RANDOM THOUGHTS ON 2013 AS IT COMES TO A CLOSE. PORT COLBORNE ONTARIO. THURSDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2013.
I’ve never really aspired to be master of anybody else. I was thinking of this today as I lay on the couch listening to Gilles Valiquette on the sound system. I was thinking back to when we were at summer camp back in 1978, my brother and I, and we had this guy from Richmond Québec as our counsellor. He was around 16 years of age at the time and very popular with the campers, especially the boys.
He projected an aura of easygoing nonchalantness which was disarming yet everybody knew that he was in a position of authority. I approached him privately once during a free moment and asked him why he’d put in to be a camp counsellor and he said straight out that he aspired to a supervisory position later in life and that it looked good on a résumé if he had experience supervising other people, such as being a camp counsellor. I marvelled at the shrewd and calculating nature of this young man that at such a young age he should already have a concrete idea as to what he aspired to be in life. I was later to recall that two years later, at his age, that is to say 16, that my peers still remarked that I rather looked like I was 12 and that somehow there was no way that I was in any way going to be taken seriously as a supervisory figure of authority even if such a grandiose thought of personal achievement had ever crossed my mind at that age or at any other time since.
I found that my life ever since I can remember has been a question rather not whether I aspired or much less had the talent to be master of others, but rather did I have the wherewithal and the wits about me, much less a self-motivated, self-willed and self-centered plan as to how I was going to survive much less thrive in this mortal coil once I had the dubious honour of leaving, or, in my case, being ‘asked to leave’ the family home at age 20 for points westward after having suffered the indignity to myself and my parents of flunking out of Community College, sulking at home during the winter of 1983-84, then working for the summer of 1984 at a convenience store/diner on Maple Avenue corner of St. Cyrille in Québec City before heading out on the Katimavik Youth Program to B.C. for Basic Training in the Canadian Armed Forces Naval reserve, the first of what were to become many of my so-called ‘geographical cures.’
But getting back to being a supervisor. This struck me as being very cold and calculating and precocious on this fellow’s part that at age 16 he should already be jockeying himself into position into a slot in the competitive cut and thrust world of temporal affairs. At that age (14-16), I was just a shy, pubescent, depressed and horny little suburban white kid from a nice middle class family in Québec City who by all accounts, lived a pretty sheltered life of school, minor hockey, Church, Cubs and Scouts as well as football and soccer and the debating club. I didn’t really have any idea as to what the ‘real world’ was about. I’d had a paper route since age 11 but mostly delivered my papers to other middle and upper-middle class people’s homes in Sillery. Except sometimes I took on extra territory to make extra money when my brothers or my sister were sick and I’d end up delivering and collecting at the more working class apartment blocks further down from our place, which were located on Clarevue and Charles streets. Then I got to see and experience different types of people than myself and see how they lived. Otherwise not.
My idea of planning for the future was thinking what kind of fun I was going to have that summer when school FINALLY got out and I could take my copy books and workbooks down to the bushes near the cliff at the Sacred Heart Sisters in Sillery with my then buddy Dave and burn them in a big pile in a huge blaze of lighter fluid and paper. God was I ever glad school was over. I could finally screw around again in the nice weather and ride my bike around Sillery, play with fire, throw Molotov cocktails off the cliff onto Champlain Boulevard, play with gunpowder bombs, burn my WWII model fighter airplanes at Mount Hermon Cemetery, boost stuff from the corner store and generally think of ways I could get away from Québec City to summer camp so that I could meet girls and hopefully get lucky and get to first base with one of them or better. That’s what pre-occupied me back then. Forget being anybody’s supervisor or having any sort of career, profession or job. Getting laid was an all-consuming obsession from the time I was 12 years old until it finally happened at age 25.
Why this was so, I will never know for sure, only that I felt overpoweringly horny when I was a kid yet also painfully shy, awkward and embarrassed and ashamed to even try and broach the subject of sexual relations with girls for fear of my Mother finding out and me getting severely punished and morally brow-beaten or worse, of the girl herself rebuffing me and deriding me or rebuking me as being unworthy or undeserving or her affections or charms.
So when it came time to decide my future, the Guidance Counsellor in 9th Grade came to our class and gave us three options, with a fourth being a last resort for those who didn’t fit into any of the ‘Trinitarian’ choices. She listed them on the board in hierarchical position, with ‘S’ for ‘Sciences’ on top, then ‘SH’ for ‘Sciences and Humanities’, one notch below, then at the bottom ‘H’ for ‘Humanities’ for those who couldn’t hack any sort of sciences. Then, she said, for those whose marks were really lousy and not suited for any of these three profiles, there was the Vocational stream for those who would be stuck having to become a tradesman such as a welder or a plumber or electrician, which in my day, in my neighbourhood where I grew up was probably one notch closest to being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.
We were all supposed to be destined for College and University and all supposed to have bright futures as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, nurses, economists, civil servants, architects etc… To be relegated to the status of a vocational trade was definitely a humiliation for someone my age in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, which is a far cry from now, when tradesmen are now in short supply and people like my nephew are being handsomely rewarded for becoming an auto mechanic.
I for one didn’t really see myself anywhere there, except perhaps in the ‘SH’ or ‘H’ profile, but doing what exactly, I had no idea, and I was in no hurry to find out either. The longer I put off having to decide as to the outcome of my future the better, I thought. Right now just surviving every day in my state of depression and extreme horniness and all the unpleasantness of the school environment with its popularity contests, pop cultural junk food-like infotainment forms of religiosity, bullying and sitting for hours listening to teachers drone on and on while the clock moved agonizingly slowly while one’s buttocks and tailbone suffered untold trials and tribulations being subjected to the vagaries of pre-fabricated petro chemically extruded and polylaminated institutional instruments of collective torture called school desks was bad enough.
