The Longest Day

On new year’s day, I was in three cities: Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa.

I’d spent New Year’s Eve with my brother in Montreal, as is my wont, but this year I decided to do something a little different. I knew a friend of mine from Toronto had a non-alcoholic New Year’s Day recovery party, and he kept inviting me. Well, this time I took him up on it. So with only a few hours’ sleep under my belt I bade farewell to my brother, his girlfriend and their cats, taxied off to YUL just as the sun rose, and thence to YTZ.

It wasn’t a particularly pleasant flight. I was in one of those little propellor planes, and it felt fairly shaky. I didn’t get sick, thank gawd, but it was a bit nerve-wracking all the same.

And then… Toronto. Would you believe it had been over 18 years since I visited Toronto? Yes, for Pride ’96, shortly before moving out west. Wow, how time flies.

And the party was fun! I knew very few people and I’m not naturally outgoing, so I had the urge to glom onto my friend and his partner, or hang around the pinball machine in the Monopoly room*—but I did an okay job of being sociable. It was kind of challenging, but I did my best, and isn’t that all anyone can ask?

(* Really, they had a whole room devoted to Monopoly collectibles: games, coasters, pillows, candles, and an actual, fully functional, pinball machine.)

Socialising aside, Toronto’s an interesting place. I was only able to take in a bit of the downtown area, but it feels very different from Vancouver and Ottawa. It feels like I imagine New York City would feel: loud, bright, kind of oppressive, and architecturally a neat mix of the very old with the very new. Also it’s got streetcars! And Dundas Square, which is like Times Square, except 1/50 as big! Fun times.

Then, the bus back to Ottawa. Leaving at 9PM, arriving at 2AM. This was… different from being on a plane. On a plane you’re high up in the sky, and even if you can see landmarks around you, you’re completely separate from everything. Sure, it’s fun to take pictures of prairie lakes and towns and such… but on a bus you’re part of it. You’re ever so briefly within touching distance of homes, stores, some with familiar names and some without. You get to peek into people’s living rooms, just for a split second, see the Christmas decorations they still haven’t put away, ponder what kind of lives they lead, in these tiny-ass towns… and then you’re off again.

The bus had wifi, and an outlet to plug my phone, so I spent a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook, but there wasn’t a lot going on, so I also followed the bus’s progress on Google Maps. It felt a bit wrong to filter my perception through satellites and fancy software, but it was dark, and I just couldn’t see anything out the window most of the time. So, fuck it, hooray for technology if it told me the names of these towns and rivers, and how far I was from civilisation.

But every once in a while, I did turn off the phone. Not to look, but to ponder. To think about my choices and my life in these last 18.5 years. It’s been a somewhat uneven road, and I have a few regrets, in addition to spending far too long between Toronto visits. And also thinking about the day, which I mostly spent travelling alone. I felt uprooted and dislocated, but in a good way. Not lonely, but cool and adventurous, blazing new paths—or re-exploring very old ones, which was almost as good.

Got to Ottawa a bit late, and I decided to walk back to my parents’ place. No need for a cab, it wasn’t that far. I did come to question that decision a couple times because I was dead tired, and it was really cold. But I enjoyed the empty streets, the quiet. Gave me time to navel-gaze some more. Soon enough, I’d go back to Vancouver, back to real life, put all my new resolutions into practice. But for just one more day, I could relax.

I went to bed around 3AM, almost 21 hours after waking up. Not a bad day at all, if I do say so myself. And a good omen for the coming year.

What I Used To Write

Talk about a blast from the past. A few months ago my folks found a few binders full of notes and writings from long ago, and asked me to take a look at it before throwing it out. What a find!

