Category Archives: Punk

Another Michael.

Once upon a time, I spent a few days at a communal farm on a wooded hilltop in southern Somerset, UK. I was there as a WWOOFer, but the weather was terribly stormy and the hosts didn’t really have much lined up for my friend and I to do. Mostly, I cut firewood in the rain, then dried out by reading Harry Potter aloud to one of the resident kids next to the woodstove in the common kitchen.

One night, all the residents were leaving to go to another community’s dinner, and for some reason or another it was impossible for my friend and I to join them. We accepted this, and bid them all adieu while curling up with books in the lounge hut (Which was a little thatched cabin! So rad!). The beams of their flashlights disappeared as they departed through the trees, and the rain pelted down even harder. Suddenly, a light appeared again, and then at the door was one of the residents: He’d had a change of heart, felt bad about ditching my friend and I, and returned to spend the evening with us.

He was old, this resident, wrinkled and wiry, like a stereotype of an eccentric British man who has decided to run away to a commune in the woods and wear gumboots every day. He’d been the one to pick us up from the local village when we arrived, and seemed more concerned with the role of host than any of the other residents. Not that they were rude, by any means, just… Distant. Distracted. Whereas this old dude was busy, but also making the effort to check in with us throughout each day.

There we were, in a tiny cabin on a rainy hilltop, and we started to share stories. The friend I was traveling with wasn’t exactly my friend really, more like a random punk I had met and decided to force friendship upon. So I didn’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was from Antigonish (anyone from Anti reading this? I know three other people from there, which means I know someone you know!). We were almost strangers, talking about our lives, and it was great.

The old dude told us about growing up in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as he still called it. In the 1940s, his dad was involved in business there, so he spent his childhood on tea plantations. “I had a friend,” he told us, “Whose name was Michael, same as mine. We constantly got up to mischief together, and caused so much trouble!”

He paused, thought a second, then continued.

“Actually, that Michael moved to Canada later on. We haven’t stayed in touch, but I read about him once. He’s become a rather successful writer, I think. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

I was all of 19-years-old and a know-it-all, so told him that I sincerely doubted it.

“Hmmm,” Michael said.  “One of his books was made into a film, I’m told. Won some awards. I never saw it… The English Patient, was its title. Anyway, yes, it was a marvelous childhood.”

Young FG’s jaw was on the (packed dirt) floor. I mean, really? As the offspring of a bunch of teachers and a librarian, I grew up in homes where Michael Ondaatje‘s books were practically compulsory reading… And this old dude on a hillside in rural England was his childhood friend?!!

How very strange, the places we end up.

Anyway, I told Michael that the other Michael’s books were indeed beloved by many people, including my parents. “Oh, how nice,” he said, genuinely pleased. “How nice.”

I was reminded of this conversation earlier today, when I heard Michael Ondaatje on the radio reading from his latest novel, which is a fictionalized account of his own life experience in Sri Lanka as a kid.  He talked about being very focused on seeking out trouble, and I smiled, remembering the night in the rain when I first heard about these adventures, from another Michael.

Me at 19 years old, traveling and being too cool for just about anything.


The doing of what I do

It’s Sunday evening.  Oats is shut away in her studio, making art, and I’m settling down on the couch in the living room, with the laptop, about to take an online course in fall protection.  Kinda ridiculous to learn about safely working at heights while lying on my back, but also rather nice.  I’ve been very sick these past few days, and am glad for any chance to stay in a resting position.

Guess what I did earlier this morning?  Applied for an apprenticeship with the provincial electrical company, again!  That’s the third time, my friends… The first one went nowhere, the second resulted in an interview and amazingly intense “boot camp” but no job offer, and so this time I’m thinking might be the charm.  Of course,  I’m feeling more ambivalent than ever about the entire thing:  Working for them would require me to leave town, and I’m oh-so-full of love for my home at the moment.  Somehow, it’s easier to contemplate leaving for Oats to go to school, than it is for my own career advancement.

Speaking of my career, I got a job:  Am working as an apprentice with the largest electrical contractor in the city.  It’s only been three weeks, but pretty good so far.  They have a lot of job sites, and I’ve now worked at three of them.  The current one is a mall, the same one where my dentist is, and 20 minutes by bike from my house.  I started there on Thursday morning, then missed Friday due to being completely out of commission with a wretched cold, but from that limited experience it seems that I’ll like it.  Only two or three other guys working, and I think I enjoy them.