This unending form of technocratic torture seemed only destined to be perpetrated and perpetuated upon me for another two years as I was officially considered to be one of the ‘nice white middle class suburban’ kids from Upper Town Québec City who’re expected to go straight from High School to Community College, then to university, then probably meet some compatible humanoid biped of the opposite sex and similar socio-economic and ethno-linguistic and cultural background, engage in some sort of horrifically awkward and usually silly courtship ritual, usually involving alcohol and flapping one’s arms around like a chicken on some dance floor somewhere, getting married, mating, becoming engaged in some sort of liberal profession which has benefits, paid vacations, a pension plan and hopefully evenings and weekends off, then pooping out 2,1 kids and having a minivan and a house in the suburbs while awaiting my divorce, burn out, peptic ulcer, cancer or heart attack, whichever came first.
I just couldn’t picture any of it happening. I saw where it was leading my Father and how stressed out and unhappy he was near the end of his life and all the exhortations of my Mom and Dad to replicate the template and to implicitly ‘do one better’ just seemed like a sure-fire recipe for suicide in my opinion. Especially since by the time I was in my last couple of years of High School and first couple of years of Community College, the only real plan I had for a career, was to unconsciously, and at least at first in High School, was to fulfill my Dad’s unfulfilled dream of becoming an engineer. My Dad had foregone going to McGill in Electrical Engineering to look after his Mom and so settled for Montréal Tech and a Master Electrician’s Diploma, which he never mounted on the wall at our place, much less his office at IBM.
He always regretted not going to university and always presented to us at the supper table the virtues of going to university as if it was a panacea, something he’d missed out on because of the Depression and the War and his family’s poverty growing up in east end Montréal. So that sense of inadequacy was projected onto his children, at least it was onto me and I felt I had to fulfill Dad’s unfulfilled dream of being an engineer.
When I wanted to drop Physics in Grade 10 and take auto shop, my Dad was scandalized and talked me out of it and persuaded me to persevere with Physics. So I felt I had to pass Physics, even though I sucked at it, along with Math and Chemistry, to please Dad and to try and prove that somehow I could get good enough grades to get into Engineering. Fat chance. I ended up going into the ‘SH’ profile at Community College and promptly flunked Calculus and Logic because my marks in Grade 10 and 11 Math were so weak that Calculus was a wash out and I really had no idea why I was taking it, only that it was expected of me and that at least I was taking SOME element of science courses to save myself from the eternal ruin and impoverishment of being an ‘H’ student and being relegated to the Humanities stream, definitely a one way street to the poor house, as I was soon to find out, much to my chagrin.
Well, where does that leave me in regards to being master of others? Well, I ended up struggling to discern whether or not I could even be master of myself essentially, since my mental health condition dogged me all throughout Community College to the point whereby I flunked out before graduating and spent the next ten years going from pillar to post between attempting to return to school in one way shape or form, or trying to pursue a variety of low-paying entry-level jobs, all of which I ended up either quitting, being fired from or being laid off, all because of my mental health condition, which was increasingly becoming exacerbated by self-medicating with controlled and uncontrolled substances, mostly alcohol and hashish with occasional dalliances into stronger stuff such as magic mushrooms, cocaine and LSD.
So never mind being the master of someone else, just being in control of my own faculties both mental, physical and spiritual, and being capable of marshalling said faculties in a sustained fashion day after day has become an enduring challenge, one which I finally managed, I thought, to master, after I’d had an episode of psychosis after 10 years of off and on depression, gotten better, got off the booze and the dope, been to University, got a degree, had a relapse of the substance abuse, gotten better, then recovered for good I thought and moved back to Québec City to become my Mother’s caregiver before her passing.
Back in Québec I worked on a whole lot of issues related to my health as I struggled to try and help my Mother with her own addictions and mental health problems. I grew in recovery, lost weight, solved my sleep apnea problem, got on anti-depressants with my sister’s help (she’s a GP), and re-invented myself as a self-employed person and eventual parish Secretary at my local Church, publishing two books in the process and becoming quite well-known on the local scene as a social commentator and op-ed columnist in the local paper and web page.
Where I’m going with this is that you never know where life is going to lead you. My mental health condition was stable for 9 years and I’d never had an incident for at least 10 years which ever required a visit to the ER. I was only being treated 3-4 times/year at the out-patient clinic at the CHUQ hospital in Québec City and was so stable that my Psychiatrist sent me off to Ontario with a letter saying that I could do without a Psychiatrist and might be able to make do with a GP and maybe a Social Worker.
Well, within 3 and a half months of moving to Ontario, I’d checked myself into the ER at the St. CatharinesHospital in a state of crisis and mental agitation bordering on an anxiety attack. The stress of planning my move down here, getting settled in, finding work, then working in a toxic call center environment, touched off a mental health crisis which I’d hoped I could’ve avoided but wasn’t able to.
I now find myself at the end of 2013, with no job, not sure of being able to get EI, not eligible for Welfare, not sure if I’ll be eligible for Disability, with only my inheritance to fall back on, and few job prospects come the spring and my nerves frazzled by the call center environment, which was a non-stop pressure cooker of surveillance, high speed cadence, conflicted irate customers, difficult problem solving scenarios day in and day out and so on.
I couldn’t take it. I snapped. I don’t know what I’m going to do. 2014 will hopefully offer something better. Maybe I can finally get published? Who knows, we’ll see. I just hope I can end up being master of myself, never mind the other guys!!!