Talk about a blast from the past. A few months ago my folks found a few binders full of notes and writings from long ago, and asked me to take a look at it before throwing it out. What a find! The treasure trove includes:

  • Some printouts of my finished short stories, written around 1994, plus 2/3 of the final version of my first novel (finished 1992). Plus the maps that went with the novel. Can’t have a cool fantasy novel without maps, dontchaknow.
  • Notes and drafts for two more short stories, which I finished but don’t have the final versions of anymore; reams of notes on poems and various half-finished projects; all written 1994–1995
  • A dream journal I kept up for a few months in ’94. A self-hypnosis journal around the same time
  • Drafts of my Web site (first online in September 1995). Including notes of me learning HTML, and printouts of some of the pages.
  • Notes about my evolving spirituality—not beliefs, because at that time I was sliding into agnosticism, but playing around with symbols, rituals and made-up mythology.
  • Various odds and ends: a couple pages of quotes I really liked; episode guides to Star Trek: TNG and Space: 1999 for some reason; notes on an unsent letter to Phil Farrand, with feedback on nits he missed and criticism of his occasional heterosexist attitude; a map for an AD&D campaign I briefly DM’d sometime in the mid-80’s. The overall plotline, IIRC, was “inspired” (by which I mean, “ripped off”) from Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné and Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; maps and world-building notes for another AD&D campaign, a couple of years later, that I never got to play in.

I’m throwing most of it away. The story notes, the poetry? Gone. The dream and self-hypnosis journals? Outta here. The novel? Recycled (no, I don’t have a soft copy). The Web site drafts? Like you really need to ask.

Let’s be honest here, aside from the very temporary nostalgia value, I’ve got no reason to reread any of this stuff. It’s coming at me from long ago and far away, and is pretty well irrelevant. There’s nothing useful this motley assortment of words can give me. I haven’t written fiction or poetry in over ten years, and have no particular desire to pick it up again. I haven’t played D&D since the early ’90’s, and likewise don’t miss it. And if the journal isn’t helping me remember any of these dreams from 15 years ago, what good is it?

And, with all due respect to my younger self: my prose and poetry was mostly crap. I mean, there’s a reason why I never tried to publish any of it, with one exception. The novel was mediocre clichéd sword-and-sorcery fantasy, the shorts were a little better but mostly written for myself as creativity exercises, and the poems… okay, some of them weren’t bad. I put a few up on my site for a while, back in the day. But still, nothing to write home about, and I took them down when I began blogging more regularly.

The self-hypnosis stuff… yeah. I was trying so hard to deal with my many issues, and figure out where my life was going, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. I was so used to living inside my own head anyway, so this seemed like a good idea. In hindsight, it proved mostly just a lot of mental masturbation. I say “mostly” because I did get a couple of useful insights and actions out of it. I guess it was a bit like cognitive therapy, except without a trained professional.

The spirituality stuff was more interesting, but even then (late ’95–early ’96) pretty much on the decline. I’d gone through my my kinda-Pagan phase and was sliding into agnosticism, then atheism. None of these made-up rituals and things were ever that useful—see “mental masturbation” above—and I eventually dropped them by late ’97 (after I started identifying as atheist, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).


Still, in a more or less direct way, it’s all got me to where I am now. That first site evolved over many iterations, leading to this here blog, plus giving me the skills and confidence to branch out in the last year. Those fantasy stories got me used to putting words on paper or computer screen, which led to articles in student papers, and eventually this blog.

Doesn’t mean I need to spend much time navel-gazing, fun though it could be. It’s a brand new day, a brand new year, and I need to look forward, not backward. I’ll just take a few select pieces that have real sentimental value, and move on.

Home Is Where The Art Is

For the Culture Crawl this year, I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of visiting just two buildings, I’d try to wander around, hit as many studios as I could and get a broader feel of the whole festival.

For the Culture Crawl this year, I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of visiting just two buildings, I’d try to wander around, hit as many studios as I could and get a broader feel of the whole festival.

