Category Archives: Co-operator

Sales funnels make me want to hurl.

I’m not a salesperson. I think my friendliness and general ease with strangers makes people think I’d be good at selling stuff, but I’m not into it. Sure, I like chatting with just about anyone: That part of my new job is awesome. As long as I can pretend to myself that I’m only looking to find out general information about these water systems I’m responsible for calling, I’m fine.

But when I have to explain who I am, and what it is that I’ll be doing with the data I’m getting from the person I’ve contacted, I feel too awkward to enjoy the call. On one hand, I honestly believe that the water systems can benefit from the professional services offered by my employers, because often the systems are inefficient, hampered by aging infrastructure, and run by volunteers who may not be aware of the support they can access. On the other hand, years of anti-capitalist idealism and studies in cooperative business models make me clam up when dealing with “hard pitches” and “sales funnels”.

Often, the person I’m talking with doesn’t understand why I’m calling, so I can easily just get their email, send them an info package, and continue with my daily pitch goal. Sometimes, they’re sufficiently engaged with water issues to ask exactly what it is our company offers, tell me a few things about their water system, and have a good discussion. Even when these people figure they won’t need our services, I appreciate the fact that they’ll talk to me.

Then there’s the jerks, who get irate and acuse me of trying to sell them something, as if that’s a crime, as if I’m trying to scam them. This is where my own doubt comes to light: I want to convince them that I’m not trying to sell them anything they couldn’t use, anything that wouldn’t make their water safer and their systems easier to manage, but I can’t. Instead I just feel bad for being part the sales machine, and question my own beliefs and reasons for taking this job.

I can rationalize working here very easily, firstly because I need a job and secondly because access to clean water is a huge fucking problem that I want to help solve. Where I get lost is in my lack of confidence in private for-profit enterprise: Is this really the best way of fixing things?

From the limited experience I’ve gained during my 6 days of employment in the industry, I would say that one of the biggest problems in the water industry is communication: There’s no comprehensive public listing of water system administrators, no listing of grants available to them, no framework for engagement. Being a geeky organizer sort of person, I immediately want to make a website that does all these things, and I want to coordinate conferences and webinars and all sorts of other events that’ll get people educated and engaged with water issues. The more capitalist side of me will say that that’s exactly what this company is working on, for the good of the people. And that may be true, and if I really try, I guess I can see it that way. Then I read another email from my boss about “coaching” “prospects” through the “sales funnel” and I get all nauseous. Meanwhile, I’m at least learning to question my ability to take clean drinking water for granted… And paying the bills, which feels like no small feat these days.


In which I see my former downstairs neighbour, and remember things I’d forgotten

This past Saturday, Oats and I went to the wholesale grocery in the industrial district near our house. We were walking homeward when we had to pull our bike trailer of groceries out of the way, to let pass a man and a woman with a baby in a stroller. As they went past, I made eye contact with the man, and he gave a quick shy smile before turning away and continuing down the road.

I stayed standing there until they were far ahead, then turned to Oats. “Wow,” I said. “I know that man.”

It was… Richard? No… Dammit, I still can’t remember his name, not even though I’ve been thinking about it ever since this happened three days ago.

He was my former downstairs neighbour, from the building I used to live in two years ago.  The one I blogged about here and here, because he had an abusive girlfriend who was struggling with addiction, very publicly and loudly and violently. I called the cops a few times, including one night when she stabbed him.   He had a history of similar things himself, I know, because he told me about it:  The mandatory anger-management program, the counseling, the lure of drugs and booze, how much trouble he’d be in if he ever hit her back, how much it sucked to live in a building as vermin-infested and run-down as ours.  We chatted a lot, with a weird sort of neighbourliness in which he thanked me for caring.

It was nice to hear that, if only because I was always unsure about calling the cops.   I was worried about them busting other residents for pot, or not believing that this guy was the victim of assault and instead assuming he’d been the instigator.  Even with his gratitude for my actions, it was still a stress because all I could wonder was where it was heading.   Was this going to go on and on, with her screaming outside our building and attacking him, and me bringing in the state?  It wasn’t a role I wanted, and I was even worried I might be enabling the situation.

