a year and a bit in

I’ve been in Campbell River a year. More than a year. Last year I put up a picture of me, one month in. Here’s what I look like today.

Hatless(!) Me 2013

Hatless(!) Me 2013


A year was the amount of time I planned to give it before deciding what role this place was going to play in my life. For me, that meant I didn’t want to come here and immediately start thinking about leaving. Giving it a year to see what happened seemed legitimate. Maybe I would really like living in a small town. Maybe I would make some friends that would make me not want to leave.

Well, that hasn’t really happened.

To be clear, my job is fine. If I was doing this job in a place where I had friends to have a beer with after work and to play games with on the weekend it would be pretty great. But I do not have that. I have work and books and the internet which is not terrible, but also not terribly inspiring or fun. Could be worse.

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forty-five minutes down the road

I took a drive down the highway to Courtenay yesterday. The excuse was because like most movies I want to see, Pacific Rim was not playing in Campbell River on its opening weekend. It’s one of the stupid little ways I participate in a capitalist system that equates entertainment choices with freedom and all that shitty stuff, but if I want to see more movies of the kind I like, they need to make enough money to have similar projects made in the future. I like giant robots fighting kaiju, and even though it wasn’t the most profound movie in the world I want a world where big monster movies can be made.

My co-librarian says I’ve been brainwashed into playing too many games with numbers, but I kind of counter with the fact that way more of my money goes into kickstarters for independent artists I admire than to Hollywood movies. I wish I was less of a consumer, but this is where I’m at these days, so I might as well make it count.

But the thing about going to Courtenay is that I realized how much nicer a small town can be than here. I mean there’s an agglomeration of shops in one place that isn’t a Target, Walmart, Canadian Tire, London Drugs stripmall thing. Their library is a nice newish building with windows. They have a shop that sells good boardgames.

The main thing was that it didn’t feel like the town equivalent of a fish using all its might to get its gills to work while it flops around on shore. If I’m going to stay out here on the island for any length of time (and I do realize that having a full-time job in this economy so I can support artists and their kickstarters isn’t something to toss away lightly) maybe I’d rather be in a place less depressing than here.

Which isn’t to say I hate it here exactly. I’ve been trying not to be down on Campbell River too much because a lot of it is just about it being a small town. But it’s good to know that, based on a non-exhaustive few-hour excursion, there are small towns where I could possibly both work and feel a bit more like I fit.

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living easy

This weekend has had a lot of music out in downtown, which I get to hear a lot of when my balcony door is open, which it has been. A band was playing Louie Louie last night and it didn’t descend into a C’thulhu ftagn-spouting bacchanalia that ripped a hole in the fabric of reality itself, so in that one respect (along with so many others) fiction trumps reality.

This morning I biked out to the shore where the sculptures from this year’s chainsaw carving competition stood. There was one that was very angular and looked like it’d been made out of metal then painted with a wood veneer. My favourite was of a spiky-mouthed sea monster emerging from the earth.

Bike @ Big Rock

My bike. I can’t remember the last time I showed a picture of it.


I stopped off afterwards at the Big Rock. I think that’s what it’s called. It’s got an orca on it and is covered in graffiti. I sat by the water reading a bit. Because that is what one does.
Big Rock @ Willow Point

At a middle school I recently read a bunch of students’ retellings of how Raven, Salmon and Orca put this rock here long ago.


After biking I rode my longboard down to the Canada Day festivities. Which were whatever. But I got a falafel from a truck and got to ride my board around a bit. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned how much I like cruising around on that thing. I bike because it’s a good way to get places. The actual process of biking doesn’t usually give me pleasure. On a board maybe it’s just the lower speeds, the subtle steering, the lack of extra equipment or the fact that I can hop off and walk at any moment, but it makes me happy.

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bay area baseball

Last week I was on vacation in San Francisco. I went for baseball. The Jays were playing the Giants, and because of the way interleague play is set up in an unbalanced fashion this is a pretty rare occurrence. My current job pays me well enough to be able to go on vacation and even buy decent tickets for sold-out ballgames in expensive cities. So I went.

But before going to see the two teams I cared about play, I went to Oakland. I hadn’t really thought about the proximity that Oakland and San Francisco share until I arrived and learned it was a quick trip across the bay. I had some mistaken notion that Oakland was further, maybe past small mountains or something, but you can see it from SF.

The Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge. I took the BART under it to get to Oakland, which is on the lower right of the picture.

