Category Archives: Critic

Project Pomegranate: Midafternoon phone call

In the mechanical room of a hockey rink where I was working on the lighting controls... Thick layers of ice were growing everywhere!

Midafternoon phone call: ZOMG!

No, it wasn’t the provincial electrical authority offering me a job…Though wouldn’t that be funny right now? It’s been over a year since the interview!

It was the local fertility centre:  We got an intake appointment!

I was working when the call came in, and so couldn’t answer. I listened to the message on the sly when my foreman sent me out to the van to get a ladder, and it just asked me to call them back, because they had a date ready.  I spent the remaining couple hours of my work day fretting over this, cuz I’m nothing if not an over-thinker. My big concern was that this appointment was going to be like next week or sometime really soon, and all I could think was: “BUT I’M NOT READY YET!!!”

Luckily, it’s in June. WHEW. June 14th, to be exact… A month before my 31st birthday, which feels like great timing.

The only crappy thing is that they really really want a medical referral for Oats, too. This was a different administrator I spoke with, from the last time, and she was quite firm. Regardless of our intentions for who will be doing what in this adventure in queer babymaking, the centre’s policy is that partnered clients will each have a regular physician’s referral.

It’s such total bullshit, and a huge waste of resources… I already think it’s silly that I needed a referral, considering that I’m not infertile, just queer.  So why should Oats have to get one, when her job is to hold my hand while I get poked and prodded and swabbed and inseminated?  I mean, Oats is going to be very busy in her role as Chief Gestational Support Coordinator, but I’m pretty certain she’ll get to keep her clothes on throughout.

(Er… At the clinic, I mean. I certainly hope she’ll remove them at other junctures…)

I know, I know… It’ll be easy enough for her to simply pop into the same walk-in clinic I did, and see the same doc, and just tell him she’s my partner and needs the same referral. I bet it’d be fun for all of us, him included. It’s more the principle of the thing that’s bothering me… I don’t like the American health care system by any means, but am rather envious of how many options there are for getting pregnant down there. Not only do they have fertility clinics, but there’s also midwives and naturopaths who perform inseminations, and you can even get home delivery from sperm banks and then do it yourself! Ah, how nice that would be.

So anyway, yeah. Halfway through June, we’re meeting the doc at the fertility centre for a getting-to-know-you session, and then they’re immediately whisking me off for a transvaginal ultrasound. Which is probably about as rad as it sounds, and likely the beginning of a time in my life when the number of people who’ve seen my genitalia rapidly increases… Perhaps exponentially.

Why #2: Capitalism.

(For Why #1, click here)

Oh, hey, I live here.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, there was a piece on the radio about the skilled trades worker shortage. It’s a common theme, you’ve probably heard something about it: The journeymen are all speeding towards retirement age, and there simply aren’t enough apprentices coming along to fill the soon-to-be-available leadership positions. Listening to the on-air discussion, I grinned while lacing up my steel toed boots… Not only are there more and more trades jobs on the horizon, but us skilled trades workers are reaping the benefits of the effort of all those older workers!  These were mostly men, who negotiated contracts and wage standards meant to support their entire families, for which they historically were providing the primary income.  Which is to say, a “small” salary in the trades is a hell of a lot bigger than a “medium” salary in the world of administrative assistants… And let’s not even talk about the non-profit sector.

So here’s another reason why I chose to be an electrician: Because I wanted a living wage.

It’s fucking surreal sometimes, to really think about the fact that the best work I’ve done is also the stuff that’s contributed least to paying my rent. Earning enough money to not only cover my expenses but also get out of debt (and avoid getting further into debt) has been a huge distraction from all the excellent stuff I could be doing. You know when people say that they wouldn’t work if they didn’t have to? I simply don’t believe it. Oh, sure, I imagined they’d take a few months to veg out and clear their minds… But after that, I really do honestly have faith in the human desire to feel needed, to find satisfaction from doing something useful.  Wages get in the way of us finding our callings:  We’re too busy trying to make a living.