So strange to be thinking of all this again, when I’d pretty much forgotten about it.

I’d forgotten that I didn’t just move to my current home because I wanted a prettier apartment, and to share a house with Sum and Captain Pestou.  I’d forgotten how tiring it was to live in a place that wasn’t just tiny but also full of mice and mold, with walls so thin that I could hear everything happening throughout the building.  I dreamed of making it into a co-op, something I was working on at the same time as the crazy violence was happening downstairs.  What was I thinking?!!!

When I told them I was moving from that old apartment to my current one, some people laughed and said I was just going from one of the city’s worst neighbourhoods to the other one.  Which was, and is, laughable, because the street where I live now is more upper class than anywhere I’ve lived before.  It’s true that I’m now in a municipality that has less money than the rest in our city, but more so than anything, it’s a question of stereotypes and spatiality:  People think it’s rough because it has a military base, dockyards, and two reserves, but really they are all crammed into such a small area that it’s simply more noticeably working class than anywhere else in the region.

Anyway.  Yeah.  There he was, my former downstairs neighbour, from when we lived somewhere really crappy.  And the woman walking with him, pushing the baby in the stroller?  I’m pretty certain it was the same girlfriend from back then.  I hope it has worked out.  I hope they aren’t addicted.  I hope they live somewhere nice, and that the baby is safe, and that they are happy.

early birthday scavenging thrills

oats gave me an early birthday present!


it’s a reproduction antique compass in a brass pocket-watch-style case, and i LOVE it.  i didn’t own a compass before this… which is odd, considering how important it is to my mental health for me to know my bearings.  now i’ll always know what direction i’m heading, and have a something beautiful to look at whenever i’m fretting.

last night we went for a long stroll after dinner, down through the side streets to the ocean.  right after we turned homewards, we came across an absolutely incredible piece of furniture at the curb.  a quick discussion ensued, made urgent by the encroaching darkness and another passerby eager to check it out if we decided to pass.

the thing is, oats and i are suckers for anything made from solid wood, and we both love the lines of (most) old furniture.  aside from that, we’ve been talking about diversifying our income by turning our scavenging into a more lucrative hobby, by selling the pieces that we refinish.

so, i stayed behind to guard our new treasure, and oats took off to find a co-op car.  hooray for the car share:  the closest vehicle was available, and it just happened to be a minivan!  i’ll skip the drama of us trying to load, and simply tell you that i couldn’t even lift one side of this thing.  we got it up to our 2nd story apartment by taking advantage of the kindness of burly macho men from downstairs who seemed pleased to work for a 12-pack of sleem@n’s.

and now!  behold!












it’s true:  we don’t actually need an RCA Victor Magic Voice combination phonograph and radio cabinet from around the 1940s.  but it’s so gorgeous, and we got it for the price of some beer and a car booking (totalling ~$31, in case you were wondering).  my original thought was that we’d gut it, refinish the wood, and use it as a sideboard with storage underneath… perhaps making the speaker section into a glass-doored display shelf lit from above.  however, at the urging of the burly macho men downstairs, that thought is on hold as we try to suss out some more information about the piece.  maybe it’d be smarter of us to restore it to working condition?  we already have a functional and sexy record/radio cabinet, though very different from this one:  it’s more 1960s, but still solid wood, with a low profile, modern lines, and metal legs.  personally, i’d rather turn the Magic Voice into something that suits my more immediate need for attractive storage space.

or… sell it?  the old sticker on the back says $445 (8th photo from top of series), but who knows what the value is these days.  of course, any real value is dependent on what a person might actually pay, which is conditional on a few other factors that aren’t really in our favour:  the economy’s crappy, we live on an island, and this thing weighs a ton so is hell to move.  also, i like it, and i’m not desperate for cash at the moment.  i think my minimum selling price would be $500, because that’d pay for oats and i to each put together a touring bike (using my stash of cherry components, a couple 2nd hand frames, and some new parts too).  otherwise, i think i’d rather keep it.

all round, my birthday’s looking pretty great.


