Friday, 20 January 2012

About Me, Part 19: Lost in Space

A new decade. The hope for what a lot of us were calling the turn-around decade was quite high in 1990. With the Berlin Wall down and pro-democracy movements sweeping Eastern Europe, with a revived environmental movement beginning to have an impact on the general public. Also, ACT-UP was bringing its political theatre to a TV station near us. Hip-hop was becoming less about gold chains and track suits and more about marching against police brutality and accepting the torch passed to it from the civil rights and black power movements, it's smooth digital samples made it, funkier, jazzier, and, sometimes, well ... psychedelic. What I went through a few earlier ... mind-expansion, creative exploration ... everyone else seemed to be now.

While I was off school during the early months of the year, I spent a lot of time at home. I had applied to Concordia University for a couple of different programs: Film Animation and Creative Writing. While waiting for their responses, I decided I would go with Creative Writing which meant that I would be classified as an English student for the first year. At the time, I was mostly into writing fiction and spent most of my winter nights writing down outlines and character sketches.

I did so in my new home which my father, step-mother and myself had moved into the previous August in the northern suburb of Laval. Specifically, we lived in a house (the first I had ever lived in) in the Fabreville subdivision which was hard to get to and from by public transit. I had become isolated from my social life; I had hated the decision to move up and had become rather depressed about it. By mid-winter 1990, I was trying to make the best of it. Calling many parts of Montreal at that point were long distance. I got my own phone line which was set up in the basement where I lived. I also had my own television, VCR and stereo: the closest thing to having a my own apartment, only the living room with the main television was also downstairs. I probably never told my friends this at the time, but they were my life, and they were two hours away by bus and metro.

I looked for a job during the winter finding one in a food court downtown. The owner was a racist as were most of the staff. I stayed a week then quit. I was told by the assistant manager that where ever I went, "it would be the same way." I decided to defy "reality" and leave anyway. I was surprised to find, given my father's insistence at the time that I hold on to a job, that he was glad that I had quit. I set about looking for another job because I knew sooner or later, I would get badgered about whether or not I had found one.

When I quit the fast food job, I gave back my uniform and got my locker deposit back. I spent part of it at a science fiction book and magazine store nearby; I bought a book called Mirrorshades: A Cyberpunk Anthology. It featured short stories by a generation of science fiction authors who were influenced by a variety of things: Beat poetry, punk rock, hacker culture, Marshall McLuhan's ideas about media and the futurology of Alvin Toffler (Future Shock, 1970 and The Third Wave, 1980). Over the next few months, I got more and more intrigued by the idea that we would all be headed towards a more democratic, electronic future. I began to write cyberpunk styled fiction and poetry and saw my role as a writer who would wake readers up to the future, one where we had to avoid environmental destruction, the collapse of democracy and the onset of an electronic fascism. I was definitely not alone in these ways. I continued to demonstrate. I was in the anti-tuition fee marches and rallies of the 1989-90 school year. I took part in the Earth Day 20th Anniversary marches that spring. I was feeling optimistic that things would change for the better. Along the way, I was developing my own world views further, sharpening them.

Over the winter, I acted on a tip from a former CEGEP friend who was in engineering at McGill at the time (he would later defy his father's wishes and switch to philosophy) and applied to the university library system, not really expecting much. I had told my father that I did not want anymore fast food jobs, I was looking for something a little more fulfilling; he suggested that I was living in the 60s. I was called for an interview at the library's Redpath Reference department in late February. I started working there in March. I was elated. Not only would I make more in salaries, I would work in an environment that was more intellectual and with people that I liked to work with. I loved working there, and the connection between working with information and reading and writing about the future of information and power was not lost on me then ... or now.

My mother's cancer had gone into remission; she had received a clean bill of health earlier in the year. That was the good news. The bad ... she was not on speaking terms with her parents or most of her family. Issues that went back decades came to the for. Essentially, as a divorced woman, and single for over a year from her ex-fiance (he married someone else on the date that he was supposed to marry her), my mother was expected to be taking care of her parents. This was one of many, in my view, stifling traditional West Indian beliefs. Also, my grandparents had been neglected as young children, and had become quite narcissistic, hence they looked for what they lacked in their own children, but specifically my mother. Her dealing with life-threatening illness did not change their view one bit. They wanted her to move back in with them in Montreal, ostensibly so that she would have family around; in fact, she would be looking after them. Years of the family not making much, or any effort, to visit her, had led to resentment. She issued an ultimatum just before the holidays in 1989. They wouldn't budge. The cold war began, just as the Cold War was ending. I have no doubt in the world, looking back, that my grandparents and family loved my mother very deeply, but at the time it was hard to see, and my own experiences led me to loathe the stifling type of love.

I began to get some insight into how I was with others, namely my friends and those with whom I was interested. I became very aware of how needy I was and tried to curtail it. But, ultimately, I transferred my hopes for acceptance and fulfillment onto the women that I liked. I gave up in frustration that spring and decided that dating was not worth my time. Angrily, I became anti-relationship. My energies went into my other pursuits. I would soon regret this.

I spent the weekend of my mother's birthday with her (what a relief to be paying for my own train tickets to Ontario, that way I could decide when to visit her rather than begging my father for the money) in the new apartment she had moved into in Meadowvale, Mississauga the previous fall. She was wearing a wig while her hair was growing back. I went back again that August, not long after she had begun work at a new company. I had just won an employee scholarship through them and someone from the company newsletter came by my mother's cubicle to take our picture. Her new company was progressive in alot of ways, very much into worker benefits and what we would today call sustainability.

By that summer, McGill University Libraries had hired me to work on a team of students working the library's recon project, adding barcodes to every item in the system at the various faculty libraries and entering them into the electronic catalogue. This job would last, off and on, for a year and a half. Things wrapped up for the summer at the Agriculture library which was based out on the MacDonald College farm campus in Sainte Anne-de-Bellevue on the west end of the island of Montreal. The humourous banter amongst us working on the project made working together a joy. It was a high point in my life. I enjoyed working on that project, and somewhere, in the back on my mind, I saw myself working in a library.

To be continued ...

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