It has occurred to me that becoming an electrician may be the most significant thing in my life.  Strange, isn’t it?  I don’t mean to put down my other achievements, whatever they may be… I’ve been proud to be myself long before I entered the trade.  What I mean is, it’s the thing that people seem to find most interesting about my life.  It’s what new acquaintances ask about most, and even strangers have questions when they find out it’s what I’m doing.  Then within the trade as well, I’m asked all the time: “Why?”  Add that to all the varied Hows and Whats I get from everyone else, and I’ve come to realize that I’m a lot more engaged with my role and identity in my chosen career, than I ever thought possible.  Maybe this isn’t actually strange at all, maybe on some level that’s why I selected this path:  To be challenged not just by what I do, but also by the doing of what I do.

It’s different from doubt, though.  When I was an academic, I questioned my choices constantly and felt filled with anxiety over whether or not I ought to be spending so much time on research that didn’t seem to matter.  In the trade, it’s so obvious that the work matters, because that lighting system isn’t going to install itself, and without it, this section of the building will be dark.  (In the larger scheme, of course, I can totally get into questioning the use of resources that go into building consumerist-focused crap like malls, but that’s a different topic). Instead, I (along with many others!) am questioning my own role, why I in particular have chosen to be here, installing the lighting.  Why me?  Why electrical?  Why?

Tattoo progress shot... Not the final version!

In other news, I had a bunch of tattooing done during my last few weeks of unemployment.  The redwinged blackbird on my arm now has a chickadee to keep it company, around on the back of my shoulder, and also now has a proper Pacific dogwood branch to hold onto.  It’s pretty great.

As I Hiked One Early Spring Afternoon

Oh, the flowers! Blooming everywhere...

Typical Sunday night insomnia.  It’s not anxiety-driven this time, which is a relief… I’m simply thinking too much to go to sleep.  Usually I take some melatonin, then lie in bed until it kicks in.  Sometimes, nights like these will see me applying for jobs, or schools, or once, an international work visa (Australia, as you may recall).  Tonight, though, I’m passing the time with some internet-related tasks from my to-do list, which’ll reduce the number of things I have to think about when lying in the dark.

I joined a group of friends for a long hike on Saturday, a strenuous adventure that was both invigorating and exhausting.  We started on a trail that I’d visited several times in the past, but then followed it for another hour or so beyond the section I knew.  All up and down, the path well-maintained but kinda intense, with amazing views high over the surrounding hills and inlet:  It was just what I wanted, really.  By the end of it, my throat was sore and the glands in my neck were swollen… Apparently, all that sweating was pushing some sickness out of my body.  So I went home and crashed, sleeping in late this morning.

I’ve been hiking a little every week recently, finding that time in the woods or on rocky peaks or next to the ocean are the perfect antidote to school.  Even gardening, which has also been a preoccupation lately, isn’t quite as appealing as a ramble down a trail.  Springtime is when I rediscover all the reasons for which I live on the west coast.

Mo loves a good ramble too.

Did you ever read Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning? Our recent sunny spring weather has been reminding of it, and of how that book had an impact on my life.  I was too young when I first picked it up, maybe ten years old or so, and even then I was taken by the romantic notion of walking to London, and to Spain.  Later, rereading it as teenage punk, I was surprised to realize that it was my beloved anti-fascist International Brigades that Lee went on to fight for, in the Spanish Civil War.  In a weird way, Lee was a traveller punk before traveller punks existed, busking on the streets and sleeping in vacant buildings… Though in his case, said buildings were collateral from World War I as opposed to modern industrial capitalism.  At any rate, Lee made it seem right, to walk out the door and experience life.  I like to think that’s how I ended up here.

I couldn’t remember the addresses for half of them.

Not one of my past homes... This is my sister's old apartment in Montréal.

I was completely slammed with a tsunami of hormones these past two days, rendered non-sensical and completely fucked up by my body’s insane battle with self-regulating its reproductive cycles. I’m feeling better now, though tired and worn and more than a little concerned: This was by far the worst it’s ever been, and I felt like I was losing my mind. It’s times like these that I think I oughtn’t even consider ever getting knocked up, because I don’t know how I’d cope with the shifts in internal chemistry. Huh. I worry about menopause too, for the same reason, though I like to think I’ve got another 20 years or so before it hits. I know, I know, I should get acupuncture and take these tinctures and remember to stretch and meditate and perhaps even talk to a physician… But it’s hard, when you’ve been sucked into an abyss. Afterwards, it barely feels real enough to address it.

In other news, I spent some time today filling out a very detailed security clearance document, which I need in order to work at the local shipyard. I’d been meaning to do it forever, but hadn’t really cared that much until I met this awesome welder who encouraged me. She was the subject of an interview that a comrade and I did, for a series on women in the trades, and I just adored her. “Come to the shipyards,” she said, “I might even be the coordinator of the apprentices this year! Plus, the electricians are all weirdo artsy types who do things like run a recipe exchange.” Okay, I’ll bite. Who knows if it’ll work out, but there’s not much to lose by trying.