i’m having a bday bbq this upcoming tuesday!  it’s at oats’ place (now mine as well), above the square!  5 pm onwards!  there’ll be sangria and mojitos and sausages!  also, veggie stuff!  also, cake!  please come!

i’m not here.

oats left this morning, and i miss her.  my sadness is tempered by the fact that in one week, she’ll be picking me up at the vancouver airport and spiriting me away to our island home.  fuck, i’m looking forward to that.

i went with her to the airport shuttle, which left from southern cross station at 8:30 am:  it was dark when we got up, and now i’m tired and achy.  it doesn”t help that i fucked-up my back a couple days ago… the muscles are seized in my neck and shoulders and there’s a lot of pain.  aside from these complaints, and the loneliness that comes from the sudden absence of my beloved after 19 days of constant companionship, it was kinda nice to take the tram home from downtown just as all the commuters were heading the other direction.

what else is new?  like i said last post, i’ve applied for two jobs, either of which would be very, very good.  one of them pays really well and is professional-ish, though is a 35-hour workweek and could be a lot more admin tasks than i’m used to, plus involves one or two characters with whom i’ve indirectly had problems in the past… nothing serious, just that their attitudes and ways of working have had a negative impact on projects at a previous job.  i think i’d really like the rest of the staff, and as much as i’d prefer to keep my workweek down to a 30 hour maximum, it would be nice to have the extra income.  the other job is only 15 hours per week, and is everything i’d want in a media/personel position, including a commitment to radical politics and anti-oppressive practices.  it pays less, but i’d be collaborating with great people, and the environment would complement my work at the bike shop as well as the workers’ co-op.  both are union and come with benefits, which is very important cuz i haven’t seen a dentist or had new glasses since i became a non-student contract employee two years ago.

my fingers are crossed, especially for the second opportunity, but i’m not stressed about it.  if neither one pans out, then i’ll have more time for other work, both self-created and external.  aside from the usual small businesss plans i’m always cooking up, i’ve been thinking a lot about credit unions as of late, and would like to see if i can get some sort of part-time entry-level position.

in case it isn’t obvious, i’ve reached a point in my melbourne life where i’m no longer really here:  my heart has returned to canada, and my mind is quickly following.  a few more days of tying loose ends, and then the body goes too!



okay, kids, i’m done. another three months on the other side of the world is sounding like a terrible idea, especially when said world isn’t doing very well in terms of distribution of economic gains. it’s simply very difficult for a person without local connections to find employment here. i love the volunteer work i’ve been doing at the community radio station, but really… if i’m going to work for free, i have a new co-op business venture taking off back in canada that could use my attention!

besides which… well, have *you* tried being away from your lover for this long? it’s just wretched.

i changed my ticket, and will be back on the island at the start of july. anyone want to meet for beer? anyone know of any work i could do? anyone want to bike out to the lake and go for a swim?

This is a crab, trying to hide in a hole.  Kinda like me.  I'm better now, I swear.  (Tooradin)

This is a crab, trying to hide in a hole. Kinda like me. I'm better now, I swear. (Tooradin)

“That is my land? Who says it has that strange shape?”

The Charles Town Library Society kept its books and maps in a room on Union Street. The keeper of the books sat at a desk at the entrance. He glanced at me quickly and turned away, as if from something distasteful.

“Ah yes, Mr. Lindo,” he said. “I’m afraid we don’t allow Negroes here.”

“Mr. Jackson, don’t you have a brother in the indigo trade?”

The library man carefully closed a book on his desk. “I’m sure nobody will object this one time, Mr. Lindo.”

“Good. We need some books by Voltaire, and your most recent maps of the world.”

The keeper led us to a table at the far end of the room, brought us two of Voltaire’s books and some rolled maps, and left us alone.

“Keep that fan going,” Lindo said.

“He’s not watching.”

“Use it anyway,” he said, “it’s hot in here.”

While I fanned him, Solomon Lindo untied a string around a large scroll.

“I have never seen so many books,” I said, looking around and wishing that women and Negroes were allowed in the library.

“They have a thousand books,” Mr. Lindo muttered, “and I paid for half of them.”

