Wednesday, 1 February 2012

About Me, Part 28: Too Late To Turn Back Now

Over the years, I have grown used to West Coast "winters": wet, constant overcast, occasional periods of sunny weather and even mild temperatures. But it was a shock the first time, the winter of 1995-96. There had been some flurries in late October, nothing major. November, of course, was rainy; I had the stomach flu for a few days in the midst of it. December was crisp. When I got back to Vancouver from the holidays, on New Year's Day, it was raining again, and I could feel the contrast between it and the bitter cold I had felt back home earlier that day. By early February, we had had a week or so of not only sun, but daytime highs of 12 degrees Celsius. The grass was green, the krokuses were out and the tree leaves were budding. Then, the weather turned again, dumping snow on the mountain tops and ground frost and ice at sea level. Not being in a deep freeze with no end in sight was a novelty ... and a nice one at that.

Library school had proven to be quite the boot camp. It was tough, but ultimately I understood why it needed to be that way. What I did not understand was the inbred hostility within the library field towards, well, creativity, humour, even, life. This did not describe everyone in the field or our program, but rather the personality of the profession after decades of dry academism followed by a much more corporate mood. I may have been filtering my experiences of library school through my undergraduate years of activism and progressive ideas about media and social engagement, but where was the brave new library world that was being talked up by speakers who came by the department to give lectures and presentations?

Disillusionment began settle in, and I was not the only one, about three-quarters of the way through my first year. Most of the work was rote memorizing, the assignments cookie-cutter, novel ideas for graduating essays and theses rejected outright. And from the communication styles of some of the older faculty to the restrained nature of our semester end and year end parties, it was clear to me and a number of others, that the department (academic or corporate) was practicing a kind of in loco parentis; we were being treated like school kids. Were we just being turned into fodder for "the companies" who would hire us? I felt I had already had my eyes ripped open by my experiences of loss and witnessing dying, I wanted to do good work in the world and make use of the short life we all have. Outside of a few faculty members, this how I felt about the field I had entered with such lofty intentions. Still, I rose ...

In April, I had a two-week practicum at the press library for the local dailies (long since bought and sold by larger corporations). It was a refreshing experience and I enjoyed my time there. My mentor through the Special Libraries Association was at the CBC. I hoped against hope for an opening there. When the year ended, I was ready for some life back in my life.


Therapy was moving ahead by leaps and bounds, or so it seemed. I spent most of the sessions during the school year working on expressing my grief at the loss of my relatives, particularly my mother with whom I shared, as it turned out, a fairly complex relationship. I could express more freely than I could back in Montreal; there were no closely scrutinizing relatives who always seemed to feel that I was too weak or sensitive. I know I was progressing rapidly through it all because I began to move on to other issues like my relationships with others (at the time, my roommates, fellow students, teachers, my relatives long distance). How I truly felt was often elusive due to years of having family members tell me how I felt. I had to learn how to recognize many feelings, almost from scratch. I became quite fragile as I began to strip away years of emotional dead skin. Interestingly, the music of the early 70s, that of my early childhood, was a huge emotional trigger for me; it was my mother's music, it was mine, and in the 90s, it was also in vogue again, hence it was everywhere. I was constantly getting triggered. And Vancouver still had some of its 70s persona intact at that point although not for much longer. My first couple of years in Vancouver were big exercise in emotional recall.

Meditation, as healthy as it seemed, only intensified my experience. I went to, and now helped staff, one or two open house nights a week at the Shambhala Center. I had partaken in a few weekend meditation intensives. I felt that I was beginning to relax and feel more grounded in my body. Then, in February, I was referred to a local t'ai chi instructor in the Kitsilano neighbourhood. The instructor taught in a different style than I had learned in Montreal, but I started taking his Saturday classes anyway. Within weeks, I began to feel healthier and more alive than I had felt for a long time, probably since I could remember: and I had a long memory. The flipside was that I began to feel feelings that I had no names for at that time; I recognize them now: feelings of hollowness and of a profound kind of homesickness for somewhere that did not seem to exist anywhere. I also became more aware of a kind of softness within myself that was always there, like a low-level constant pain. Before, I would have had many mental distractions going on to hide it, but now, I was on a mission to get grounded and heal.

I went to a talk by Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, at Ryerson United Church in the upscale neighbourhood of Kerrisdale the evening of the last day of my library practicum. I had bought Rinpoche's book a couple of years earlier, just before my mother died. I wanted to hear him speak in person as I was still preoccupied with loss and recovery. I was also fascinated by the concepts of mind outlined in the original Tibetan book. The talk was very enlightening. One of my fellow library students was also there. Some people from the Shambhala Center were volunteering in various ways at the event. I sat next to two young women in the pews who I would get to know fairly well over the coming years. One of them would become my first really supportive friend in my new city, accompanying me on a number of healing journeys within and without.


Soul music, oldies music in general, were the soundtrack of my parent's generation's lives, but also mine. Classic songs were always interspersed in my mental and actual playlist with more contemporary ones. But in my mid-twenties, I began to turn away from new and current music for good. New music seemed to be going stale again after a very colourful late 80s and early 90s period. Also, I no longer felt beholden to anyone else for what I listened to. Soul music ballads were always the soundtrack to my infatuations, the instrumentals always played underneath my daily routines. Trivia always peppered my conversations with others and I naturally gravitated towards people who liked to do the same. I had begun to collect more music from the time I first set foot in Vancouver and in between listening to CBC Radio One (AM still at that point), UBC's radio station CITR, CFRO Co-op Radio, and Seattle oldies station KBSG, I played as many back-to-back soul CDs as I could. These were the golden years of the CD reissue boom as long forgotten LPs were re-released on disc along with rarities and previously unreleased material. 

I secretly longed to have a radio show of my own. I had gone to volunteer orientation at CITR earlier in the spring, but ultimately had no time to put in as school kept me busy. I got my opportunity to "DJ" for the first time at a summer party in Kitsilano, hosted by a couple of friends who were library students. The party was a raucous one all afternoon and into the evening. I had brought a few CDs, including Vols. 1/2 and 1 of Rhino Records' In Yo Face history of funk series. Within a half hour of starting the kitchen was packed with people dancing. There one person standing on top of the garbage overflowing in the garbage can. By the time the party was over, my new reputation as a great DJ had been cemented.


That spring and summer was beautiful. Pink and white cherry blossoms filled the air followed by perfumed peonies and, on UBC campus, the smell of cedar and salt water. Non-stop sun. I hiked with some of my fellow students. I went to my first Vancouver Folk Festival at the scenic Jericho Beach Park, meeting many friends from various parts of my life as one is apt to at events like that. I also developed a crush on one of the women I met at the Rinpoche talk, the most intense one I had had in a while. I took two summer session courses at school, one in Records Management and one on Inner City Library Services; I really enjoyed the latter one and the social issues it raised. The discussions were always fascinating and I hoped that I would get to apply them someday. I also did some freelance webpage development for an academic publication on campus through one of my old friends from Concordia University's Creative Writing program.

By the time I had been in Vancouver for a year, I felt that I belonged here. I was regaining a lot of my strength and was becoming a much more grounded person. But, questions within me, once almost unnoticeable became louder and harder to ignore. I just needed names for them. All in time ...

To be continued ...

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