Not In The Past

Looking forward from 30

Archive for the month “February, 2011”

Four fourty four, two twenty two (Brief thoughts on friends and music)

I am amazed and incredibly fortunate to realize how many of my friends are creative people.  Is it that I consciously seek out the qualities I admire in other people?  Is it an attempt to live vicariously through these artists, writers and musicians?  Perhaps it’s merely my own attempt to project a certain image, but still I can’t help but suspect there’s a hidden force that’s drawing us together.  I don’t know if it is a spiritual thing or just the random machinations of chance, but there has to be something that clicks between us.

One of the reasons why I collect so much music is that I’m always searching for a certain state.  Whenever I fully commit to an old Miles Davis album I feel transcendence.  I far too often tend to use music as mere background noise for my web-surfing or other activities but one thing I enjoy most is being able to listen to an instrumental album without distraction, lose myself and find escape.



Miramichi is technically New Brunswick’s fifth largest city.  I use the word “technically” because aside from a forced amalgamation which joined the towns of Chatham and Newcastle together with an assortment of neighboring villages, this isn’t a city by any stretch of the imagination.  The old divisions between communities still find ways to maintain themselves for the pettiest of reasons.

The economy is in shambles, especially since CFB Chatham closed, the mills have all shut down and a construction firm that had been propped up by the provincial government went bust.  I think it is safe to say that Miramichi’s best days are behind it.  There is always a chance that some day, someone will swoop down from the heavens and be able to reverse this downward trajectory that we’ve been on for the last few years, but whatever possibilities are floated about in discussions seem to be at best a holding pattern, not so much to reverse the trajectory but stop it or at least slow it down.  As much as the many call centre jobs here are desperately needed at a time like this, it would be foolish to think that many jobs at just higher than minimum wage can be an adequate replacement for the industry we’ve lost, and it is likely that once the government funding runs out, those jobs will be gone too.  Even the payroll centre that’s coming in seems to be a fill in for whenever the government abolishes the long-gun registry.

Ever since the economy started its decline, one angle that Miramichi has been using to sell itself is as a retirement community.  After all, the Miramichi River is well known for its salmon fishing.  You remember salmon, the fish that return to the place they hatched to die.  Maybe they had this in mind as a subtle and grim joke.  Maybe not.   Either way, Miramichi is a place biased towards the old.  There seems to be an innate suspicion against young people…after all, if someone is under 40 they must be on drugs or some sort of hooligan.  It ends up becoming self-fulfilling prophecy anyway because of the limited options that young people have for recreation: it’s either ball or hockey.  Anyone not interested in either doesn’t really have any other way to keep occupied besides getting high or having sex, as well as having the added stigma of being “different” in a region that doesn’t have a whole lot of room for non-conformists.

I’ve seen over the years how much the region subscribes to what some people call the “small town mentality”.  It often feels like this place skipped ahead from the 1940s to the 1980s and just gave up moving ahead around 1985.  There is a sense that “the way it’s always been,” no matter how impractical or damaging in the long run, is preferable to anything new or different.  In a place this small, it’s bound to be close-knit, for better or for worse.  It can provide needed support for people firmly inside, but it also can inadvertently push out anyone not firmly entrenched in the community for generations.    A lot of the same family names keep popping up around here, and not being related to someone else in the region is a sure sign you’re an outsider.  The shallowness of the gene pool is so notorious that when the community was terrorized by a serial killer 20 years ago, his defense actually tried to use the inbreeding in the region as an excuse to discount the DNA evidence (it didn’t work).  But even if there wasn’t the amount of family links between the residents, there would still be that insular, inbred feeling because of this resistance to change.

