Monday, 27 February 2012

About Me, Part 39: In Between The Heartaches

The winter of 2000-01 was an unusually bright and sunny, although cold and crisp, one. That and having been on anti-depressants since the summer, made my mood bright and optimistic. It showed in my style of dress, which was very colourful: a striped sweater with an Afghan vest with tiny mirrors on it and tight black jeans, and my hair bleached blond. All of this was male clothing, but as flamboyant and androgynous as I could make it. Not doing any therapy or personal growth at that point, I was in kind of a decadent phase, not feeling thirty at all. I had hopes for forming a drag performing troupe, a mixed one called the Royal Flush Theatre Society. I even had a friend from the Mastery who was a graphic designer come up with a logo. I was all set up, but trying to come up with joiners was nearly impossible.

I had not been politically active in almost a decade and, at the time, was satisfied not to. The bisexual community, for me, was a chance to socialize and meet others with something in common. But, at this point, the community was going through some turmoil and tension. The social nights had stopped, Denman Station had closed as had the cafe where we used to meet. There was an upcoming conference that August and many were getting burned out in the lead up to it. The last party that I had gone to in the community had been at someone's house in Marpole in December. I began to feel an emptiness growing in the social ends of my life and it upset me deeply as I regarded my friends as chosen family.

Ever since I had landed in Vancouver, years earlier, I had always assumed life would get better indefinitely. In the aftermath of my mother's death, I felt things could only go upwards. The world would likewise become healthier, more sustainable. Also, I had moved to Vancouver, BC in the hopes of building a healthy, holistic life: that was what it was supposed to all be about out west, from an easterner's perspective. Vancouver had been my convolescent home where I recovered from grief and self-hate, my campus where I go my graduate degree and became a professional, my school of hard knocks where I learned to carry myself responsibly and my sweat lodge where I confronted my inner demons and also became myself, empowered and confident. But, in 2001, the optimistic climate that I had lived in for over five years began to change, and not for the better. Much of it was because of the darkening political climate. I, like many others, was disgusted at the fraudulent 2000 presidential election in the US. Come inauguration in January 2001, not many could bear to turn on the television to watch. Little did we know that the presidential convoy was being pelted with eggs on its way to the ceremony. And the investigations into the election continued. Back north of the 49th, we had our own problems. We still had a center left government, but the right was gathering momentum. And we had lost a major figure of our liberal tradition the previous fall when former prime minister Trudeau passed away. During his televised state funeral, many of us wept, whether we had agreed with him or not; he had been a piece of many of our childhoods in a world that seemed so much different from the one we were entering now. There are some who believed that the new year, and century and millennium, began on January 1, 2000; I am in the camp that believes that 2001 brought in the new era. This was a decade from which I would learn a lot, but also one from which I am still recovering to this day.


*


About two months into the year, I joined a cast for another local theatre production; a couple of Mastery friends were co-directing a production of the monologue-based Vital Signs. In the wake of the success of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, monologue type productions were everywhere. In this one, I was to play a variety of parts including two male characters and a female one. I was ecstatic. Over the winter, I had become very theatre crazy and was taking in plays often. With one of the directors, I went to see a Studio 58 production of Hair at Langara College. Rehearsals started in late February and were split between one directors apartment near Commercial Drive and the other's performance class in the West End. The latter had co-directed She Stoops To Conquer the previous fall and had been teaching clown and mask classes for decades. Some of us in the cast took his classes as a way of opening up and getting into character. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Like with the fall's production, Vital Signs was a blast; the cast and crew bonded and the back stage meta-play that developed was as fun as the actually production. And during production, I became smitten with one of the members of the crew. Vital Signs ran the last weekend (Thursday to Saturday) of April at a venue on the Drive called The Cavern. The dress rehearsal was on Wednesday night. I, once again, invited friends and co-workers most of whom enjoyed the production very much. The late actor Denis Simpson was in the audience one night, next to an old friend from my Dawson College days back east, later said that he wanted to learn my monologue himself. I was honored. With all the accolades I got, I felt that I had a future in acting.

At the wrap party, immediately after the last show, I invited the member of the crew that I was interested in, out for coffee; this was the same woman who had been working on my theatre troupe logo. We went on two dates, however, things did not click. I was disappointed, but felt ready to move on.


*


That spring, the Lower Mainland bus drivers went on strike. Only the SkyTrain and a few other services continued. The new line out in the direction of where I worked was still being built. Suddenly, much of the region was paralyzed. Getting to some of the last rehearsals for the play had been difficult, but now getting to work was a trial. Eventually, I became part of a carpooling arrangement with another staff member who lived several blocks east of where I lived, but this was just during the week. Weekends were another matter.