“Where are we?” I asked, pointing at the map.

“This is British North America,” he said, indicating a mass of land.

On the edge of the land, right up against a huge swath of blue named the Atlantic Ocean, Lindo put his finger by a dot, beside which was the name Charles Town.

“And here,” he said, “is Africa.” Across the blue sea, I saw a strangely shaped mass, wider at the top, curving in the middle and narrowing at the bottom.

“How do you know?”

“You can make out the letters if you look carefully. See here? A-F-R-I-C-A.

“That is my land? Who says it has that strange shape?”

“The cartographers who make the maps. The traders who sail the worlds. The British and the French and the Dutch and the others who go to Africa, sailing up and down the coast, mapping the shape of the continent.”

On the map I paused over some squiggles in the form of baseless triangles. Lindo said they were meant to indicate mountains. I saw a lion and an elephant sketched in the middle of the land called Africa. I saw that it was mostly surrounded by seas. But the map told me nothing of where I came from. Nothing of Bayo, Segu, or the Joliba. Not a single thing that I recognized from my homeland.

“Here on this side of the water, in British North America,” I said, pointing, “it says Charles Town. I can see where we are. But there are no towns written on Africa. Only these places along the water. Cape Verde. Cape Mesurado. Cape Palmas. How are we to know where the villages are?”

“The villages are unknown,” Lindo said.

“I have walked through them. There are people everywhere.”

“They are unknown to the people who made this map. Look here in the corner. It says 1690. This is a copy of a map first made seventy-three years ago. They knew even less back then.”

I felt cheated. Now that I could read so well, I had been excited by the prospect of finding my own village on a map. But there were no villages – not mine or anybody else’s.

“Is there nothing more?” I asked.

Solomon Lindo looked at his watch, and said we had time for one more map.

Mapp of Africa, the second one said, Corrected with the latest and the best observations. I checked the date. 1729. Perhaps it would be better than the first. The map showed land in the shape of a mushroom with the stem shoved to the right. Near the top, I saw the words Desert of Barbary or Zaara, and below that, Negroland, and below that, along the winding, curving coasts, sections named Slave Coast, Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, and Grain Coast. There were tiny words scribbled where the land met the water, but inland was mostly sketchings of elephants, lions, and bare-breasted women. In one corner of the map, I saw a sketch of an African child lying beside a lion under a tree. I had never seen such a ridiculous thing. No child would be foolish enough to sleep with a lion. In another corner of the map, I studied a sketch of a man with a long-tailed animal sitting on his shoulder.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a monkey,” Lindo said.

This “Mapp of Africa” was not my homeland. It was a white man’s fantasy.

“There is some lack of detail,” Lindo said, “but now you see the shape of Africa.”

I said I had seen enough. After all the books I had read, and all that I had learned about the ways of white people in South Carolina, I now felt, more than ever before, that these people didn’t know me at all. They knew how to bring ships to my land. They knew how to take me from it. But they had no idea at all what my land looked like or who lived there or how we lived.

the book of negroes
lawrence hill

the subtitle to this post is “why the book of negroes should win canada reads. in the annual competition for top honours in canadian literature, avi lewis (forever loved by those of us in the co-op movement for his film the take, made with naomi klein) is proposing that every canadian needs to read lawrence hill‘s the book of negroes because it effectively tells a gripping story that runs contrary to the smugness of how canada countered slavery in the united states as the destination of the underground railroad.

i’m proposing that everyone needs to read this book simply because it demonstrates the way that geography functions as a tool of colonization, power, and oppression. 

up the geographers!