So anyway, yeah, capitalism’s not doing too well right now, in case you haven’t noticed.  Never having been a big fan in the first place, I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised:  It’s simply unmanageble, this twisted economic system.  Having said that, I’ve yet to visit the encampment of my local Occupy movement… Because I’m too busy working, at the first decent-paying job I’ve had in years.  How totally bougie of me, ha!

Seriously, though, it means a lot to me, to be able to count on making enough money for more than just my expenses…  And not just so that I can buy boots!  Hmmm… Actually, that’s a good example:  It’s a relief to be able to invest in quality footwear that will last me a couple years, instead of having to either continue to make do with the old (and literally crumbling!) pair or buy some crappy cheap thing that’ll need replacing in another few months.  It’s a small thing, but so important to my personal quality of life.  So: I have a steady union job, I’ll continue to get raises every six months as I gain experience, I’m learning useful skills that will make me increasingly employable, and I can afford decent boots…  This is how capitalism drove me to become an electrician.

The one that got away

I missed a phone call from my union. The battery on my phone had died and while I plugged it in to recharge, I neglected to actually turn the phone on again. The I got busy with simultaneously canning apple butter, making yoghourt, and brewing espresso, and the phone was the farthest thing from my mind.

So I missed out on a job.

ARG!

It was only an hour or so later that I got the message and called back the union dude who runs the job list. “Did I miss it?  Am I too late?” I asked.  The dude told me he was sorry, but yes, I’d missed the chance.

Fucking hell.

Overall, I’m frustrated with myself, because I should have been more diligent, should have kept my phone on.

On the other hand… Well.  If I wanted to, I could find a ton of excuses as to why it’s good that I didn’t get the job, so it’s probably better if I don’t spend too much time dwelling on it. Ambivalence, FTW! One thing I will say right now is just that the position being offered was with the biggest electrical contractors in town, and I’d really prefer to go to the shipyards instead.

On that topic, I’m watching the news reports like a hawk, waiting on the government’s decision on the federal shipbuilding contracts this September.  How ridiculous is that… Or rather, how revealing of the changes to my life since entering the trades!  Previously, my only comment on millions of dollars spent on naval infrastructure would have been to rant about the government’s misplaced priorities and to reiterate my own anti-militarization stance. Now, I’m all like, “I WANT A JOB!”  And I’d be likely to get one, if the west coast shipbuilding conglomerate wins their bid.  I’m still critical of the war machine, don’t get me wrong… But I also am pretty damn pragmatic, especially these days.

Dancing, dancing, revolutionizing

It was about a year ago that shit hit the fan with a group of folks with whom I’d been putting on an annual dance party celebration weekend.  I’d been involved in organizing that event since it started years ago, and yet felt like I wasn’t welcome, mostly due to my queerness but also because of my stance on the need for vocal inclusionary policies:  I wanted us to make it clear to all attendees that we were not going to put up with sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, bullshit behaviour, and that such actions would be grounds for removal. 

Apparently, this sort of policy “ruins the mood”. 

Hey, you know what really ruins the mood?  Being targeted for assault because of your gender, race, sexuality, and/or body!

Blech.  Whatever.  As I’ve written before, the good thing that came out of that experience was my decision to throw my energies elsewhere:  I got involved with another party-organizing group, this one queer-focused with an anti-oppressive mandate.

Together we’ve hosted 5 events in the past 10 months, including one just for teens that absolutely blew my mind with how rad it was… How rad the teens are!  Seriously, if you’re down in the dumps and want to get back some hope in the world, try spending an evening making buttons and playing board games with a crew of young folks.  They were so fun to hang out with.  I’m now friends with a couple of them on a social networking site and have learned how they personally face a ton of homophobia and transphobia at their schools. Knowing this makes it all the more special, the connection we made… Not to be cheezy, but I felt like it was actually doing something to make it better, moving beyond simply telling them “it gets better”.

