Sunday, 5 February 2012

About Me, Part 29: I've Got Work To Do

My first set of roommates at Fairview Residence were fine at first, but it soon became clear that they had no intention of keeping up their ends of the cleaning schedule. I wound up doing most of their cleaning of the common areas and dishes. One of them, in particular, had a habit of using others' utensils and then leaving them in the sink, dirty. One time, I came home to find his girlfriend cleaning up after him. I was disgusted. I insisted that he do them which he, begrudgingly, did. My original roommates left with the end of the 1995-96 school year and were replaced by three new ones. They were much better, and cleaner. But, I had already decided that wanted to have my own suite for my second year. In August, I moved across campus to a graduate student residence called Thunderbird which some of my friends affectionately called the "jail". The housing complex did kind of look medium security prison-ish, but did not care one bit.

My new suite was a one bedroom on two floors. It had high ceilings and brand new carpets. The bathroom was so new, it was sparkling. I now set about trying to get furniture to fill it. I got a lot of second hand furniture: a futon, a table and four chairs, a couple of book shelves, a pictures for the walls. I spent a whole day shopping for plates, utensils and cleaning supplies. Then, I filled the fridge with fresh organic produce and beverages. I kept a minimal amount of frozen goods in the freezer. It felt incredibly good to be able to provide for my self. I had some friends over for dinner on a couple of occasions. I spent the rest of that gorgeous, sunny summer growing into my new place.

However, by end of the summer, I had begun to feel a sense of isolation, of extreme loneliness. The experience of living at the far end of campus on my own, seemingly away from all the action, left feeling separate from everything and quite afraid, kind of like being afraid of the dark. This came up in therapy. Other than paying the careful close attention to my my mind that Buddhist practice had shown me, I began to explore my own feelings of separateness; turns out they were nothing new. They were the same insecurities about being inadequate and weird that I had had for years. Being thousands of miles away from home, I had no one to distract me. It was me and my long buried thoughts and feelings rising to the surface. Why couldn't I find someone to love me (the real question that you're asking when you ask "why can't I find someone to love")? How did others see me? Why did some see me as less than? Also, other questions: who was I? why did I feel so awkward? Sometimes, I could swear that I felt very ... feminine. Why. On these, my therapist would sometimes respond by saying "you're a good person" or "you're a regular guy": the former was reassuring, the latter, mysteriously, infuriating.


I started my second year a few days before my twenty-sixth birthday. My appearance had changed a lot in a couple of years. The huge beard that I had grown for a year after my mother had died was long gone (I had shaved it off during my first semester). I now preferred a smooth face and short hair. My clothing had evolved from the clumsy pseudo-outdoorsy fleece and gore-tex that "wet coasters" were known for and was now including some batik shirts, Andean wool sweaters and corduroys. I felt that I was ... evolving in fashion sense. The other students in my year threw me a small birthday party in the midst of the department "bzzr" garden during the first week. That week, we also got paired with our "buddies" (our student mentoring system) from the incoming first year class. My buddy was a chatty, funny young woman who would later go on to become very active on a number of social issues. My focus during the fall term was in library computer systems, library marketing and advocacy and youth services, just to be more well-rounded. I also took a course on materials preservation, more of a current issues course than a hands on one as we were being trained to be managers at some point.

In the marketing course that November, a speaker named Kaycee Hale paid us a visit. She was a former model who had become a librarian, inspired by the librarians who would come through her town in West Virginia, when she was a child. When she came to speak to us, she had been the founding librarian at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She came to talk to our class about marketing strategies and libraries, but she also gave a talk which was open to all of the students; it was a pep talk on confidence, risk-taking and success. I had heard this philosophy before, but I started to connect growing as a person with growing in my profession: speaking with passion. Personal power was something I had never tasted, but now I wanted to grow into myself all the more.

A few other things that fall. I gave a book talk to a library class at University Hill Secondary as an assignment in my youth adult services course. The high school was on the University Endowment Lands, the residential subdivision on the massive campus, not far from my old residence. I walked down the hallways on the morning of my presentation not having been in a high school for almost a decade; it was nerve-wracking. Some advice about this during class was to remember that "you were and adult now, not the person you once were". Easier said than done in my case. The book talk, on music resources, was fine although not as good as the dry run that I had done in my class at UBC. I remember staring out at a sea of indifferent faces, or so it seemed. I relieved when it was over. The school librarian and teacher thanked me when all the students had left; they thought that my topic was refreshing. I liked the topic, but I was actually quite shaken up by my experience. Presentations were not my forte; they had always been stressful since high school when the class bullies would make fun of me from the back of the room. I had grown to feel very self-conscious, even freakish when doing any kind of public speaking. But, I knew it was hurdle that I would have to get over, and I knew that it was part of my self-actualization, feeling comfortable in my own body.