I took the train and bought a cheap centre-field ticket, because really, I don’t care about the A’s beyond their Moneyballishness. I also knew that O.co Coliseum is the kind of place I’d be able to sit in better emptier seats by the 4th inning if I cared to.

Coco Crisp

Coco Crisp playing centre field in the first inning of White Sox @ Athletics, June 2, 2013.

But I liked sitting out in centre field. Foul territory is huge, but the mere fact that the ballpark is outside gave this prairie boy with deep-seated memories of the Metrodome a good impression. I did wander the coliseum and watched innings from a few spots, but returned for the 6th and following, which meant I was in a good spot to witness a positioning thing I’d never seen so clearly.

There’s an Oakland runner on first. The pitcher delivers. The runner breaks for second. The shortstop moves left to cover second to catch him stealing. The batter smacks the ball to the spot the shortstop just vacated. The shortstop lunges right but the ball glances off the end of his glove into the outfield. The play ends with a runner on first and third. I loved it because I was looking at the exact right spots for the play to make sense in my unmechanically assisted view. Those perfect little moments are totally why I go to baseball games.

The End Result

Athletics v. White Sox, O.co Coliseum, Oakland, June 2, 2013

At the first Jays-Giants game I went to I got to see Tim Lincecum pitch like it was 2009. He was so good. In that game I was sitting on the third base side and had a perfect view of the double play where they called Josh Johnson out and he totally wasn’t. Sergio Romo closed out the game (and caught the ceremonial first pitch by a kid, who totally didn’t bounce it).

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum, AT&T Park, San Francisco, June 4, 2013

But the highlight of that game was the father and maybe 7-year-old son sitting in front of me and their interactions with the old park attendant in charge of our section. The old guy was a proponent of grassroots cheering. He was the kind of guy who would whistle the traditional “Charge!” songs and yell for people to get loud when the Giants were on offense. Once the section got going the ballpark organist would join in. The kid loved that guy, and then mistakenly tried to start similar cheering when the Jays were batting. The old guy was all “No no no kid, that ain’t how it works. You only cheer when we’ve got 2 strikes on the enemy.” The kid’s dad had that kind of awkward minor embarrassment but thankful mien and tried to teach the kid a bit more cheering etiquette instead of just how the game worked as the innings moved on.

R.A. Dickey v. Buster Posey

R.A. Dickey v. Buster Posey, AT&T Park, San Francisco, June 5, 2013

At my third game R.A. Dickey pitched well, and I got to see Zito do some Zitoish pitching. There was a couple stuffing AllStar voting ballots in the row ahead of me through the first few innings (if you wonder why Buster Posey is beating out Yadier Molina to be the NL catcher, the Giants’ fans are organized). I was also sitting in (almost) my favourite spot in the ballpark to watch right-handed hitters from. There were a couple of good foul balls up the left-field line but not that perfect double that hooks and stays just fair. Oh well. You cannot have everything.

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my friend makes rings

Last night I was invited to a beach bonfire with libraryfolk and it occurs to me I am learning more about what it might be like to be a north islander. Saturday past some high school students were talking about their beach fires and how that’s what you do since it’s all there is to do in Campbell River. The bits of beachfire-making knowledge those teens shared with me (a prairie-dweller and terrible fire maker) had all these echoes out in the evening with people who were talking about their grandkids.

I don’t know what the Winnipeg-centric equivalents to that shared intergenerational but local experience would be. I guess if I was a person who’d had a tradition of beach-going I’d have more connection to this, but it’s still a bit different having to drive for an hour compared to riding you bike for 15 minutes down to a suitable beachy spot.

I had my first ever performance review last week and with that I’m now officially a permanent employee. I understand that’s supposed to be a good thing, but man, I think in my head the word permanent is only ever linked with disability and death. “Permanent employee” is a term that screams its own lying nature. Almost all those old hand library workers on the beach last night eventually stopped being employees, and the ones that haven’t yet will someday.

But the beach and a fire and enjoying the fact that our winter was negligible (though dark) were all fine things to experience temporarily on a Wednesday night.

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time and work

Yesterday I watched a documentary about the Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei. The scenes where he was in Chengdu made me miss China. Not that I was especially happy when I was living in China, but visiting China after my term was done? I loved it.

Maybe I just miss being on vacation. I know from Australia that working five days a week wears me down. After easter I was joking with some of my coworkers about how I could get used to that 3-day work week/4-day weekend cycle. But it wasn’t a joke exactly. I totally wish my job was a (predictable) part time one. Especially here in Campbell River where I do not need to be working as much as I do to pay my rent (as opposed to Vancouver or Sydney).