Of course, in a lot of ways, it isn’t getting better.  I’ve sometimes been asked why I’m involved in putting on radical queer dance parties, when there’s a gay bar in our city.  Well, this is why:  In many gay bars, a commitment to supporting gender and sexual diversity is not taken seriously.  It’s all about being the right sort of gay, as Miss T.R. Gendered writes so well:  If you fall outside the “norms”  for your perceived gender or sexuality, you’re got to face the Gay Police, who’ll make you feel unsafe simply for being who you are.

Tying together my rambling thoughts about queer youth socials and the lack of safety for certain bodies at gay bars is a recent big decision made by my radical queer dance party collective:  We were approached by the organizers of the local pride festival and asked if we’d put on their official youth dance, in exchange for some funding and the use of their name and promotional clout.  After many long discussions that bounced all over the place, we said no to their money and credibility (?), but yes to the task.  We’d already been planning our annual celebration of queer resistance dance party for that week, and as we hold such events as fundraisers anyway, we decided to simply channel the profits from this one into a huge queer youth dance party the next weekend.

One pride week, one small radical dance party collective, two dance parties!!! I have no idea if we’re in completely over our heads here or not, but I’m totally excited.  I feel like we could have taken the offer from the offical pride group and it woulda been okay… Eventually, I’d probably have gotten over my initial sense of being a sell-out. Having said that, I’m thrilled.  More than anything, the decision to do it on our own makes me feel proud of us:  Proud that we’re willing to test our limits, to see what we can accomplish, to risk financial autonomy in a capitalist economy, to stay as true as possible to our mandate for providing alternative queer space.

For the record, we did thank the organizers of the local pride festival for thinking of us, because it is a tribute to our group’s reputation, that they’d consider us good enough to host the youth dance… And we believe that partnerships such as the one they were suggestion can be pretty great.  Going it alone seems to be a good deal for both groups, in this case though, since they’ll get to put their funding into other pride initiatives and the youth still get a dance party… And we get a crash course in putting on a really big youth event!

Does it change things, does it make them better, to have such firm ideas about creating queer spaces outside those sanctioned by a larger society?  I’m sensitive to stoking the flames of in-fighting among members of the minority group that is made up of those of us whose lives include sexual and gender diversity, and I don’t want to waste energy hating on those queers who’d tell folks like Miss T.R. Gendered to put their shirts back on… I’ll be writing those letters of complaint to the bar management, of course, and telling everyone I know to boycott the place, but I need more.  I need to turn this fury inside me into something pro- in stead of anti-, something fiercely loving instead of angrily frustrating.  Dance parties meet that need for me.

It’s not exactly revolutionary, to organize a liquor license and a sound systems and few DJs, but I like to think it’s part of a long queer tradition. Before gay bars were legal, in places where they still aren’t, all over the world and through history, this is something we’ve done: Gotten together to shake our booties, lick our wounds, meet new lovers, visit with old ones, share in a temporary oasis of fragile safety* in a world that would have us silent or dead or simply pretend not to exist.

* (Safety for some… Sadly, as with any community event, fucked up shit sometimes goes down at our parties too.)

Bleeding-heart tree-hugging queer.

The old furniture shop on the corner shut down this past winter, and at our weekly household dinners we all speculated as to what would next fill the store front. Instead of the hipster/yuppie cafe we were hoping for (as an alternative to the bucky’s in the plaza!), the New Democratic Party rented it and set up their candidacy office for this riding.

After walking and riding past the office a couple times a day, I finally went in and asked for a lawn sign. I’d never done that before, having generally snubbed federal politics as being too far removed from my daily existence to be worth the energy. I’d vote, and rant, but that’s about it. This time, though, I’ve been seeing far too many Conservative lawn signs during my commute out to the trade school, and it’s been making me feel ill. Besides which, I was raised by rather fervent NDP supporters, and have a nostalgic affection for neon orange.

