When did we start being so aware of generational cut-off points. Like, modern times, with our “Millennials” and “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X-ers.” Blaming each other for things like soaking up all the healthcare dollars, or having no wherewithal, or destroying the planetary ecosystem, or not knowing real rock ‘n’ roll when we hear it. Did people do this even 100 years ago. 5000 years ago. In cave-painting days did we bitch about people 15 years older or younger. When did Earth life stop being such a dirty mix of people and circumstances and become so linear, so that we can pin our grievances to certain start dates based on our own births, like we’re not already all bones under the dirt, or will be soon. Maybe when the life expectancy exceeded 40 years of age, and more people were suddenly available to blame.
Although I left Vancouver months ago.
Like a stalker, I still scroll through its news reels. I still read its updates. I track it. I will always love it! Irrevocably so.
Because of the fact of my bicycle.
On my bicycle I covered almost every inch of that place. It was such a unique feeling, to look at a map of Vancouver and know its lines and squiggles personally. To be able to estimate off the top of my head how long it’d take to cycle to a certain destination, and make plans accordingly. To know the restaurants, bathrooms, convenience stores, hiding places, weird nooks and crannies, its libraries, its pee bushes: this information comes best with a bicycle. Not a car (too fast and impatient) or legs (too modest in range).
It seems personally offensive that the cars VS cyclist debate rages so strongly in that city. (All cities?) Bikes still mean mobility + freedom + autonomy in a way that cars have ceased to.
Because of the bicycle, I need never acquire a driver’s license! To what end?
Because of the bicycle, I knew Vancouver in a way that I never got to know my own (small) home town. At my own pace, while understanding that my own pace was fine. At 16 I was too panicky about cars to apply for my license. That conventional rite-of-passage for teenagers. I never did it, and it made me feel bad. Until I got a bike…
Which did not occur to me until 2009 (4 years after moving to Vancouver!)
Why have I been walking? I thought one day, after a 20-km round-trip across the Second Narrows bridge and back into downtown via the Lion’s Gate, tramping.
So finally it occurred to me to change my ways from steadfast pedestrian to steadfast cyclist. Covering even more ground, getting to know streets in relation to other streets, rolling past landmarks that seemed impossibly distant in my swaying, distorted outlook from the passive windows of Skytrain and buses.
Its not too-hilly a city, or too wet, or too anything. For years I rode everywhere regardless of season or weather. It was such a free feeling. Despite the fact I could only afford to live in a depressing basement suite just before East Vancouver turned into Burnaby. Vancouver is not “free” at all. But for a while you can forget this, if you are on a bicycle. It was beautiful.
has made it so much easier to resume * running. There’s no one to laugh and point as I sweat along the sidewalks.
Despite the fact that every footfall makes me oh-so-aware of each jiggle, each cookie-fed lump, each comical ounce, running (as an activity, a stress reliever, an act of contrition) makes me hate my life less. No pressure or anything.
*begin for the twelfth or so time
For a month I’ve had a numb right armpit. For two days I’ve had intermittent shooting pains in my right arm and shoulder with occasional weakness in my writing hand. These S&S are at least “go-for-a-check-up” worthy, but it’s all sort of been happening in the middle of relocating to a new town and starting a new school and not having a doctor. Plus a conventional wish to ignore the Reaper’s sweet lullaby, basically.
Last night my hand suddenly lost strength and I dropped my novel into the bathwater, where I was floating and reading at 11pm. Live from my life, it’s Saturday night!
“Motherfucker,” I said. Because although I am Just a Student Nurse, I know that sudden weakness + shooting pains + general malaise = probably bad.
So I drank a double whisky-lemonade and fell into bed with my sleeping mask on (this thing works wonders). I slept shallowly, right arm aching, dreaming of monsters that tunnel and creep beneath the earth’s surface.
This town does not have a walk-in clinic that is open on Sundays. Be damned if I am going to the emergency room to be counted among the sinus infected, the drunk, the generally queasy, and other time wasters. My MS/ALS/Stage IV cancer can be diagnosed tomorrow when the walk-in clinic reopens for business.