Except, of course, for the hours it’s taking me to find all the required security data.

My favourite part has been listing everywhere I’ve lived in the past 10 years.  Being a Cancer, astrologically-speaking, a sense of home is extremely important to me.  In this city alone, that’s been 10 houses, without counting the times I crashed with friends or house-sat. I couldn’t remember the addresses for half of them, and had to do some intense sleuthing through ancient emails (which I then promptly deleted because really? Lovey-dovey messages to former lovers, giving them directions to my bedroom? Ick ick ick… Delete!). At the end of it all, I still have no idea what the address was of the very first place I lived in this town: I know where it is, and am half-heartedly thinking I’ll drive by this weekend, but really I might just leave it out. I was only there for 5 months anyway, and was subletting from another tenant, so it’s not like the shipyard security personnel can even verify it.

I’ve enjoyed the jaunt through time, though, focusing on each of these past homes. Some of them were so incredibly significant that it’s a shock to add up how briefly I was actually there: The first place I lived with friends (3 months), the battered punk house (4 months), the one bedroom I shared with my first real girlfriend (2.5 months).  At other addresses, I’m surprised to find out I lived for so much longer in than it felt at the time. In one place, I was there a year and a half, yet it felt like a blink of the eye… No doubt because of the roommates, since I was the one constant, while the other two bedrooms had revolving doors. Every other month, someone came or left, and the dynamic was always changing.  That was the last collective apartment for me, because I just couldn’t handle it.

The security clearance forms want hard details of when I moved in, and when I moved out, but my brain can’t just leave it at that. I search my memories for dates and times, and I’m reminded of all the stories, the drama, the way it was when I arrived at each home and the way it was when I left. Most of my past ten homes, I’m glad to say, I left happily and full of optimism, certain of a better future. Some, though, it’s hard to revisit, because they began or ended with heartbreak. I’ve lost lovers, friends, gardens, lovingly tended compost heaps… It’s enough to invite some serious melancholy, all this reflection, especially given my still-not-quite-stable mood.  At the same time, I feel a sense of… Is it too much to say awe?  Awe at the fact that so much time has passed, that what felt so intense in the moment is now simply the way it was, that I didn’t turn out totally bitter or ecstatically fulfilled like I always predicted I would with every new move.  Awe that I’m still here, and I have a great home, and I have no fucking clue how it all happened.

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.

It’s so disheartening, to watch you go.

The final installment of my reflections on 2010. Part I can be found here, and check out Part II at this spot.

26. What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?

I became slightly enamoured of the annual Triple J Hottest 100. I’ve been downloading the playlists from past years and am eagerly anticipating this year’s countdown… Coming up on January 26th! Vote here! I love how many offbeat tracks make it onto this list, songs and artists that I’ve otherwise never heard of. Last year’s top track, Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, reminds me of the folk punk bands I used to follow, like Ghost Mice and early Against Me, and is still a favourite song of mine.

27. What did you want and get?

A home that I can rely on. Just knowing that my monthly rent cheque goes to my friends instead of an unstable landlady is a huge benefit to my mental health.

28. What did you want and not get?

Jobs. I applied to work as an electrician with the provincial utility authority twice, the local naval base once, and as a sustainable energy intern with a local green consulting non-profit, and nothing came of it except a lot of practice with cover letters and resumes. Having said that, I was basically handed the rest of my employment with no sweat on my part: The union gave me the construction job, I got the farm position through friends, and this current water system service consulting gig was offered to me by a dude I met at a sustainability event. Given how damn hard it can be to find any work at all, I’m lucky.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

I was totally obsessed with The Karate Kid for a long while during the summer, and I still think about it all the time. Yes, I’m talking about the original 1984 version. Seriously, sexism aside, it’s an incredible tribute to experiences of race and class in America! I’m pretty certain that this film is how I first learned about WWII Japanese internment camps when I was a little kid.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 29 years old, and spent the day at work on the farm. It was a harvest day, which meant hard labour, but it was fun anyway. I had a barbecue party on the weekend, which was fabulous, with friends on the patio until late late late. K and W fell asleep on our bed, so Oats and I shared the couches in the livingroom with S, which was funny yet oddly sweet… You know your friends are your friends when they feel comfortable enough to crash on your bed, and you don’t even think to wake them up.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If just one of my planned career options had panned out, I think I’d be more satisfied with where I currently find myself. However, it’s easy to say that, from my current melancholic vantage point.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

Ha! At both the construction site and the farm, I wore the same outfits every single week day, washing them each weekend. I call this concept “pragmatic worker”. That aside, in 2010 I made a conscious decision to avoid dressing in black all the time. As I type this, I’m wearing a cute royal blue cardigan, which would have been unheard of for me in previous years.

