Category Archives: Student

Birth of a journey(wo)man

I finished school last week: Amazing, how fast the second half of my course flew by!  My mark on the final exam was 80%, which was lower than the rest of my marks and yet combined with them to give me an A overall.  I’m happy enough with this.  Besides which, it’s trade school:  Few people really care that I did anything more than pass.  I’m one of those few, of course… As much as I resented the competition of academia during my past years at university, it still trained me to feel rewarded by a high grade ranking.

I called up the local union hall yesterday, to ask to be put back onto the “active” list for job openings, and the admin person asked what term I’m at in my apprenticeship.  That word always reminds me of pregnancy… And I suppose it’s fun, to think of my four years of apprenticeship as a very long gestational period… Birth of a journey(wo)man electrician, ha! Anyway, I replied that I just finished my Year 2 course, but only have around 600 hours of labour registered (when I need 6000 to qualify for journey status), so am not sure where that puts me.  “You’re second term,” she told me.  Good to know.

So much has happened since I wrote last.  Well, small things, nothing big, but it all feels different.  I had a brief chat with my mom last night, and she asked if I’d found a job yet.  I just laughed.  In the week since I wrote my final exam, I’ve attended a multi-day conference on sustainable building practices, hosted as well as attended a few dinner parties, made and planted a garden, taught a canning class, and participated in steering committee meetings for two different organizations.  In short, I’ve been damn busy.

There’s still so many things around the house that I let slide during the last weeks of school!  I need to do more laundry, clean the fridge, cook some ready meals to store in the freezer, sort my clothes to remove the items that need to be repaired or given away, sew new canvas seats for the deck chairs, and generally turn my attentions to being a kick-ass hausfrau.  I’m still collecting employment insurance, which takes off a lot of the pressure to worry about finding outside work immediately. If the union doesn’t call in the next week or so with a job, I’ll probably run out of enthusiasm for domestic duties and get to polishing my resume for delivery to the various electrical companies in town.  Until then, though, I’m pretty stoked about getting shit done around here.

And you, reader?  I’ve been neglecting even reading blogs lately, let alone writing in my own… How is your springtime going?


Pocket protectors

My instructor has a habit of dissing engineers. I don’t think it’s a well-articulated dislike, so much as a knee-jerk reactionary position based on his lifetime in a career that is less respected in the tech field: Engineer trumps electrician, therefore electrician is casually resentful.

He refers to them as having pocket protectors, which is an interesting coding for nerd, since I don’t think pocket protectors have been common in over 25 years. As that is the average age of my classmates, do they even know what a pocket protector is, and that they weren’t always just associated with geekery? My instructor uses a lot of funny colloquialisms in his speech, actually, so maybe my classmates just take it all in stride.

I find the anti-engineer stance to be a bit much. The instructor’s rants tend to involve stories of how 3 engineers were paid $130 each per hour to solve a problem, and they couldn’t do it, and finally an electrician was the one to come up with the solution. It’s part of the anti-academic mindset I’ve encountered a lot in the trades, where any university-based education is seen as being a waste of time or for losers without “real” skills.

Obviously, coming from a university background, I’m pretty invested in countering this viewpoint! Because I hate to think that the 7 years I spent doing my degree were a waste of time.

That aside, it’s also an interesting position for an instructor to take, because it contradicts his supposed role as a mentor. I mean, wouldn’t he like to see us make the most of our abilities? I’m good at a lot of the math and problem-solving parts of our trade, so think I’d actually really like to pursue engineering at some point. Shouldn’t a teacher encourage students to seek challenges like this?

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.

Supervisor-kitty ensures success

Ballou decided to supervise my studying last night, as I prepared for the exam that I wrote first thing this morning.  In between the moments I captured in the photos below, she was rubbing against my face, which made my asthma flare up.  Thanks, kitty.

I suppose I can’t complain, however, because I scored a hundred percent on the test… When most of my classmates barely passed.  This is what I love about school, and miss whenever I’m not enrolled in some kind of course:  The thrill of achieving a fixed goal!  It’s just math, the high level stuff that my classmates grumble we’ll never use in “real life”, but I absolutely love losing myself in it.  It’s a sort of escapism, you know?

Cats are such strange creatures.

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.

“Just don’t let it bother you!”

I heard back from the provincial utility authority: A letter of regret, stating that I would not be hired on as an electrical apprentice. I suppose it’s a bit of a letdown, but mostly I don’t really care, which is surprising considering how wound up I was about the whole screening process. Really, if I’d been rejected right away, I’d be upset, because I had so much emotional investment in trying to succeed… More than a month has since passed and I’m all like, “Meh. Whatevs.”

Which isn’t to say that I won’t be applying next time ’round, cuz I will!