“I grew up in Toronto,” I told the staffer at the desk as she wrote down my address for their records. “When he was still a local city councillor, Jack Layton rollerbladed to my high school to give a presentation on civic responsibility.”

“Did he bring his guitar and play you some songs, too?” She asked. I couldn’t tell if she was mocking Jack for his folkiness or me for my misty-eyed reminiscence, but it was pretty funny either way.

“He might as well have,” I told her. “But all the other politicians who spoke to us were stiff suits, so he got a surprisingly friendly reception, considering we were a bunch of bored teenagers.”

How do you decide how to vote? Do you go for personality, or party? Or is it more complicated than that? I haven’t actually committed to throwing my lot in with the NDP. My other leanings are with the Greens, because I’m a bleeding-heart tree-hugging queer*. I’ve requested a lawn sign from them too, which should arrive this afternoon. There’s an all-candidates forum next week that I’m hoping to attend, but really I’ll probably make my decision based on the party platforms. As I see it, the individual candidates are a hell of a lot less important than the larger institutions they represent: This country is just too huge and diverse. Having said that, my friend Jag is encouraging everyone to vote NDP simply because of all the options, Layton would be the sexiest prime minister. Personally, I’m not really into mustaches, but I’d be glad for a reprieve from Harper’s creepy fake smile.

*A dude I worked with many, many years ago called me this… Well, actually he called me a “fucking bleeding-heart tree-hugging bitch”, but close enough. Luckily he was pretty easy to write off as an odd duck, with larger issues than I’d ever understand: Despite coming from an extremely wealthy family, he took to stealing from the cafe’s cash register in order to impress the brothers at a fraternity he’d joined, and he actually did this in full view of the other staff. I’m fairly certain drugs were involved… It’s hard to be offended when someone is that out of it, so I’ve enjoyed holding onto that little nickname he bestowed upon me.

Model minority in math immersion

The entry-level trades program I did over a year ago was self-paced. This second level course isn’t. I thought I’d hate it, having to attend classes and do all the same work at the same time as my classmates. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the first couple weeks, because I grasped a lot of the concepts fairly quickly and so had very little homework. Then we hit circuit analysis, and suddenly I became the one student holding everyone back with my questions and confusion.

Fuck, I hate that… I already stick out as the only woman in the room, and having to ask for clarification from the teacher makes me super self-conscious. And yeah, I know I have a right to be here, and to ask questions, and to get frustrated just like any other student… But these are the effects of being constantly reminded that I am fundamentally different from my peers: I am determined to succeed and excel, to prove not just that I can do it, but that women can do it. It’s fucked, but that’s how I feel… Like I have to “represent”. Classic symptoms of a model minority, hmmm?

It doesn’t help that I hear this message over and over from others in the trade. I’d thought it was just me, until another female apprentice at the hydr0 boot camp told me that she gets the same thing: Upon learning that we are electrical apprentices, the immediate reaction of lot of older, male journeymen is to start telling us about the one or two woman electricians they’ve known throughout their careers, and how PERFECTLY BRILLIANT they are/were. I gather these men say these things because they’re trying to show that they support women in the trades. However! The actual way it comes across is a reinforcement of the fact that there’s a higher standard for us: We can’t just be sorta okay at our jobs, like the majority of the schmoes we work with. Instead we have to prove ourselves over and over, by being THE BESTEST-24/7!!!

Which is exhausting, and unfair, cuz really, as much as I like to be good at things, I also have other priorities aside from the trade, and I’m not always going to rock out 100%. I would like to be okay with that, and I would like my coworkers, classmates, and teachers to be okay with that too: I’m human, dammit.

Having said that, I’m working very hard, and so far have achieved a 95% average after four exams. Only 8 more to go!