The journey began Friday after work, at Main Street SkyTrain. I headed north up Station Street, briefly stopping to watch a drawing class—Crawlers were invited to join in, but I declined—and shoot a few photos of the neighbourhood. It’s not the prettiest, but I’d been meaning to try my hand at night photography, especially since a co-worker had invited me to his photography club (the latest meeting theme, as it happened? Night photography.) Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a tripod, so I had to improvise.

901 Main

My first major stop was 901 Main Street. What used to be sleeping quarters for BC Electric Railway motormen is now home to five floors of art (Favourite piece: Dick Stout’s Madonna of the Lake, and another painting probably by Dick Stout, which I forgot to identify because I was just mesmerised by it: a huge painting of a teenage girl on a pier reaching for seagull flying overhead, with an old lady (I think) fishing in the background, and a dog jumping over the pier. Then you take another look and realise everybody’s flying: the girl, the bird, the dog, even the fishing lady is hovering a few inches above the pier. It’s an indescribable feeling of joy, and freedom.)

Various newspaper clippings in the lobby told me of plans to convert the building into high-end apartments, and that many artists’ studios in and around Vancouver were threatened by gentrification and rising rents. One of the articles mentioned a petition to protect the building, which I was totally ready to sign. It turns out the article was a year old, so that was moot. However, I was told development plans are on hold for the moment. That’s good, at least.

Then I headed off into Strathcona. And I have to admit, it was a new experience for me. Hell, I’ve only ever driven through it a couple of times, along Prior; I usually take either First or Hastings to get to or from the boonies. And I’m sorry it took me so long, because it’s a lovely neighbourhood. The oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver, apparently, with a rich history and ethnic diversity and lots of heritage homes. Homes like Matthew Freed’s pottery studio on Jackson Avenue. I went through many other studios that night, ending with the Old Church. Most of them were either live-in studios or the artists’ private homes.

The Old Church

On Saturday I walked around Strathcona for a bit, visiting a couple more studios. By that time I was more interested in looking at the community and how the art (and artists) fit into it, than just the art by itself. I headed further north, into the Downtown Eastside to visit some studios on Railway St (favourite artist: Galen Felde). A few of them were also live/work areas, too. With a nice view of the trains and the harbour, if you like that sort of thing, though I can’t say much for the rest of the neighbourhood. Heading back into Strathcona, I was glad to leave behind all the signs warning drug users and dealers that their descriptions will be sent to the police. I toyed with the idea of heading even further east to check out the studios I’d seen last year… but it was late, I was tired and still getting over a cold, so I decided to cut it short. One last visit to 901 Main on the way back to the SkyTrain, and that was the end of my Crawl.

Barbed Wire

But it’s inspired me to nurture my own art, such as it is. Photography, and Web design, but also drawing, which I’ve been practicing on and off (mostly off) for the last few years. And it’s given me food for thought: how art and culture are not separate from life, or community, or skyrocketing rents. How Vancouver needs something like the Culture Crawl, even though I’ve been happily ignoring it 362 days out of the year so far. But if it were to go, if more artists are forced out of their studios, this city would be a much poorer place. And I need to find out if the West End has something like this.

Dungeons & Dragons

I discovered The Order of the Stick about a month ago (with this episode, to be precise), and was immediately hooked. It’s got great plots, character development, action and adventure and tons of humour. Half of that is the hilarious metagaming dialog which spoke to right to my geek heart.

I discovered The Order of the Stick about a month ago (with this episode, to be precise), and was immediately hooked. It’s got great plots, character development, action and adventure and tons of humour. Half of that is the hilarious metagaming dialog which spoke to right to my geek heart. All this talk of hit points and +5 modifiers and levels by the characters themselves took me back to those long-ago gaming Dungeons & Dragons™ sessions I played with my brother M and a few friends. Ah, memories: the rattle of the dice, the scribbling on character sheets, the memorizing of monster stats, pretending we were wizards or paladins or thieves… Good times, good times.