>>> vote for your favourite and join the discussion over at the cbc website…

monday round-up post

the nerve conduction testing was good, in terms of results as well as experience. the tests felt the same as when i’ve accidentally touched an electric fence; i doubt it will surprise you to learn that this is a mistake that i’ve made many, many times. the other folks in the waiting room seemed pretty old and feeble, which might explain why the doctor was so enthusiastic about my health: in direct contrast to the other two doctors that i’ve seen about my wrist, this specialist said it was great that i’d been able to assemble a bike with a coaster brake so that i could rest my hands while riding. the others told me i couldn’t cycle anymore. they also told me i should find a new career, one that didn’t involve my hands. ha! instead, the specialist asked me a lot about my life, and then said that i seem like i’m someone who simply is very hard on my hands, and that i need to learn my limits. huh? limits? que es?

anyway, to summarize: tests are normal, i’m to get an ultrasound and blood tests to see if anything else could be causing the pain/stiffness, the doc doesn’t recommend surgery, and i’m to check-in after i get home from oz in august. i still have days when i’m shocked by how weak my hand is, but it’s manageable.

my ex has gone away for ten days, and so i have her dog. it’s nice, though i’ve been driving everywhere instead of biking: dawson does not do the bike trailer. still, we’ve been walking a lot, and i have plans to do an overnight next weekend… maybe to mystic beach, or sombrio.

i’m waiting to hear back from my landlady about subletting my place while i’m away; she might prefer to take this opportunity to end my tenancy, then renovate and turn the apartment into a vacation rental for wheelchair-users. as sad as i’d be to lose my home, i love that idea! though, i think the driveway is too steep for anyone without a powerchair or companion… but i could be wrong about that.

i’m having a meeting this weekend with a couple of conspirators, to talk about drawing up a business plan for a co-op. like, for realz: i want a job that has meaning, and i want to use my skills, and i want to work with people who share my values, ethics, and goals. as much as the deconstruction of my workplace has really sucked, it’s creating a situation in which i now know a couple of people who are in this exact same position. up from the ashes, my friends, our phoenix shall rise.

fuck, i hate it when academics tell me that i’m wasting my life by not going to grad school.

i mean, it bugs me when people in general say this, but i forgive them because i figure they don’t know that of which they speak. but academics? and specifically the one who’s responsible for creating such a craptastic work environment these past 6 months? yeah, NO. go away.

i went to a clothing exchange this past saturday, and gave away ~1/3 my shirts plus a whole bunch of stuff that i’d barely worn since picking it up at the last clothing exchange that was populated by this same group of people. we just keep switching outfits: it’s pretty fun to watch. i came away with a cute pair of shoes and two dresses: a more utilitarian one that i wore to work at the bike shop yesterday, and a fancier one that i’ll be saving for an upcoming hot date (i believe the term “pin-up girl” was included in the comments made when i tried it on).

i’m on week 5 of the c0uch to 5k running program. it’s the second time i’ve gotten to this point, and i’m looking forward to pushing past it instead of getting distracted as i have in the past. two things are making it easier this time: one is that i’m running with my lover, whose chosen pseudonym is oats (i’ll have to get her to explain that one), and she’s just as wheezy as i am. three cheers for asthmatics! the other thing making it easier is that we’re running on our lunch breaks. aside from the bonus of post-run showers, a midday run puts me in a better position to maintain my daily cycling commute. before, i would get up and run, then eat breakfast, and then ride 10k: it was too much for me, and i’d feel drained all day. now i feel like the hours spent at my desk between activities are well-earned rest and snacking periods.

some friends of oats’ were getting rid of several boxes of books, and i got to go through them. score! a copy of herland, charlotte perkins gilman’s 1915 utopian feminist novel! there’s an excellent review over at the feminist sci-fi blog.

my boss gave me a woolen sailing sweater that she bought in france, eons ago. it’s all rad and stripey and warm as-all-get-out, and has buttons on the shoulder. i can’t wait to wear it out on the water… or incorporate it into another sort of situation… “oui oui, vien ici, ma petite chaton, heh heh heh…”

yesterday i was reminded of a valuable lesson: before putting all the effort into dismantling, cleaning, greasing, and reassembling the hub of the rear wheel for that crusty raleigh cruiser you’re rebuilding, check the rim. just… look at it. if you do this, you may notice the massive fucking rusty bulge on the side of the rim, a bulge that is impossible to hammer out. then you will have the opportunity to stop and find yourself a new wheel or rim, before you’ve wasted most of your day on something that is not worthwhile.

this, my friends, is why i remain a devoted bike geek instead of a paid bike mechanic.

[photo: dawson at mystic beach, august 2007]