In a conservative province, this has got to be one of the most conservative regions.  One area where this is especially evident is the opinion page of the local newspaper, dominated by elderly men, with three particularly frequent contributors.  One is fairly benign, with letters mainly about giving to the community and the importance of religious faith.  Another has a tendency to ramble at length about nothing in particular while conflating fact with his own opinion.  The third is the angry old coot, writing bitterly spiteful screeds against multiculturalism and French-Canadians and feeling threatened because the days of open racism and homophobia being socially acceptable being long gone, and opposing sex education lectures because of “morality” concerns, as if it is somehow more moral to keep the pregnancy rates skyrocketing or to let people get diseases.  It’s not like people weren’t fucking back in those days.  I have to suspect that this guy probably thinks Rachel Lynde was the hero of Anne of Green Gables and is aghast that the grocery store has “ethnic” cheese.

Small places like the Miramichi make it hard for businesses to break even unless they cater to the most mainstream of the mainstream.  The movie theatre usually plays the following five options: Overbudget Action Movie, Insipid Comedy, Stupid Kids Movie, Pointlessly 3D Movie and Treacly Drama.  The closure of the music store means that people have to depend on the selection in Wal-Mart or Zellers: new releases and greatest hits collections.  Even the restaurant selection here seems to be quite homogeneous.  We have a ridiculous number of Tim Hortons, Subway, Chinese food and pizza places for a population this size, but aside from a few other fast food places and “old people’s cafeterias”, not really a whole lot of variety in terms of dining options.  We’re lucky we even have an Indian restaurant here.  The way the economy is, though, I can’t see any different eating selections popping up here anytime soon.

New Brunswick has a reputation of being a “drive-thru” province, stuck in between the French behemoth Quebec and the more storied beauty of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.  Because Miramichi is two hours away from the main highway that passes between Quebec and Nova Scotia, people only tend to come here if they have a reason to, and leaving here is also a chore.  The main connections from the Trans-Canada to Miramichi are two-lane highways in varying states of disrepair.  The most direct route is Route 108, which passes through over 100 km of uninerrupted forest without so much as a gas station or bathroom, but with the ever-present risk of colliding with a moose.   Being so out of the way and with comparatively little to draw people here, the world just passes us by.  It’s just as well for some people: too many outsiders.

Miramichi’s population is bleeding out.  Unless people already have a life established for themselves here, there is really nothing keeping them. Without barbed wire and land mines around the city, people will go.  The young people leave to pursue their educations and find fulfilling work, not content to settle for a life in the service industry, a dead end for all but a very small number.  The older people who had their livelihoods pulled out from under them have to leave for Alberta to keep what they have left.   Others who haven’t fully fit in leave to find communities more tolerant of diversity and different ideas.

The way things look now, I don’t see anything turning around.  New Brunswickers never rock the boat even if it is to plug a gaping hole at the bottom.


One of the things I don’t like about winter is how it takes away my motivation to do much, especially when it’s too cold outside or we’re being walloped with another 15-25 cm of snowfall.  Days like we’ve been having in New Brunswick don’t really lend to well towards the urge to go outside and take pictures.  When everything starts to thaw and the sun’s not paired with icy blasts, I will definitely be getting out more but until then I’m digging into my archives.  I do realize how beautiful it can be during the winter but I’ve always preferred a little bit more color.

On that subject, sometimes you can find color in other places when everything on the ground is a frigid white.  I got this shot on my way to Ontario last month when were at a rest stop on Autoroute 20 somewhere between Riviere-Du-Loup and Quebec City, and the sub was already starting to come down.

Sappy Reflections: Saturday

Author’s note: Part two in a series of recollections based on a trip to Sackville, NB the weekend of July 30-August 2 2010.  Persons and events depicted herein are based in reality but names and details have been altered.

After showering and shaving (including scraping off that little bit of hair-growth from my usually bald head), I realized I needed to get myself a cheap travel alarm clock: while the year before I had the luxury of not worrying about waking up early the day I was to go back home, this year I had to make sure I caught the morning bus and made it back to Riverview in time for work on Monday.  I already had to put a last-minute late start request in for that day.  I’m probably paranoid about the whole thing but it always seemed like any type of concessions I sought with my job to allow myself to have a life outside of it were a huge imposition and I didn’t want to screw myself over.

