A Restless Home

I’ve spent the past 10 days in my parents’ tiny but airy apartment overlooking Commercial Drive, a noisy and electric hippie enclave on the east side of Vancouver. Although this apartment was my live-and-workspace for a few wayward years after my undergrad years at UBC, I’ve been beset by an uneasy sense of homelessness since I got here.

I was born and spent 19 years in Ottawa, 8 in Vancouver, and now 6 years in Toronto, long enough for each place to reciprocate in friends, workplaces, and odd cravings, but not long enough to be unthinkingly, presumingly, at home. Ottawa left me with an affection for Irish pubs, deep snows, and the gentle slope of the Gatineau hills, while on the West Coast, I learned how to bike in spitting rain, how to order food in an izakaya, how to interpret ferry schedules and to vent about rental prices and gentrification; while in Toronto’s west end I grew addicted to West Indian roti and Portuguese natas, to racing sailboats in the harbour and to the constant stimulant of the city’s conversations. Rather than feeling more settled with each year, I find myself jerking my head around, wondering, “what’s next?” and feeling as though at any moment, the hardwood floors of rented abodes will be yanked out from under me.
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A Temporary Village

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Bent over my desk on a cold day in February, in the heart of the battle of finishing my thesis, I came across an interesting call. Two artists, Thomas & Guinevere, were looking for “collaborators” on a large-scale installation based on the lives of the civilians who were touched by the war of 1812. After working so long in isolation, the idea of collaboration was like another season. I sent in my brief application, and in a few weeks I heard back that they would be delighted to have me.

Over the next few months, I stayed up until 5am almost every night working on revisions of my poetry manuscript, padding down the stairs to sustain myself with cheese and crackers while the rest of my roommates were softly breathing in their beds. The Encampment, named for the hundreds of white tents that would contain the individual installations, was put on a shelf in my mind.

As spring neared and the magnolia buds swelled, the process for The Encampment began to warm up. A story bank was opened, containing hundreds of online biographies of the merchants, militia, politicians, native peoples, nursemaids, slaves and servants whose were living during 1812. When available, there were portraits, like scarred avatars, blurry and staring off into a distance.  Sometimes all that was pictured was a plaque or gravestone demarking the main events of their lives. There were well known names, like Laura Secord, Brock, Tecumseth. Browsing and sifting through each bio, the shape of their lives came to the fore like a developing photograph. Moved to Fort Niagara. Became tutor of two orphaned nieces. Drew a pension for his services in the war of 1812, a captain’s half-pay. These small details made the texture of the lives more real.

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The Outer Boroughs

Friday’s post is in a kind of time-elapsed format, which mirrors my state of tuning-in and out that day.


7:15am I’ve already dismissed my Blackberry alarm once and grabbed 15 more minutes of precious rest, and I’m petrified of falling asleep again. Last night, all seven members of my workshop managed to gather in my living room to debrief our defenses, and we enjoyed each other’s company so much, along with the wine, Jen’s gigantuan pasta salad, samosas from the corner store down the street, and ice cream and apple pie brought by Melissa, that it was past midnight before everyone left, and 1:30am by the time I’d finished cleaning up.

8:00am “I thought I was going to be late,” I said as I hopped into my prof’s bubbly green Fiat, parked outside Keele station. He’s kindly offered to pick me up on the way to UTM to invigilate an exam. “It’s 8 on the dot,” he says, smiling. We speed down the Gardiner. The ravines around Mississauga Road are bright with young leaves. In contrast, I listen to my prof’s perspectives on our department’s administration, the career path of academia, and his weary voice.

8:52am Coffees in hand, we power-walk towards the exam location, and at last find Gym C where the booklets have already been set up by the exam center officer. She reads out the rules and regulations in a monotone. As I walk up and down the aisles I make small jokes to lighten up the student’s moods. “Your desk looks like Office Depot,” I say, at one student’s array of pens, pencils, highlighters and white-out pens. “I know, right?” a student across the aisle chimes in.

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One Week

A few weeks ago, I walked into Kinko’s with two fat envelopes and a sense of purpose. “I’d like to have my thesis bound, please,” I said as I slid the envelopes over the counter. They were the reason I’d stayed up all night for several weeks revising, going to bed when I heard the first bird calls. They were the reason I could barely stand any noise, even the sound of feet on the stairs or cell phones beeping in coffeeshops. And of course, they were the reason why I haven’t cluttered up the blogosphere for several weeks.

I imagined vast acres of time opening up like wide swathes of silk when I handed off my MA thesis to the department secretary. Complete with acknowledgments, table of contents, five sections, references, it’s about seventy pages, and contains forty-eight poems. It’s the culmination of two years of workshopping and mentoring in the program, though many of the poems were nascent years before, when I was a nineteen-year-old wondering about why I might be afraid of mushrooms, or why visiting an Asian garden didn’t necessarily make me feel more Asian.

Surprisingly, though, the free time I’d thought I’d have has filled up, like a tidal pool that only seems empty when the current’s out. What have I been doing all day? It’s been as mysterious to me as well. It occurred to me this might be of interest to others– what a writer’s week looks like. So, to make up for my long web absence, I’ll try to post once a day for a week with the thrilling highlights of my day-to-day. The quotidian, the texture of people’s lives, is something I’ve always found fascinating. I can promise adventures in invigilating, a wedding, twins reuniting, a defense, a dry run-through… and maybe this will prompt others to share what their “One Week” looks like. What may be a dull to-do list to you make be a novel to someone else. Continue reading

Things I Learned From My Father

1. How bonds between elements are formed through the sharing of electrons in orbit.

2. How to saturate a brush with ink and water for maximum control of the medium.

3. How to analyze handwriting.

4. Why Bob Dylan is better than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

5. How to properly place a record needle onto a LP.

6. How to connect externals into the SCSI port and in what order, how to adjust levels on an imported image on Photoshop, how to partition a hard drive, what to do if it crashes anyway.

7. How to tell if someone is lying.

8. What jokes not to tell a child when you take them out to a restaurant.

9. How to swim.

10. That sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how matter who you’re hurting, you will give in to the patterns of behavior you are most accustomed to.

11. That my mother must always be thanked for every meal that she cooks.

12. What makes a long-running tv series great.

13.  That pre-civilized human beings had hair covering their bodies, the better to facilitate their motion through water.

14. That my grandmother pretended that she could read.

15. That Pablo Picasso was terrible to his wives.

16. When you are beginning as an artist it is important to copy the masters.

17. For the best French fries, the cut potatoes should soak in water to remove some of their starch.

18. That people can be jealous when you don’t care about the same things they do.

19. That I’m an introvert, but I can change.

20. I shouldn’t read Joseph Conrad because he manipulates the reader’s emotions.

21. We are due for another ice age.

22.  If your work place is a zoo and your behavior obsessive, you are a child and not an adult.