I won’t be writing about nursing here anymore. I have so many stories, just from clinical classes alone (the equivalent of riding baby slides at the waterpark), but I’ll zip my lip I suppose. Maybe I will write generally about school-y things, maybe not even that. Basically I now live in a tiny town, and there are enough identifying details on here to “out” affected parties, and while I love lying about shit (ie fiction writing) I am probably not good enough to consistently invent parallel realities where the innocent are protected and I don’t violate the many confidentiality thingies health care workers have to sign all the time.
Back to standard programming of existential whingeing and talking about food. Is that what I usually write about? I don’t know anymore.
It happens fast. The days are already very short. Darkness is now falling when just a month ago I would have still been on the beach.
Last week’s harvest moon rose in the east, powder-white and ghostly, at the same time the sun was setting in the west. Maybe you saw this, too.
These celestial bodies rarely have the chance to look at each other head-on. It was a beautiful effect. Not for the first time I wished our sky was cluttered with a few more suns and moons. The “24-hour clock” as we know it seems so staid. Imagine a life divided into several dawns, several evenings. Imagine 3 chances to catch the sunset. The party would never stop!
Other heavenly events…
Rumour had it that the northern lights would be making an appearance this far south. My husband told me at bed time. Once my head hits the pillow is an unreliable time to try and motivate me. Once fully reclined I tend to ignore stimuli.
“The northern lights? Here? What’s your source?” I asked.
“A guy at the mill.”
R works at a mill now. Once I become a nurse, we will officially be a couple from the 1970s.
“I have always wanted to see the aurora borealis, my entire life,” I told R. “I want to name a daughter Aurora.”
“Will you set the alarm for midnight to go outside and look?” he asked.
“Fuck that,” I said, deep in pillows.
When I woke up in the prosaic morning I was filled with regret. While I could not find any news reports confirming that the sky above Port Alberni had undulated green and pink, like a celestial lava lamp, I was disheartened by my own laziness. I have wanted to see the northern lights ever since they last oozed this far south. To my knowledge, this was in my childhood:
One winter’s morning I woke up to the usual alarm clock (a whistling tea kettle and the smell of Players Unfiltered). When I plodded into the kitchen my father informed me that he had been up half the night watching the northern lights fill the sky. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, he reported happily. I would have been amazed, he bet.
“Why didn’t you wake me up,” I whined.
“It was late,” he responded. “You need your rest!”
Needed my rest! For stupid pointless school. For stupid pointless life, where nothing was ever different.
I recall that the furnace wasn’t working again, that morning. I ate breakfast in a housecoat and gumboots while my dad smoked, drank tea, and looked out the window.
Dancing lights in the sky would have gone far in helping me believe the world held some nice surprises.
Once I saw a crazy moon though. My memory is unreliable, but it seemed to fill the sky as it rose over the horizon. This was one time that I was summoned from bed. My mother woke me up, still wearing her coat. “Get your jacket on,” she said, her hands still cold from being outside. As she’d been driving home from choir practice (she played the organ at church on Sundays), she’d been amazed at the moon in the sky. “You have to see it. Let’s go,” she said.
It was only us in the car. I don’t know why she did not wake my brothers. We drove up a steep hill, the dead-end road that lead to the neighborhood’s reservoir. The moon filled half the sky, a vast cratered orb as large as a colliding world. It was no longer just the moon, a thing in the sky. It was dusty, orange-colored, and alien.
What makes this incident memorable is not so much the moon, the appearance of which must have some normal explanation and was probably not a phenomenon at all. My mother’s enthusiasm was unusual, and her desire to show me something. Normally she dismissed most things as a waste of time.
It was like this, honestly. Except larger.
What is this called? When does it happen?
Looking at certain places – rundown, abandoned – you usually wouldn’t think about their heydays. When they first opened for business, when they were shiny, and occupied, and promised something…it’s difficult to imagine when you’re looking at tumbled walls and mossy brick.