I mean, I like making enough money I don’t have to put off buying groceries till my paycheque comes in. I don’t want to make less per hour, just work less. Socking money away in a bank account is something I’ll appreciate eventually (when Aileen and I hit the trans-siberian for example), but for now it’s not exactly providing a huge amount of pleasure for me the way lazy long weekends do.

But I have vacation time coming, and I’m taking it in San Francisco. The Jays are playing two games against the Giants the first week of June and I’ll be there. I bought tickets yesterday and had to fight very hard to not spend hundreds of dollars on each one.

I got one seat behind the plate-ish along the home-3rd base line (which is my favourite place to watch a ballgame from even if it is thirty rows further up from where I’d get them at a Goldeyes game), and the other by the Giants bullpen lined up along the 2nd-3rd basepath. I’m hoping Lawrie’s back with the big club and isn’t injured so I can watch him do his thing fairly closely. It’s too bad about Reyes’ ankle injury.

Sometimes I think about my time here in Campbell River being something like my time in Wanzhou. When I do that it feels more manageable. I mean, I couldn’t possibly go to San Francisco for a week or Vancouver for a weekend from Wanzhou. And I made it through those years all right. But I worked a lot less as a mediocre teacher.

Sigh.

That’s my infrequent update on what is happening in my non-reading life. (For my reading life, as always check Librarianaut)

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the ol’ walk’n’talk

The other day I went out walking. It’s spring now, so the sun comes out sometimes and then it’s pleasant to see what there is to see. And for the first time in a long time – maybe even ever when I’ve been out by myself without a more talkative companion – I chatted with a busker for something like ten minutes. I see him at the library all the time so it’s not like he was a complete stranger or anything. We talked about Stalingrad and the shittiness that was WW2′s Eastern Front, topics we knew through History Channel documentaries, wargames and Hollywood movies.

Last week I went to Gold River, and before we started work we stopped for coffee. In the coffeeshop there was another table of four who were talking about someone they all knew who’d hit some ice and then the ditch just last week. It’s weird having a conversation in a small place where you know whatever you say will be clear to everyone around you and that they aren’t anonymous strangers but know who you are, or can find out. This was the day after Hugo Chavez died but I couldn’t draw my coworker into a discussion of South American politics, possibly for that reason. More likely because we didn’t have much interesting to say about Chavez. Though I did try to talk a bit about Chavez’s love of baseball.

I’m looking forward to the BCLA conference this year. I’m going to be on a couple of panels talking about things I find cool (breaking digital locks and indie comics), and interesting people are going to be talking ’bout cool shit on others. I’ve been going to Vancouver more recently, and I think it’s important for me to keep doing it. Just talking with friends and colleagues puts me in a much different (better) mindset for being here. Reading a lot just isn’t the same.

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hanging up a coat in an empty town on literacy day

The other day I wore my Tibetan coat inside the library and was told I looked very urban. Which was funny because I was only wearing the coat inside because I was waiting to go up to Sayward with my boss to see the branch there, which is very rural.

Sayward is about an hour north of Campbell River, and it is a tiny place. It was a foggy drive so I wasn’t able to see as much of the countryside as I would have liked, but there were mountains that appeared when the fog had gaps. And mossy forests that I saw one deer/elk trying to escape the highway into.

But the town itself doesn’t even have a grocery store. If people want more than general store milk and eggs they’ve got to drive an hour down to Campbell River. That seems crazy to me. It seemed crazy to a non-librarian friend of mine that the library branch was in a strip mall, but I had no strong feeling about that.

I’ve had a bit of a tense week because today was Family Literacy Day and it was the first event I’d done to sort of integrate with other community development projects in town. That one of the literacy coordinators was there to help made me that much more aware that I didn’t really take classes in early literacy type things at school. I feel fine doing storytimes and stuff, but really focusing on what kinds of words they’re learning gets a bit wonky for me. My sleep this week was interrupted with lots of inadequacy thoughts I remember from teaching in China. I definitely see myself as a librarian not an “educator” or “literacy expert” though I guess if I keep doing this kind of thing I’ll learn.

But it all worked out. We read some stories, I talked about community and we made “comics.” Nobody decried my event as being terrible and built a rail line to run me out of town on. Now I can relax secure in what I’m doing until my gaming for kids events start up.

On Saturday I’m heading into Vancouver, where one of my awesome librarian colleagues is visiting from Calgary. It means I miss our library’s post-holiday potluck party here, but it’s been almost 3 months since I was in the Lower Mainland. ‘Tis time.

