which was still a concrete shell that rumbled continuously with the vibrations of the levelling they were doing with jackhammers down on fourth. Power tools screamed in the distance, men shouted, the construction elevators groaned, and occasional thuds marked the arrival of another load of bricks on the roof, courtesy of the three giant cranes. I could hear all this through the foam plugs that blocked my ears and made them itchy for hours after my shift ended. Despite the noise, everything felt still when the sunlight first hit the area where I worked, as though the touch of orange light on the grey surfaces was enough to keep all that activity at bay. I put down my drill and rested on my ladder, leaning against it while watching the colour creep across the walls. The dust suddenly seemed less hazardous, and my body ached less, and I smiled.

[This post marks Day 3 of Reverb 10, a blogging initiative in which I am surprised to find myself taking part.  Maybe I’ll stop tomorrow.  Maybe I won’t.]