A lot of the day really felt redundant, mainly because of repeated schleps to and from Campbell Hall.  Stuff like getting that aforementioned alarm clock, insect repellant for my trip to the Waterfowl Park, and so forth.  I didn’t want to be dangling a plastic bag all the time when I was at the shows, and there were times when I either left the dorm without my camera but then wanted it or I had my tripod with me for landscapes but didn’t want to lug it around in the tent.  It probably would have done me good to draw up a loose schedule for going to shows and going to take pictures, but I preferred operating in a somewhat spontaneous manner.

Spontaneity was actually what marked my first trip to Sappyfest two years earlier.  I had been interested in going the first two years it was held but work and financial obligations were bigger priorities for me then.  What pushed me towards going was a blog post on my Livejournal friends feed that advertised just how wonderful and magical the festival and Sackville is.  In most cases I dismiss the supernatural connotations as mere hyperbole, but for Sackville I definitely made an exception.  I didn’t even bother finding a place to stay the night, which proved to be a foolish decision because  it rained heavily at times and I ended up seeking shelter in bank ATM rooms and the covered bridge in the Waterfowl Park.  I have no regrets about that though.

What really struck me about that trip is that this off-the-cuff thing in a limited window of time helped me connect with something vital inside myself, and I was more chatty, outgoing and social.  I ran into Joris, the generous spirit whose path I had drifted back into late in my University days.  He invited me up for some wine and company and we could hear the music  waft up from Bridge Street.  This was something I never expected to happen, and this chance meeting was something that defined the trip for me.  Sadly, it would also be the last time I saw Joris alive.  Later that night, I discussed at length about music and life with Lee, and this sense of connection I was experiencing for the first time in a few years was so present, so real, coming at a time when I was still trying to figure out how things I had learned about myself were going to affect my existing relationships with other people.

Running into other people I knew also reconnected me to a person that was slowly being ground out of me by a combination of a bad job and a lack of energy to socialize.  But once that was over, I returned back into my routine.  I got older.  By the time I came back here I was dodging out of the crowds and trying to get out of conversations where I didn’t like the answers I was giving, full of rationalizations and veiled complaints.  The crowds of bearded young men and countless girls in their uniforms of partially shaved heads and large Bailey Quarters-style glasses didn’t really invigorate me as I thought they did.  I felt tired often, and kept going back to the dorm room and turning on the TV, hearing the jostle and footsteps of the couple arriving in the room next to mine.  There was all this life outside that I was purposefully ignoring in favor of the same damn news items on CNN about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and the BP oil spill.

I did eventually crawl out of my room long enough to go down to the train station.  I dawdled, stopping first at the swan pond and then slowly walking past the commotion and veering right onto Lorne Street.  The further away I got from the centre of town, the more still everything became, and by the time I reached the station, you could hardly tell there was a music festival going on.  I had my iPod, my camera and tripod, and spent a lot of time looking out over the landscape as the clouds became grayer and jazz guitar started coming up on my playlist.

I had another flashback to about five and a half years earlier.  I was supposed to catch a train from that very station, but a terrible winter storm had reached Atlantic Canada, nicknamed “Winter Juan” after the hurricane that hit the region only a few months before.  My train supposedly departed at about 4:30 but it got delayed for obvious reasons.  It kept getting later and later, the snow paralyzing the town in the process except for a Tim Hortons by the highway, and by the time we found out that the train was stuck near Truro, NS and wouldn’t arrive until the next day, it was very late at night and I decided to stay in the station overnight rather than leave and have to trudge through the snow all the way back to my dorm room.   When I woke up the next morning, we got word that the train wouldn’t come until the evening anyway and the weather had improved greatly, so I went back to my dorm and had a few hours sleep in a real bed.