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today has been better

I always feel like I should do a followup post after a very negative one. Especially since my mom’ll be back from India soon and will read this again. She’ll think the world has ended if I leave something unhappy lying around for too long.

Today I got my car towed to the dealership in Courtenay. They’ll look after it and call me about whatever needs doing to get the car running again. It’s out of my hands now till the bill has to be paid. And I have to get down to Courtenay to get my car back. Whatever.

It’s sunny and I bought Neil Gaiman’s new picturebook about a sneezing panda.

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my name is not alexander…

… but I had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

It’s “cold” here this week, meaning it’s gone all the way down to -3C. But today was the day I was heading over to Quadra, and when I do that, I take my car. The car was covered in frost because I hadn’t driven it for a couple of weeks so I had to scrape the windshield and everything, like it was winter. I had the car running while I did that. Once it was scraped I went back to my apartment to grab my books, music and coffee and headed to work.

The plan was to stop at the library, grab a few boxes of books and then get on the ferry. But when I got down the steep hill of our parking lot I had to wait to turn left onto the road. And then my car stalled. And then I tried to start it. And then it wouldn’t. So there I was, blocking our complex’s entrance with a car that wouldn’t move. It had worked well enough to get me down the hill but now I was on my own.

It’s a standard and not a very big car so I figured I’d just put it in neutral and roll it out of the driveway (pushing it back up the hill to my parking spot was obviously not going to happen). But a car is still much more than I can push while trying to steer it. I got it a couple of inches before hitting a bump the car was perfectly happy to rest against. At that point a guy who was coming into the parking lot helped me by pushing the car while I steered it to the side of the road.

Then I ran to work. I was there late by this point and our other librarian was busy with a question and our manager’s office was closed so I had nowhere to actually be except other people’s workstations. From one of those I looked up the number for BCAA roadside assistance and called.

My complete inability to know anything about a car or the things you need to know about cars then overwhelmed me. I didn’t know my BCAA number because I haven’t received my card in the mail yet and apparently you have to sign up for online access to your account separately, because that internet thing is just a passing fad, so I couldn’t find it in my email. The operator asked if I needed a boost or a tow. I didn’t know. The car ran and then it stopped. I don’t know what that requires.

They sent a tow truck to boost and then tow if necessary. They’d call five minutes before it got there. The tow truck called and asked where I’d need to be towed to. I had no fucking clue. It’s not like I know any mechanics here. I hoped it just needed a boost.

The tow truck arrived and my (factory) car alarm went off. I could not shut it down (it stopped by itself after 30 seconds). I could not find the hood release. I did not know where the battery was in a VW (it has a plastic cover – the tow truck guy found it). I did not know what my role was in being the boostee. If I tried starting too soon would I wreck something? Should I wait for some signal? The signal to try starting it turned out to be the tow truck guy getting exasperated with the moron he was helping.

The car started and he told me to make sure to let it run for 20 minutes. I agreed that was a good idea and sat in the car as he drove away. Two minutes later it died again. So I went back to work.

The other librarian went to Quadra even though it was two ferries later and made it so she couldn’t really get anything done there or here. I could have gone as a walk-on, but then I couldn’t have brought any boxes of books with me. Which is why I “need a car” for this job. I don’t “need a car” to get to work, just to haul work’s shit around for it.

Later I went and tried starting the car again, without a boost. It started but then died after 4 minutes of idling. That time I was paying attention to the dashboard and saw which lights went on just before it died. So I guess tomorrow I need to get it towed to Courtenay where the dealership will know what to do with it.

All of that was frustrating as fuck and has done nothing to make me happier about owning this stupid vehicle. It’s not as terrible a thing as the condo was (which I have to remind myself about – I am not as unhappy now as I was when I was trying to get out from under that awful decision) but I hate it. When something breaks on a bicycle I can see what the problem is, find a YouTube tutorial and (maybe) fix it. When something breaks on a car I can be fucking helpless.

Now, all of this would be frustrating but tolerable if I was somewhere I knew people. Where I could call a buddy up to give me a boost and a bit of advice. Where tomorrow I could go for breakfast with people and gripe a bit but then get on with things. Go play train games on Sunday afternoon or something. Instead I’ll do all this shit by myself and pay too much because that’s what knowing shit-all about this stupid machine costs.

I like seeing water and mountains from my apartment. I love that a cold snap here is -3C. I like my job well enough. But today I’d trade all those for people to play games with and who’d pick me up when it’s too cold to ride my bike.

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