Going back even further, do you ever think of the ground being broken and the effort that went into pouring the concrete and building up the walls? Landscaping and paths? How men got out of bed every day and this was their employment? And they were focused on the building: how could they have believed it, if you had told them it would never work, or rather that it was only temporary? That in 50 years weeds would be growing through the concrete, the city unwilling to lay out the money to even pull it down and start over with something new. They would not have bothered believing it because there was so much work to do. It’s hard to see over the tasks set out in front of you.
There’s a photograph of my grandma in New Westminster when she was young. When was it? Sometime in the 1950s. She had not been married long. It’s a black-and-white photo that make her lips, hair and eyes stand out darkly against her white raincoast complexion. Beside her is her sister-in-law Lilly, polar opposite, a big blonde farmgirl from Walley. Their husbands were brothers. Lilly and my uncle were hosting my grandparents who were in the city for medical reasons.They would never travel otherwise. They were there so my grandfather could be seen at the new Crease clinic at Essondale hospital (later Riverview).
The Crease clinic, founded by Dr. Arthur Crease, director of Mental Hygeine and Psychiatry, was designed “to treat mental ailments in the same fashion as physical illness.” Revolutionary at the time in a society that still employed words like insane and defective, and where compulsory sterilization legislation was still in effect. At that time, crazy people did not get better, they got worse or just made do on the fringes, or were buttoned up into hospitals, or became alcoholics for relief. I wonder if my grandfather knew the word “schizophrenia” yet. I wonder if he knew that word or a variation of it, or whether he just thought something wasn’t right. I wonder if other people told him to get help or if he suggested it first.
In the picture she’s wearing a locket. I still have that locket. It pleases me to see it in the photo, gleaming blandly in the sunlight of a day 60 years past. The 10 k gold is etched with a pattern not bothered with in such cheap jewelry these days. The necklace looks the same except now the gold has turned a little bit green. It has lasted; buildings and people have not. The Crease clinic is just a shuttered relic on the vast asylum grounds, noted for its haunted-looking architecture and impressive arboreum. The X-Files and other moody shows have shot scenes there.
My grandma had no patience for photographs. She wouldn’t ever explain who people were in albums. She hated being reminded of things. This picture wouldn’t matter, her standing with my big-happy-blonde aunty. She would only snort, “Look at that face,” feeling superior to the girl in the photo, who still had so many trials ahead of her. The girl twisting her lips into a screwy, bleak smile, a concession to the camera’s expectation. I can’t even rightfully call the girl in the photograph my grandma; it is too proprietary, she is so young. I did not exist for her to have any knowledge of, in that picture. The future is not there, in photographs.
Walking around the grounds of Riverview is a lesson in claustrophobia. Not for the sweeping lawns and excellent views of Colony Farm meadows and the Fraser River. But the buildings’ attractive brick architecture and tall, barred windows summon-to-mind words like asylum, detainment, and trapped. What if you were never deemed ‘cured’? It was up to others to decide. How permanent the walls must have felt around the inhabitants. The hallways so long, but no exits. Now the buildings on the Riverview grounds have all been decommissioned, a process begun in the 70s until the final treatment centre closed in the recent-2000s. The Ministry of Housing is now responsible for the buildings. The Victorian structures have been left to rot in the rain. Even concrete and brick will fall apart when care isn’t taken.
For some people the past is like a path that falls away under your heels as you move forward, eyes straight ahead. Forward leads to substance, somewhere solid to plant your feet; behind you is a chasm where photos, memories, stories flutter away like confetti.
In the photo Lilly grins, turning away from the business at hand to summon the brilliant smile that still lives today, bolstered by dentures and Botox treatments. An older Lilly with this same smile is captured in photos from my wedding last year. My gran never made it. Maybe there is something to happiness, and always keeping a reserve of it. Happiness can be a fuck-you, and fuck-you is the healthiest response to things that are out to hurt you. Like life itself.