Category Archives: Reader

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.

seemingly unexciting, but then terrifically beautiful once you really look

I spent most of today, and part of yesterday, on the roof of a small office building in an industrial park outside the city. It was a sometimes interesting, often boring, and generally uncomfortable due to combinations of frost, wind, hail, and rain. The fan unit my crew was rewiring was the first of several we’ll be working on over the next while, and so required much figuring-out. As the person with the lowest-status and least amount of relevant knowledge, I pretty much just hung around and tried to keep warm.

Also, I took photos with my camera phone.

Dawn… Over the ventilation system.

Frost bloomed all over the pebbles and small growing things that cover the roof.

I was wear just a t-shirt under my down vest, and my arm hairs felt like bristles. Especially when the hail began. When the hail turned to rain, I finally gave in, and made the long trip down the ladder to get a hoodie.

This the bottom of a clump of moss, but reminds me so much of a coral.

The occasional white granite shines among the more monotone black and grey rocks.

What is this plant? I don’t know, but it’s trying hard to make it.

Likewise, this little tree: A pic that shows how desolate an ecosystem the roof is.  Exposed to all weather, including constant wind, with no real soil to hold on to.

Taking these photos, I kept thinking about the tundra.  Not that I’ve yet been to the Arctic or the Antarctic, but I’ve read a lot about them and have an idea that there might be a similar type of life there… Hard to see at first, seemingly unexciting, but then terrifically beautiful once you really look.

I’m afraid this little sprout is too tender to last much longer, with the harder and harder frosts we’ve been having each night.  Still, so green!  So hopeful.

I’m still so green and so hopeful too.  Working lots, and feeling very full.  Have little interest in sitting down at the computer when I get home, and am barely checking email.  Sometimes this bothers me, because there was a time when I really depended on all the connections I made over the internet.  I remind myself: Those were those times, and this is now.

Birthday butch, beer, books, berries, bear

It was a certain butch’s birthday this past week, and to celebrate, we went camping at what turned out to be the raddest spot ever.  It was quiet and remote, on a lake with a dock, lots of trees and a woodland trail, plus the bonus of nearby easy-to-hike logging roads into more mountainous territory!  All within a couple hours drive from our house.  Say what you will about the timber industry (and believe me, I’ve said it myself), but at least it makes for some great campsites.

My handsome companion. And her new gun.

What do dykes do in the woods?  Shoot guns, of course!

I preferred to steady my hand using my dear Audubon field guide... And the table.

Actually, there was only one gun:  An air pistol, which Oats bought with her birthday money.  I was pretty surprised, cuz she’s usually rather focused on things like art supplies and nice clothes, but then I quickly got over it… Because it turns out that I myself have an inner sniper.

Yes, we drank beer and then shot up the cans.  Classy!

I also spent many hours swinging in my hammock and reading… Got through 5 books in 4 days, which felt soooooooooooooooo good.  You’d think I’d read more, given that I’m unemployed and all, but I just don’t make the time.

What else did we do?  Oh yes, hiked.

I love a good view.

Even if it comes with sombre reminders of *why* there’s a good view… Hard to imagine how it would have been to walk up this slope before it was clearcut.  Those stumps are massive.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this land, and how I feel about it, mostly in light of the notion that I’ll be moving to a completely different part of the country this time next year (I hope!).  I read a lot of sci-fi, and it has forever altered my ideas about spatiality and colonization, complicating all my thoughts on “here-ness” in delightfully interesting ways.  I feel like my love for this place is so deep that I can leave and be okay simply knowing that it exists.

A wild larder:  Magic!  Not this fungus, I mean… It’s a lobster mushroom, and very much so edible without causing euphoric insights.  Or at least not yet.  I still haven’t eaten more than a nibble, because I was saving them for tonight’s dinner… I’ll let you know if they get me high.

More magic: Wild fruit!  I picked just over three pounds of thimbleberries (the ones that look like raspberries), tiny native blackberries, salmonberries (the orange ones), red huckleberries (the smooth red ones), and salal berries (the smooth dark purple ones).  Today they are becoming jam, to be sent off to my more eastern relatives as solstice gifts this winter, provided we don’t eat it all first.  I would’ve picked more, but there was much evidence of others wanting the fruit too and sometimes I like to avoid competition.

Yes, that’s shit… Bear shit, to be exact, which is what I’m referring to in my previous sentence, in case it wasn’t obvious.  It wasn’t totally fresh, but new enough to make me give careful consideration of the needs of my wilderness friends.  Three pounds of berries for me seems pretty good.