We started playing around age 8, even before the (1st Edition) Advanced D&D came along. I remember our first couple of games, on our grandfather’s dining room table. Good old module B2! We played with our older brother and dad—who’d introduced us to the game and bought the module and dice. He never wanted to play himself, and bowed out as soon as we found gaming groups of our own. M and I played for more than a decade (and two editions), up until our early twenties when the last of the old gang moved away. I didn’t mind not RPGing anymore, since by then I’d come out of the closet and finally had a bit more of a life. Still, it was fun while it lasted, and I got to flex a lot of my creative muscles. Plus, let’s face it: there aren’t that many social outlets for awkward teens with hyperactive imaginations, and I’m grateful to our parents for, first, introducing us to the game, and second, ignoring the fundie-driven “D&D is Satanism” hysteria that flared up in the 80’s.

But though I haven’t felt like playing since, I do get nostalgic. Now, we used to read Dragon™ magazine for most of our gaming life. Dragon had excellent articles on many RPGs (not just D&D), art, modules, short stories… and comics in the back pages. After devouring the OOTS archives, I suddenly had a hankering for those long-ago comics.

What’s New? with Phil & Dixie lasted only a few years, delighting readers with its hilarious commentaries on games and the gaming world. The creator, Phil Foglio, has been keeping busy: check out the terrific steampunk adventure Girl Genius.

Yamara started in the late 80’s and apparently kept going for a bit after we let our Dragon subscription lapse in ’93-94. It was also chock-full of metagaming dialog, with this strip being the best example. And yeah, we totally did that too. Or would have, if our DM’s had introduced this kind of mystery monster.

And Wormy. A beautiful, intricately drawn story about a cranky cigar-smoking dragon, that ended abruptly in the late 80’s. Gremorly the wizard and Solomoriah the winged demon cat kicked all kinds of ass; I believe the July ’81 strip was my introduction to the story—and what a strip it was!

No trip down memory lane would be complete without a nod to Dungeons & Dragons, the TV show. Actually, more than a nod. I recently got my hands on the entire show on DVD, and I’m happily making my way through all the eps. I loved the show when it came out, and it still holds up pretty well. The voice talent is only so-so, the dialog was kind of clunky and (this being an 80’s kids’ show) full of “morally uplifting” messages, but that’s okay because the visuals are what I signed up for, then and now. Venger on his nightmare is still an awesome sight, as is Tiamat and pretty much all the various creatures and places the children see. The animators did a top-notch job of adapting to the screen the fantasy monsters I was already familiar with, and I can tell they had a lot of respect for the source material. Which is more than I can say for the losers responsible for that similarly-named abomination. Bleah.

Thirteen And Counting

Every year around this time, it hits me: the nagging urge to write and post something for the anniversary of my coming out. I’m not sure what to write about, exactly: something deep and meaningful where I’d explore issues politics or identity, or just how I’ve changed and grown in the time since coming out.

Every year around this time, it hits me: the nagging urge to write and post something for the anniversary of my coming out. I’m not sure what to write about, exactly: something deep and meaningful where I’d explore issues politics or identity, or just how I’ve changed and grown in the time since coming out. But that essay kept on not being written, year after year. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe it’s that I always remembered at the last minute, and realized by the time I got my thoughts together and wrote it and posted it, it’d be too late. An essay like that has to be timely. Maybe it’s that queer identity and politics weren’t terribly important to me for a while, so—even though part of me wanted to—I wasn’t actually too inspired to write about the day I “officially” adopted that identity. Besides, why was this milestone any more important than all the others in my life: when I stopped going to church, or moved to Vancouver, or took up Taijiquan, or started playing volleyball again? I didn’t celebrate those anniversaries, after all. Still, this is the first milestone, the one that made all the others possible and drove a lot of my life for years to come. “Every saga has a beginning,” right? (Except my saga doesn’t star Ewan McGregor, although it’s still better written than those crappy prequels. But I digress.)