My father and stepmother had come to visit me for a week in mid-September. They had stayed at the Delta Inn hotel in Richmond, rented a car and came out to campus to pick me up almost everyday. The first Saturday, we had breakfast at Sophie's Cosmic Cafe in Kitsilano, a diner with a riot of pop cultural memorabilia on its walls; the place remains a favourite of mine. We went down to Chinatown and through the Sun Yat-Sen Garden. We drove and walked around Stanley Park. We went to visit my stepmother's cousin in Steveston (southern Richmond) for a day and got fish and chips on the boardwalk. We had pizza at sit-down Italian restaurant on campus, long gone now sadly, one evening. They could see that I was settling in nicely. The only "coming out" that I did to them was as a Buddhist. They responded positively which I considered a long way from the reaction my father had had, years earlier, when I had told him that I was interested in becoming a Buddhist.

A couple of months later, one of my uncles (my father's brother) came through town on business with my aunt. We had coffee on campus and spent a couple of hours talking. Thus far, with the other side of my family, there were promises to visit, but nothing else. I felt as if many relatives on that side did not want to accept that I had moved in the first place; officially, I was just going to school in BC, but by now, I knew that I would most likely stay.

I flew home for Christmas. My father and stepmother had sold their house in Laval and moved into an apartment near the Laval Shopping Centre. My grandmother still lived in the condominium on the west island. I had two Christmases, one at my stepmother's parents, the other with my grandmother, a few uncles and cousins. I, then, got a lift to Ottawa (in the middle of a blizzard) to visit my best friend there. She had a girlfriend at that point; her ex-boyfriend (pre-coming out) had also found someone. I was deeply happy for both of them. I had a few lengthy conversations with her parents, the way I used to when my friends and I were teenagers. I tagged along when she and her partner went to a lesbian bar downtown. We spent one evening tobogganing near an expressway, and then at dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. A fun week. My friend drove me back to my grandmother's a day or so before New Year's. When we got back, I told my friend something that my relatives had already begun to suspect, that I would be staying out west. After graduation, I would look for work and try to settle down. I said sombre "so long" to her before she left; all of my friends in Ottawa and Montreal had been very supportive those previous difficult years, but she, in particular, had been instrumental. We had stayed in touch long-distance. She was continuity during some very tumultuous years and I would miss her.

New Year's Eve, my grandmother and I went up to my eldest uncles with a few relatives from my grandmother's side of the family. Meanwhile, a couple of my cousins on the south shore were hosting a party. It seemed so typical of my visits home, me overprotected, the others could do as they pleased. I fumed inside. I can't remember the New Year actually beginning.


I got back to Vancouver a couple of days later and settled back into my large one bedroom apartment. I had had a minor issue with the smoke alarm the previous fall, but that had been resolved. I got some sleep and then headed of to class, intent on putting my pedal to the metal that last semester, winter 1997. But, something, in retrospect a couple of things, had begun to dawn on me over the previous little while. My feminine feelings had resurfaced with a vengeance and I was trying to avoid them best way that I knew how, blocking them out with music. My attraction to guys as well as gals, however, had become crystal one evening alone while I let my mind reflect on my feelings. This was nothing new. I had had crushes on boys as a child and as a young teenager, had felt strangely aroused when a guy would make clear that he was interested. One time, when I was working at Concordia University Library, a foreign student who had been staring at me, approached me while I was reshelving some books. He asked for my phone number; "it was just a matter of interest," he had said. I was afraid, not of him, but of how right it had all felt. It only became clearer much more recently that I had also felt like the woman in these situations, but I guess I could only handle one revelation at a time.

I went to the recently opened Koerner Library at UBC to get a book or two out on bisexuality. One book that I took out was Bi Any Other Name, a collection of essays and articles by bisexuals on their own experiences. Confirmed. I recognized most of what I read. Now, how would tell others what I had realized?

To be continued ...

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