 

Being tough on ourselves.

Not Regina... This is the view along the highway somewhere between Winnipeg and Kenora, December 2007.

I once spent the night in the Regina airport, after hours, in the time before it was open round the clock.  My dad had given me a free trip to visit him in Toronto, which turned into one of those adventures that involved many airplanes and stopovers across the country.  In Calgary, my friend Oldandmoldy drove out to the airport from his parents’ place and we spent an hour talking about music and his latest crush.  When I got to Regina, I sat down on a bench and did a sudoku puzzle while everyone else left.  Eventually a security guard told me I’d have to leave too.  It was past midnight, on a snowy November night, and I had no money.  The final leg of my trip was a 6 am flight to Toronto. He relented, but apologetically explained that I’d have to move to a bench where he could see me on the closed-circuit camera system, and that both the heat and the main lights would be off within the hour.

Sure enough, I was soon pulling out all the clothes I could layer from in my backpack, trying to stop from shivering.  On his rounds, the security guard apologized again, and offered to buy me a soft drink from the vending machine.  I thanked him but declined, figuring that the caffeine wouldn’t help much.  Instead, I distracted myself with a book.  It was pretty dim, but light enough to read by:  I tore through Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness from beginning to end.  To this day, whenever I hear about Regina, I think about that novel, about being different and being yourself.

***

Oats and I have been having hard conversations about finances.  No, I should correct that:  Not hard in that they’re difficult, but hard as in we’re being tough on ourselves.  Hard conversations that are also inspiring, really, because they are focused on big questions such as what do we want, where do we want to be, how shall we live our lives?

The terrible truth is that we’re living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, while carrying debt, and while I attempt to retrain in a new career and Oats works in a career that she does not like.  Basically, if we moved anywhere else, we’d be doing better.  In particular, if we moved somewhere with a low cost of living and where Oats could cheaply go to school for her masters’ of fine arts, we could get out of debt and Oats would stand a better chance at making a living as an artist, illustrator, art instructor, or whatever else she wanted.

So where are we looking at?  Regina, no joke.  Also, Winnipeg… And Windsor, Ontario.  Three cities neither of us barely know, but somehow seem to be logical places to hang our hats for a couple years.  It’s crazy, that we’d leave, considering how much we love where we live, but it feels like that’s the only way we could eventually live here and be more than just treading water, financially.

I’m not desperate to own a house or a fancy car or attain many other parts of the middle-class dream: I love our cooperative household and am so happy riding my bike all over the place.  At the same time, despite our very frugal ways, we’re paying a lot of money for basics while also paying lots of interest on student loans.  Oats can’t get paintings done let alone network with the local arts communities because she works long hours just so that we can stay afloat.  Our situation isn’t dire, but it’s not getting any better either.  I want to have kids, and to travel more, and for Oats to be working at something she loves, and it’s not really gonna happen until we ditch the debt.

So that’s the plan.  This next year, Oats is going to fine tune her portfolio, and send off a bunch of applications.  Then we’ll move, not this summer but the next, to some far off urban centre that I can’t even picture… Well, except Winnipeg:  I’ve been there a few times, and enjoy visiting… But to live is a different story.  It’s all rather romantic, really, which I find very appealing at the same time as completely terrifying.  I spent my entire twenties on this island, and am hoping that if I invest some of my thirties in the middle of the Prairies (or the Great Lakes?), I’ll be able to enjoy my forties, fifties, and onwards, here as well.

Economic geography, FTW.

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.

A book of oddities.

It’s my mother’s 71st birthday in a couple weeks. I know, I know: She is very old, to have a daughter as young as my green tender self. But sometimes these things happen, as they say… What’s most unexpected about our age difference is not the fact that she had my older sister and I at the end of her thirties and start of her forties, but rather that we are her only children. Most later mothers began early and kept going, whereas my mom just never got knocked up until… Surprise!

And here we are.

I like to send her books as gifts, because she sends so many to me; it’s a passion we share. My usual modus operandi is to think through the ones I’ve borrowed from the library in the past year, and then track down any I think she’d like, via online book sellers. In past years, I’ve sent her gems such as Scandanavia Beckons by Amy and Thornton Oakley, The First Century after Beatrice by Amin Maalouf, and My Turquoise Years by M.A.C. Farrant… Like me, she loves travelogues, speculative fiction, and memoirs.