For a while, though, I did celebrate my coming-out anniversary. Between 1995 and 1997 I made up a ritual that involved going through my diary to sort of get the big picture, see at a glance how much I’d changed. (There was a bit more to it, but I won’t go into details.) Before that, nothing. The 1- and 2-year marks came and went with hardly any mention in my diary; but back then, I was just barely ex-Catholic, and still not big on rituals and spirituality. And no rituals after 1997, for a couple of reasons. One, going through years of diary entries was getting to be too much of a chore. Two, my Pagan-ish spiritual phase was over. Cynicism and skepticism became the thing, and this annual retrospective looked more and more like simple wallowing in the past, pointless navel-gazing (which, granted, is exactly what I’m doing right now. At least now I don’t pretend it’s anything more). Though it had felt important at the time, in hindsight all of this spirituality and pretty symbols and things hadn’t really made a difference in my life. Better to look at my present and future than my past. Better to live my life, and continue my coming out process, than count the days and years since it started. But… it is and always will be an important date to me. As important as my birthday, if not more so. And part of me still needs to celebrate it in some way, however small.

It’s been thirteen years and one day. Happy anniversary to me. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Between Québec And Toronto

I’ve lived in Vancouver for over eight years, having moved here from Ottawa—where I was born and spent all my life—and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. In fact, I believe moving out here was the best thing that happened to me since I came out of the close twelve years ago. I’ve changed a lot in that time and, looking back, I feel very far away from Ottawa, and the me who lived there.

I’ve lived in Vancouver for over eight years, having moved here from Ottawa—where I was born and spent all my life—and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. In fact, I believe moving out here was the best thing that happened to me since I came out of the close twelve years ago. I’ve changed a lot in that time and, looking back, I feel very far away from Ottawa, and the me who lived there. From where I’m sitting it sometimes feels as though very little changed for me in those first four years after coming out, and even less in the two decades that came before. As though the only important decision I made in Ottawa was to eventually get the hell out, and find a place—the only place—where I could be who I needed to be. I have to force myself to remember there was a lot more to those four years than coming out and dreams of the West Coast.

I remember my graduation, in June of ’92. I’d come out to myself less than two weeks before, and still felt completely lost. The ceremony wasn’t helping, either. All the other graduands seemed so sure of themselves, what they wanted, where they were going. But me? I had no clue, and no confidence that I could handle it all. Nothing I’d gone through so far had prepared me for this. My life—safe, routine, familiar—was being turned upside down and for the moment I had no one to talk to. I was alone.

At some point in the following weeks I got the idea to go on a short trip by myself, to shake up my routine and hopefully give me a bit of perspective and confidence. After some thought I decided on Québec, a few hours away by train. Familiar enough—I’d been there a couple of times when I was much younger—but still far from my everyday life. So I travelled there in early August, staying at the Université Laval residences. I did the tourist thing by day—the Zoo, the Aquarium, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Île d’Orléans, exploring the narrow streets of Vieux Québec—and wrote in my diary by night. There was a lot of self-doubt, confusion and loneliness in those entries… but also joy at this new adventure, and hope (or at least wishes) for the future. When I came home I felt a bit more relaxed, a bit more sunburned, a bit more confident, a bit more determined.True, I wasn’t changed as much as I would have liked… but I’d taken that important first step.

That fall I came out to Ottawa’s gay community, and my immediate family. And then, one by one, to some of my friends and classmates. I was nervous as hell the first few times, but with each person I told the fear got a little weaker and I got a little stronger.

And I became politicized. I read up on queer issues, got in touch with my anger and joined activist groups. Tentatively, at first; for a long time after coming out I lacked the confidence to pull my weight and be more than an observer.

I stopped going to church; for years I’d been going more or less out of inertia, and I suppose it was only after I came out as gay that I could also come out as a non-Catholic. For a while I flirted with Wicca, then began a gradual slide towards atheism.

And I stayed in school. For the first year after coming out I took higher-division Physics courses, thinking I could go on to a Master’s. Then I realized Computer Science was more my thing, and began a new degree in the fall of ’93.