During the strike, BC had a provincial election which brought in a centre right government. The general mood in my adopted began to sour. This is much clearer in retrospect than it was at the time. I began to miss the early days when I had just arrived and the world seemed to be opening up.

On the other hand, the summer of 2001 was a very warm, lazy one. I had very little to do outside of work, and getting there and back. No more plays or productions. Curiously, I was still feminizing myself as much as I could: shaving my body, shaving my face very closely, painting my nails. I felt great doing so. It occurred to me that I could not look at myself in the mirror until I had done these things. Despite shaving my face closely (so much so that it was often irritated), I still had a shadow, the discolouration from having switched from an electric razor to a regular one. It felt not just ugly with it, but somehow alien. I wished my facial hair gone. Likewise my voice which I could not stand: I wished it was softer, lighter, even a little higher. Thoughts about these were becoming more and more constant. When I could not deal with them anymore, I blocked them out with music.


I felt sufficiently healthy and happy by mid-summer to begin to taper off, and then discontinue, my anti-depressants. I took my last pill in July. I felt that I had come a long way since I had started taking them and that I had enough energy to carry on without them. My creative imagination was brimming with new ideas and began keeping a notebook. I joined an Artist's Way group towards the end of the month; it was facilitated by a Mastery friend who lived over near Commercial Drive. I walked for an hour one afternoon, on a day off, to get there. Getting there from work most Mondays, though, I could walk from the nearby SkyTrain station. The twelve week course involves doing art projects, keeping a daily journal of automatic writing (morning pages) and going on creatively stimulating field trips (artist dates). I had attempted this on my own a few years earlier. I found doing this in a group much more rewarding. I began to plot out my future in collages; a lot of colour, acting icons and many, many female faces and bodies.



*


I planned to fly to Montreal in mid-August. The week leading up to that was tumultous. After a very long, hot summer labour-wise, the transit strike ended. My workplace became very stressful with a rapid changeover in management. That weekend, I attended the North American Conference on Bisexuality and , Gender, and Sexual Diversity. An all-around great conference, had at UBC, with folks from all over the world in attendance. Tumultous because I met someone.

I met her in one of the sessions on art; she was an androgynous, boyish looking woman with a soft, shy voice and puckish eyes. I was smitten immediately. When a few of us went to a nearby food court for dinner, something clicked in our conversation. She was from Philadelphia ... and married. Both her and her husband were polyamourous. But was I? I had never thought about it. Maybe I was. I did like her a lot, though.

Later at the dance at the Student Union Building Ballroom, we danced and made out. Soon afterwards, we went to her dorm room and spent the night. She had to leave early to catch her flight back home. I helped her gather her stuff together and saw her out to the taxi. We exchanged numbers, kissed and then, the cab pulled out of the Gage Towers driveway and drove off. I caught the bus home, floating the whole way.

The CITR radio show Queer FM called me that afternoon to ask about my memories of the conference. Live on the air, I was tongue-tied, but I knew I would remember it fondly. Over the next day before leaving for Montreal, I got my hair cut and bleached and then spent the day packing. When I flew out, I knew I had great news to tell when I landed.


My father and stepmother cottoned on that I was in love when I spent sometime on the phone the evening after I landed. My girlfriend told me that I could call collect. The fact that I was seeing somebody, albeit long-distance, lightened the mood of my trip. We also took both of my grandmothers out for dinner; I did not have the chance to do this with my grandfather, but I figured that it was best to host both of my grandmothers while they were still alive. We took pictures. We also went to visit one of my father's cousins north of Montreal in Deux Montagnes. I had not been to their house since I was a child. My father's cousin seemed very warm and welcoming; I kept wanting to catch up with her, but never got the chance. Soon we were leaving.

I enjoyed being in the old neighbourhood in St. Leonard and also walking around downtown, old Montreal and the Plateau neighbourhood. When I left, I was literally on top of the world.

The last two weeks of August were light, free and colourful. The Artist's Way continued. I went to a Mastery weekend party on the Sunday night. That same weekend, the local Public Dreams community performance society put on its Circus of Dreams in McLean Park in Strathcona. I had a flower painted on my face, but not satisfied, I went home and dressed up as a clown before taking a taxi back to the park. Then, I headed to the Mastery party dressed accordingly. Free, whimsical fun.

I turned thirty-one on September 6th, a Thursday. My girlfriend called me to wish me a happy birthday. She had bought me a gift on Amazon and it was on its way. It was already shaping up to be one of the best years yet. The following Monday, after I went to my Artist's Way group I went home to write in my journal and go over my goals for the coming week. I was also nursing a bad canker sore (they ran on my mother's side of the family). My morning pages kept me up a few hours as I kept complaining about my sore. My biggest concern in the wee hours of September 11. I soon fell asleep.


To be continued ...























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