It’s mostly math, which I really like, when I understand it… It’s getting to that place of understanding that’s the trouble. Going through this schooling as an adult has been an amazing journey in understanding my own learning styles.

For instance, I know now that I need to have all information clearly laid out and labeled, and all equations in sequential order, in order to make sense of it. My current instructor writes partial formulas and calculations all over the whiteboard at the front of our classroom, haphazardly drawing diagrams and graphing results. It drives me completely nuts. In the past, I’d have simply given up, mired in frustration. Now I plow through, rewriting his equations on my own notepaper, taking extra time but arranging everything in a way that’s accessible to my own quirky brain.

I also know that I really benefit from spending loooooooong amounts of time on the same concept: Entire days of math immersion really does wonders to cement it in my understanding. In high school and university, everything was arranged in 1 or 2 hour blocks. I never questioned this, because it never occurred to me that it may be related to why I struggled so much. Concentrated bursts of difficult topics, I’ve learned, are exactly the sort of thing that send my mind into panic mode. I get worried that I won’t have enough time to comprehend the lesson, and I’m so distracted that I *really* don’t pick up anything the teacher is showing us! So when I’ve got full days on entire topics, I’m more relaxed, and then I can follow along. My current instructor is forever apologizing for the length of time we focus on topics, but it’s just about perfect for me.

I can’t help but think: If only high school had been 6 consecutive 8-week long courses instead of 6 simultaneous courses over 40 weeks, I might have ended up an engineer by now. Ah, well… If that’d been my path, I would have missed out on all the great scenery on this route, and what a shame that would have been.

Donkey-work

It’s the last couple days at my job, and I’m working harder than I ever did in the past 4 months that I’ve held this position. That’s a particular thing about taking on a coordinating sort of role: The work is never cut and dry, and the projects rarely have a definitive start and end… Or at least none that fits into the relatively short span that I’ve been here. So in leaving, I’ve got to summarize the projects I’ve been working on, and try to convey some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned, and basically do what I can to make it so that someone else can take over.

It’s making me nostalgic for when I’ve left cafe jobs: I’d simple pull one last latte at the espresso bar, look at the clock, shuck my apron, and say goodbye. I’m even looking back with great fondness on the afternoon last June when I was surprised to find myself laid off from the construction site: One minute I was installing nurse call switches, and less than an hour later I was drinking beer in the sunshine on my patio with another (ex)coworker. It sucked in some ways, but it was also pretty relaxing.

Today, I spent 7 hours teaching my boss and my coworker how to use client management database software. My boss kept asking why we’d do it this way, instead of simply using spreadsheets, and kept suggesting that we needn’t bother with documenting *all* of our client communications in the database, just some of them. Look, I told him, you certainly could do it that way, and you might even do well at it… But then why did you invest in this software, and why did I just spend 4 months mastering it?

The entire debate was a pretty good indicator of the primary struggles that the company is facing, with few established protocols for doing anything. The other person I was teaching was my coworker who’d driven in from another city up-island, and she was similarly frustrated. In fact, when the boss was out of the room, I learned that she’d also suggested that she no longer work for the company, on the same day that I did. My boss told her that I was already leaving, and she felt bad, so agreed to stay, though with many reservations.

“They just don’t get it,” she said, “How much donkey-work goes into all the stuff they want us to do.”

Poor donkeys.

It wasn’t until the end of our day together that I learned that she didn’t know how to use the software for custom mail-merges, which is one of its primary time-saving functions. I was livid. How could they have had this woman on staff for longer than me, and never even taught her this most important of skills? She’s a great learner, far better than my boss is at understanding the applications of the technology, but has been given little to no support in developing this… Even though it would be infinitely beneficial for the company to have more competent staff.

So we’re getting together again tomorrow, for more teaching. Fuck, I’m so glad I’m getting out of here.

I’m still a little nervous about starting trade school next week, because I’m hardly expecting the atmosphere to have changed much from last time… But at least it’ll be a completely different sort of frustrations.