I don’t remember exactly at what point I thought of moving to the West Coast, but the more I thought about it, the more appealing it seemed: the mountains, the sea, the unknown… and, just as importantly, it was far away from Ottawa. By late ’95 I was feeling a growing need to leave, make a fresh start somewhere else. I’d changed a lot, grown, and made friends I’d miss, but Ottawa held too many painful memories, of loneliness and need and failure, both before and after coming out. I also wanted to do graduate studies, but preferably not in Ottawa. I applied to a number of universities and, to my delight, was accepted in the Master’s program in Comp Sci at Simon Fraser University.

At the end of June ’96 a bunch of us from Outlook (Ottawa U GLB group) went down to Toronto for the Gay Pride weekend. Until then I’d only seen Ottawa’s relatively modest Pride parades, so I was really looking forward to this. The weekend started off with a trip to Canada’s Wonderland on Saturday. Great fun, and another first for me, though I was too afraid of heights and motion sickness to go on the wilder rides. The weather turned to rain in the middle of the day, but it was warm enough that after a while I didn’t even feel it. That night we took a walk through the gay ghetto—there were Pride flags everywhere—and made a brief stop at an incredibly crowded club.

On Sunday, Church Street was a riot of colour and noise, with people in all sorts of costumes, everyday clothes, or no clothes at all. Toronto is a different world; back in Ottawa I never saw more than one or two pairs of breasts a year at the parade. But here there were topless women left, right, and centre, as well as a few naked men (or just about naked; but really, what do you call someone wearing only (a) a leather harness, or (b) a translucent gown and cock ring?). The crowd was so thick I only caught a few glimpses of the huge, elaborate floats as the parade looped around the neighbourhood. That was fine, there was plenty to see. Church Street was closed off for a street fair kind of thing, and I spent the afternoon people-watching, checking out the booths, and trying to keep hydrated under the blazing sun.

In a way this weekend trip to Toronto felt similar to my earlier trip to Québec, both being preludes to something big and intimidating: my journey out of the closet, and moving across the country. Part of me was still worried that I wouldn’t be able to live on my own and it was nice to be reminded that, yes, I could handle it. These two nights in a youth hostel could be seen as a bit of a test, that I passed with flying colours. Then again, in hindsight I’m sure I was looking for patterns in all the wrong places. Though there was a nice superficial symmetry between the two trips, the differences far outweighed the similarities. I didn’t go to Toronto to reflect or work up my courage—though that was a nice side effect—but only to have fun, and connect with the greater community I was now a part of. Most importantly, I was different. For all my doubts and insecurities—still there after four years—I finally knew I had the strength to make it on my own.

And Vancouver was only five weeks away now! Over those five weeks I ping-ponged between excitement and terror as I said my goodbyes and packed and dreamed about my new life. I was massively nervous and insecure, but I never considered not leaving. I was doing the right thing: Vancouver was where I belonged now, not Ottawa.

But moving thousands of kilometers across the country wasn’t some kind of magical rebirth. It didn’t immediately remove all my issues and insecurities, no matter how much I would have liked it to. Just like I had before, I grew up and changed one step at a time. And I’ve only just come to wonder if maybe it didn’t matter where that happened. There was nothing special about Vancouver, or Ottawa, for that matter. I was doing pretty well by the time of my second fateful trip, and I think now I could have built a fine life pretty much anywhere, or continued to build it if I’d stayed in Ottawa.

That’s not to say I made a mistake eight years ago. It felt like the right thing to do then, and I don’t regret it one bit. Vancouver is my home now. But the truth is that I didn’t have to move here. At some point between Québec and Toronto I made a choice. Maybe it didn’t feel like much of one, but there it was. There were any number of roads open to me, not just the one that led to Vancouver. There’s not much point in playing what-if games and wondering how my past could have been different, but I can think about the future. And I can choose where the road out of Ottawa will lead me.