So I started back at trade school two weeks ago, and it was a total reunion show: Instructors stopping me to say hello and ask what I’ve been up to this past year, old classmates also back for their Year 2 training, and tons of guys from the construction site taking all different levels of courses, who remember me as the lottery girl. Despite being the only woman in my class of 16 students (and possibly one of only four in the building…?), and despite the shitty time I had last time I was here, I feel remarkably comfortable and confident. I feel like I belong: It’s a huge shift from where I was at 14 months ago.

Why the shift? Partly it’s because I put in those months at the construction site, which proved to me that I could make it, even in the sort of trades environment I’m not especially keen about. Partly it’s because I was chosen to try out for the hydr0 apprenticeship, which was a real honour.

Partly it’s because I’ve got a totally different attitude.

Over the years, my righteous anger over oppressive bullshit has often been met with a wide range of folks telling me I should just relax, calm down, stop taking everything so seriously, get over it, etc etc etc. Which is a pretty common reaction, from people who don’t feel themselves to be targeted by hate: Somehow, sexism and homophobia and racism and ablism are hilarious or no big deal, if you’re not the butt of the joke. I resent this.

And yet resentment is tiring. So is being angry, no matter how righteously so. And devoting time and energy to meeting with authority figures and pushing for systemic change? That’s fucking exhausting.

At the end of the electrical entry level training program I did last year, I was pretty burnt out, from all that shit. I don’t regret it, and I don’t think I could have done anything differently, because that was where I was at. However, I decided that if I was going to continue in the trade, I was going to stop.

I took it as an experiment of sorts: Being the sort of person who has rather reliably called people out on their oppressive words/behaviours/assumptions over the years, I really didn’t know how my life would be different if I shut up for a while.

To be sure, I knew I’d be unable to ignore comments or action directed at myself or my loved ones, but I decided to let go of the microagressions. I still tell my friends and family about these events, especially when it was something totally absurd like the sexual innuendo from my crew safety officer (the very person at the construction site to whom I would report such incidences!), but before getting upset, I ask myself if it is worth it.

What would I gain?

What would I lose?

I began to value my time and emotional energy as being much more important than the stupid deeds and opinions of other.

After years of being told “Just don’t let it bother you!”, I finally tried not letting it bother me.

Overall, it’s been great.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still fiercely mean and critical and liable to bring down all sorts of harshness on someone who tells me that queers should die and whites are naturally superior and women belong in the kitchen and fatties should hide their bodies and anyone who can’t easily walk up that flight of stairs should simply accept it instead of requesting accessibility.  And I’m more committed than ever to the organizing I’m doing with the local radical queer events collective.

But if my new classmates diss our homework by saying it’s “gay”? I’m just not engaging. I don’t have time. If they said this in a conversation that includes me, I probably won’t be able to resist commenting “Hey, I’m gay too! No wonder I’m so good at these assignments!” then laughing very hard, but that’s about it.

My new strategy is all about self-preservation, and so far, it’s working.  I feel happy.  I acknowledge that the world is fucked up, and I’m making peace with the deliberate steps I’m taking to address this fact while learning to be okay with all the shit I just can’t handle.  One day I will take it on again, but this is me at the moment, taking a break.

The timing of these things

Another midday phone call: NO, NOT HYDR0, but similar… The union, offering a position at the shipyards, starting Monday morning.

(Which is a bit weird, since I still haven’t finished my security clearance application, but whatever… I have no idea how that works…)

I love the guy who does the job list call-arounds: He’s super nice and friendly, more than I’d expect from a trades union dude. Especially considering that my reaction to his offer of the position was:


“What’s wrong?” he asked, full of concern.

“I just quit my job and am starting my next level of schooling on Monday! And I paid the tuition already! But maybe I can get it refunded…”

“Oh, well, though,” the union dude replied thoughtfully, “It’s really important to get those courses done, and it can be hard to get into them, with really long waitlists…”

This is very true. I’m completely shocked that I got a spot in the one starting next week, having known lots of folks who wait months or even years for the chance to do each level.

“But I really want to work at the shipyards!” I told him, with probably more enthusiasm than required. Whatever, it’s a fact, I really do want to work there, even just so that I can say that I did.

“Well, I’ll tell you, there’ll be a lot more openings,” he reassured me, “They’ll really need to be manning-up at the end of May and start of June, and that’s when you’ll be finished your course. You don’t want to get into a job now and then have to leave it for school, you know.”

I sighed. “Okay, good point.”

I thanked him, and he said not to mention it, that this was part of his job. Quelling apprentices’ fears of perpetual unemployment or missing out on all the cool positions? Huh. No wonder he’s so friendly.

“I’ll talk to you again real soon, I’m sure,” he said as he ended the call, “Isn’t the timing of these things just funny sometimes?”

So that’s that. And how hilarious is it that he referred to the next wave of hiring as “manning-up”, even as he was talking to an apprentice who is quite obviously a woman? Though I suppose that since I was officially sworn in as a “brother” in the union, gender is a pretty slippery thing with these folks… Whether they realize it or not…