33. What kept you sane?

Thinking of the big picture, and focusing on long-term investments.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Eh. None.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

Fuck, I was a self-centred git this past year and barely paid attention to anything in the realm of mainstream politics! However, a lot of the energy I used to put into political rage got sucked up by my involvement with the local queer dance party collective, which is inherently political by its simple existence… And ain’t the personal political? So, yeah: Queer rights, safe space for queers, supporting grassroots community among folks in my geographic region who identify as two-spirited, trans, bi, queer, gay, lesbian, genderqueer, or are otherwise marginalized by their gender/sexual identities… And beyond my geographic region too, I suppose, if I take into account the Queer Canada Blogs project.

36. Who did you miss?

All the friends who’ve moved away and settled elsewhere. Fuck, I hate it. I know this town to too expensive and too small to keep you here, but it’s so disheartening, to watch you go.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

I’m racking my brain here to figure out if I even met anyone new this year. I live on an island, okay? And I don’t get out much.

Okay, I’ve got it: I met a lot of great new people when I worked at the farm, folks who I think will be around for further adventures in one way or another. I can’t single out any of them, but I think they are all pretty great.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I just spent ages searching through song lyrics and I’m stumped: There are no small snippets of song that can contain the multitudes of my past year.

And.. Here ends the meme-ing. Thanks for sticking around, and I sincerely hope that 2011 is absolutely awesome for you, because you deserve it.

It’s a total crapshoot, but can turn up some real gems.

More stuff you may or may not want to know about how I see the past year of my life. Part I is here, and Part III is here.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

That of Mo, my dog, who is now almost 18 months old. He was a very quick learner when I brought him to work with me at the farm this past summer, and impressed everyone with his ability to stay calm and obedient. Also impressive was his ability to eat huge quantities of strawberries, turnips, and tomatoes.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

That of many of my coworkers from the construction site. The sexist/racist/homophobic crap that came from their mouths was just so fucked up, I was not only appalled but also embarassed for them.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Fucked if I know. I didn’t make much money anyway. No, really, I think it went to paying off debt. At least I hope it went to paying off debt.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My own fantasies of working at jobs that I didn’t end up getting. My image of myself as a successful tradewoman, which is also a fantasy of sorts. Le sigh. Today, I’m not feeling particularly good about the choices I’ve made.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

I get a lot of random playlists from various sources and dump them onto my mp3 player pretty regularly, then listen to them on shuffle while working. It’s a total crapshoot, but can turn up some real gems: For example, I did not care one whit about Lady Gaga until I heard this version of Poker Face, performed live for BBC Radio 1 Lounge. It floored me. I still prefer this theatrical version to the pop one.

The other song that’ll remind me of this year is Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder? About the same?

Happier, thank fuck. Last January sucked.

ii. Thinner or fatter?

About the same. More importantly, I’m more muscular, from spending 7 months in physical labour jobs. Why don’t you ask about that, dear survey-writer?

iii. Richer or poorer?

Richer! Not on paper, but in other ways: I’m further in debt, but with more income, and better prospects for my financial future. Also, I have a higher quality of life, since Oats and I moved from a one bedroom into a three bedroom apartment and got our own vehicle.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Spent more time hanging out with friends. Like I said above, I was a hermit this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Feeling down on myself. It was a waste of time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

I worked until the early afternoon on the Eve and then went to a big dinner at the home of some friends, along with my housemates. On the Day, I slept in, then spent the day cooking and talking to family/friends on skype. That evening, we did a house dinner with the four of us from our place plus our friends from across the street. I made a mushroom nut roast in puff pastry! And vegan gravy with beer and Vegemite! And I roasted a chicken! There were three onmivores and three vegetarians and I think we all ate very well. I then collapsed into an exhausted heap at around 9 pm, and hid in my bedroom with the cat.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?

I fell more deeply with Oats, who is simply wonderful. Also, my dog… Seriously, I love him more now than I ever did before.

22. How many one-night stands?

Zero. I’m not that sort of girl.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

Outrageous Fortune, because I love foul-mouthed Kiwis… And especially Robyn Malcolm, who is just so cool.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Nope. I’m not big on hate: It takes too much energy, and I’m too stretched thin as it is.

25. What was the best book you read?

I’m going to say Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite, because it’s the novel I read most recently that really stuck with me. Fiction aside, I read and reread The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich… Even though I didn’t use a lot of her recipes, I adore this book.

Read Part III here… You know you want to.