Monday, 6 February 2012

About Me, Part 30: Drift Away

I had three remaining courses and my graduating paper to complete during Winter 1997 session. One course was actually field work: I spent a couple of days each week of the term at the Simon Fraser University Library systems department trying to crash learn all of the ins and outs of an early web-based catalogue software program. My assignment was to put together a report and do a presentation for the library department heads and administration. I was also working at SFU as a graduate student assistant beta testing an information literacy tutorial that our teaching assistant back at UBC was trying to put together for students. This meant a long trek across town from one campus to the other before express bus routes were common in the region; it was a long ride that wore me out. I spent long hours at the SFU campus on Burnaby Mountain, often leaving after dark and most of the other staff had gone home. I was also a graduate student assistant at the UBC Fine Arts, Architecture and Planning library, a quiet branch with in-person service only, no phone service. My supervisor (who passed away some years ago now) was great to work with. I really enjoyed my time there.

I was also becoming more active in the library association world. I was still a member of the Special Libraries Association and went to some of their events. As a British Columbia Library Association student member I was one of the first members of a new interest group focusing on libraries in developing countries; we had formed in late August of 1996 and had had our first Christmas fundraiser that December. We were funding a library in Trenchtown, Jamaica, run at the time by a Vancouver-based entrepreneur. It personally gave me a great deal of satisfaction to be doing some of that work. With the annual conference coming up that spring in Surrey, we were planning a session as well. With all of this work, it was hard to believe that a few of my fellow students felt that I was not doing any work, simply, it seemed, because I took time for myself and was not married to my work. My explanation for this ... life was short, I had seen that first hand ... my epitaph was not going to read "I should have spent more time at the office".

As the year, and my graduate student career, wound down, I began looking around for possible job openings and was beginning to feel very anxious. I applied to the various public library systems in the region and began to respond to the job postings on the BCLA listserv. A number of us SLA members were making arrangements to go to Seattle for their conference in June; we all hoped to network like crazy and get some leads from it.

All assignments and papers in, my last class was on April 11; a minute or so after I had sat down, I burst into tears. It had been such a huge struggle to make it through the program as well as do my inner work, all new to me, and now it seemed that it was all over. Now what?


My reputation as a party DJ had grown among the other students; I had DJ'ed the student Christmas party the previous December. For our graduating party, I recommended CITR's mobile DJ unit. Many of us requested 70s soul music and other retro hits from them. The party, held at Heritage Hall on Main Street was a blast. Everyone danced to the point of being exhausted. And when it was over, there were tears.

Convocation was at the end of May at the newly opened Chan Centre on the north side of campus. Being there for me was a bittersweet experience as I wished that my mother and grandfather had been there. Two people who were still alive, yet were not there, were my father and stepmother. This baffles me to this day, they had decided to go to Mexico and had not altered their plans when I told them when the convocation was. They had missed my graduation from Concordia, now they were also missing the one at UBC as well. I just did not get it ... at all.


I had also been looking for an apartment off campus by that point. While still on campus, I went on a couple of dates with a student in the year behind me. At first, the chemistry seemed good, but then it fizzled. I had begun to wonder about how to start dating again; my barren relationship life was really starting to bother, but I still did not know how to make a connection.

In late May, a cousin came to visit on his way through town. Then, a friend from the Chaucer course that I took in my first year at Concordia came through town. While out for coffee, we got to talking and, at some point, she asked if I knew who I was. I began to cry. I did not. The combination of meditation, the intense focus of internal martial arts and regular psychotherapy had made me hyper-aware, but it had certainly not made me happier. At the very end of May, I found an apartment in the South Granville neighbourhood, on West 12th Avenue near Pine; it was a ground-level suite in what had once been a house, but had been broken up into apartments. I moved in on the last day of May. At least now, the isolation of being on campus was over.

I found a job, after a handful of interviews, at the Open Learning Agency (now Open University) which at the time was located in central Burnaby, not far from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. It was at the time a whole bunch of things: a post-secondary institution, an information broker for BC libraries and a television distance education school with courses broadcast daily from studios in the same building. I was replacing a staff member in the Electronic Library Network (now located at SFU). This contract position, which I got through the Young Canada Works program, was for two months. I also worked some freelance hours for the academic publishers that I had worked for at UBC the previous summer. Confident that I had my living and working situations handled, I went off to Seattle for the Special Libraries Association conference.

It was, in short, a blast. I stayed at a hostel which was quite rowdy, but manageable. The conference sessions were fantastic. I found American conferences much more lively and refreshing than Canadian ones, the librarians much warmer, and more down-to-earth and sociable. The keynote, introduced by a Montreal-based, Jamaican-Canadian entrepreneur who the outgoing president, was by Bill Gates. I went to a couple of author readings and dinners. Conversations were flavoured by regional accents from all over the US. Those of us who were from UBC hung out regularly, going out to dinner, Pike Place Market and Elliott Bay Books. The city was great. On my last day there, a former UBC student and myself headed for Capitol Hill and had lunch. Later, I caught the Greyhound back to Vancouver. A few days later, I started my contract job at the Open Learning Agency.

My best friend from Ottawa came through town that summer, on her way to Victoria to meet up with her partner who was serving in the navy CFB Esquimault on Vancouver Island. We spent a day hanging around and went down to the West End and English Bay Beach. We both had our cameras and, at one point, took pictures of each other taking pictures. It was a short visit; late that afternoon, I called a taxi for her which came to my place to take her to the train station. I had been to Victoria a few times and so gave her precise directions. We agreed to stay in touch.


The summer started out fairly well with everything in place. But, something in me was about to give. Most of the people I had gone to school with were moving or moving on. I needed to make new friends. I had some through the meditation centre and through t'ai chi, but I felt that I needed to start from scratch. I also craved physicality and had no idea how to start. With all of the work I had done to change myself, I was still, it seemed, trapped in my head.
To be continued ...

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