I had thought about stopping by the Bridge Street Cafe for a little bit but as soon as I walked through the door, I remembered they don’t have air conditioning and it was such an oppressively hot day, so I decided to duck in to Mel’s Tearoom across the street.   Mel’s is this little place on Bridge Street that despite the few requisite steps that keep it in the modern world, is a time warp to the 1940s, retro but not in the way that calls attention to itself like most of those “nostalgia” diners I’ve been to.   It’s Sackville’s equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting.  I had my familiar cheeseburger, poutine and milkshake and took out a notebook to sketch out a scene where two people were having breakfast in the same booth I was sitting, making awkward conversation after a drunken hookup.

I headed back to the dorm yet again to ditch my tripod, and didn’t re-emerge until darkness fell and the Mount Allison campus had an otherworldly artificial glow.  I felt disquieted by the number of times I kept leaving the bustle and the life downtown in favor of solitude and rest.  My usual inertia.  Every trip to familiar territory felt warmed over, a cursory gesture towards a fading ideal of who I was five years ago, something I desperately clung to as my twenties dwindled away.   Coming out to an independent music festival and running into familiar faces was a denial of who I was really growing into: a solitary figure clinging to routine, ultimately a consumer opting for a life of convenience but fraudulently claiming kinship and community with the creative and socially aware to live up to my own standards of who I should be.  As I walked slowly past the Swan Pond, I kept feeling more and more ill at ease.

Downtown at the main tent, with a few more Picaroons Melon Heads and Blonde Ales in my system, I ran into Clive, who I had last seen at the previous Sappyfest the year before.  This would be the turning point in the whole weekend, the point where I started to lose myself in the whole experience like I had wanted to.  I accompanied him and his girlfriend to a late show at the legion hall and when it finally was time to get back home, it turned out they were the couple in the room next door.  In our small talk we commiserated about the life of an hourly-paid call centre phone monkey, and while I told him that my promotion did improve my work situation over how it was last year, he could see through the upbeat spin I was putting on my improved work situation.

His advice was direct: “Get out of Bathurst”.  He had confused Riverview with a small northern New Brunswick city my sister was living in, but for all intents and purposes I might as well have been living there.   As Riverview was right next to Moncton it had an illusion of being of the same world, but the true distance between both was more apparent for someone lacking their own car, forced to rely on a buses that came once an hour, never after 7 on most nights and not at all on Sunday.  My preferred bars were all across the river and cab fare of up to $15 made my self-imposed nights out more expensive.  I had tried to find things to get involved with but work schedules, fatigue and a general hesitance and shyness on my part stopped my tentative reaches out.

I meditated on Clive’s words instead of hearing the music in my head I had found last year when the combination of drink and a succession of unfamiliar songs lingering in my subconscious kept spilling out, before slipping effortlessly into a vivid dream.

Dilly Time

Daffodil is my sister Carrie’s cat but if you ask her, I’m Daffodil’s person.  Daffodil, or Dilly for short, is 2 years old, loves to be held and is easily the most social of the four cats living at my parents’ house.  She’s a very vocal cat, constantly chirping and an especially loud purrer: every time I pick her up and start stroking she begins this combination chirp and purr that can be heard a room away.

We’ve given her the middle name Snapdragon because as sweet as she is, she hasn’t quite gotten that her playful biting isn’t particularly appreciated.  She’ll sometimes do a little nibble on our hands or fingers when we’re petting her followed immediately by licking where she bit, or sometimes she’ll try to “catch” our hands and start chewing on them.  We do pull away (usually with an “Ow”) but she does the same thing to her stuffed toy kitty.   She also goes up to the other cats, puts her paw around them and starts chewing.  Lola and Toby don’t really like it but Natalie (the oldest) puts up with it longer.

Dilly also is a bit of an escape artist.  We’ve gotten her spayed but we also keep her and Lola inside (Natalie and Toby were outdoor cats before my parents moved into their current house on the main street in town: they at least have the sense to stay away from the street).  Dilly is quite persistent in her attempts to get out and scratches at the door post (actually, only after it was painted), and keeps meowing pathetically in the hopes someone will mistake her for Nat and Toby.  I have a feeling that part of this is really a ruse to get one of us to pick her up, because as soon as I hold her she starts purring again.

This was taken last October on my bed.  Note Toby is in the background.

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