She also appreciates books of oddities, which is why for this latest collection of birthday volumes I’m including The Book of Shadows, edited by Jeffrey Fraenkel (of the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco). Oats has to take credit for finding this one, when we were killing time at the downtown library a couple weeks ago. We’re very rarely at the library together, let alone hanging out there with no specific goal, so it was especially fun to drift through the fine arts section and look through random books together. I think this one jumped out at her from the shelf because of the strange velveteen texture of its cover, or perhaps the spooky font. I flipped through it once and immediately found this photo:

Yep, I’m sold.

Awesome queer action aside, this book is rad: Fraenkel simply presents us with selections from his extensive collection of diverse photographs that all feature the shadow of the person taking the photo. The presence of these unknown photographers are thus imposed into the scenes that weren’t necessarily meant to include them… And Fraenkel provides no commentary, no text, no explanation of where he sourced the pic. It effectively elevates the photos to being works of art, and records of events that include reminders of all that did not fit into the camera’s frame.

Or maybe that’s just me and the couple glasses of wine I drank this evening. At any rate, here’s selections from the book:

More homoerotic snuggling...

...And a cute couple!

Blank gravestone, big shadow, damn weird.

Mew.

Huh... I'm told that I have cousins in Prince Albert... I wonder if this is one of them.

Look at this shadow... It's like evil Nanny Poppins! I also love how awkward this young woman looks: Totally adorable.

For more about the gallery exhibition of these pics, click here.

I’ve got a couple other books I want to send to my mom as well, and I’m going to get her a copy of Adele’s new album, 21. I rarely share music with her, but I know she likes strong female vocalists. Besides that, I’m rather taken by this song, and I think she will be too:

Bittersweet, indeed.

A book or two to keep me company.

When I left for my job interview (screening) on the mainland last week, I needed a book or two to keep me company. The stack by my bedside were all related to keeping chickens and making pickles, plus a couple heavy tomes from the GLBTQ Reading Challenge that I really couldn’t deal with (Trumpet is just so sad, people… How are you getting through it?!! I gave up!).  Wanting the comfort of something familiar, I looked to my shelves of books that I’ve already read.

What I needed was something inspirational, a story about making it, or at least trying to make it, even when you feel like puking and your lips are scabby with stress-induced cold sores… My eyes landed on Sarah Hall‘s The Carhullan Army. I first read it when it was shortlisted for the Tiptree Award (which it won!), and found it so perfect and dark and freeing and terrifying. Would that make me feel better or worse, in my current context, I wondered? Better, something inside me said. Much better.

Yes, it was perfect. Fighting the patriarchal systemic oppression in a dystopic future society is hard, and by comparison, being chosen to compete for a coveted trades apprenticeship is easy-peasy.

I also brought along Derrick Jensen‘s How Shall I Live My Life?: On Liberating the Earth From Civilization, which I find to be a welcome detour from Jensen’s other more philosophical musings: This volume returns to his talent for thoughtful interviews with awesome people, and is great for every day inspiration.

Mandatory supplies for an out of town job interview: Fiction, non-fiction, and a surprise box of treats from my love

I finished The Carhullan Army on Thursday afternoon, on the way to the panel interview. Afterwards, I had some spare time in downtown Vancouver before my friend PBall was picking me up, which I was happy to spend at MacLeod’s Books.

MacLeods is the sort of used bookstore that simultaneously infuriates and delights me, because it is so completely packed with piles and piles of books. The shelves are overflowing and there’s stacks every where you look, even on the floor in front of the shelves, blocking the view of their contents. I asked for memoirs and was told that they are incorporated throughout the store, according to theme. What…? Okay, I suppose I can see the sense in that… But as a browser simply looking for someone’s recollections of their somewhat interesting life, it’s not a particularly useful system. That said, I found a book about women singers (in the Music section!) that I thought I’d enjoy (turns out it’s terribly written, but I’ll still try to finish it), and then bought Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, and a copy of Sarah Hall’s first book, Haweswater.

I also eavesdropped as a woman came in with a wishlist, and was impressed to see that the staff were able to find most of what she wanted. Given the chaos, it was an impressive feat.

Slammerkin wasn’t quite what I expected, and I’m glad I didn’t read it before the job interview, because it’s not exactly… Triumphant.  Well, I suppose some may say The Carhullan Army isn’t either, but to my mind it is.  These are the sorts of discussions I’d like to have with a book club, as I’ve mentioned here before, but since that’s not something I’m likely to get going in the near future, I’ve joined Goodreads… Please be my friend.