Wednesday, May 25, 2016


I am proud to say that I have my first student.  This makes a tremendous difference in my situation; I've been able to make arrangements that will enable me to be here for the month of June.  It is a little frightening how small changes can make such a big different.

I was going to talk about my starting university.  I remember the day well.  I was sitting in this grungy red chair that came with my apartment, of about the quality that one finds in a dumpster, talking with my friend Todd, a younger brother of a fellow I was good friends with in high school and one of my D&D players.  This was 1985, I was just 21 and Todd was 19.  It was November 10, about eleven in the morning.

That apartment.  It was a 'basement' apartment that was costing me $220 a month.  It only occupied two thirds of the floor beneath the stairs (the rest was furnace room) and was, in truth, more of a cellar than a basement.  The house has been built in the late 1940s.  A two-inch subfloor had been built for the apartment space and this made the ceiling in the apartment just 1.9 meters, or about 6 feet 2 inches.  I am 5 foot 10.  The lights in the living room and the bedroom were bare bulbs sticking down from the ceiling - these just barely cleared my head.  Sometimes, moving under them, I could feel my hair move.

Some of my friends who came over were taller than me and had to be careful - so we moved the steel kitchen table (which also came with the apartment) under the bulb so people would split their heads open on game nights.  That table had one broken leg that had to be wedged into a metal bracket under the table to keep it balanced - and it was easy to kick the leg out if we forgot.  We played D&D on that table every week.

The 'kitchen' was the fridge, stove and cupboards arranged along one wall of the living room, about 6 meters square, just like in a Sims house.  The bedroom was about 4 meters square.  Both were covered with bright orange shag carpet with strands as long as my toes that was at least ten years old.  The way to the bathroom (which also gave access to a one meter square storage cupboard) meant climbing up a five-inch step - meaning, I had to bend over just a bit to go into the bathroom.  That bathroom was about 1.5 meters by 2 meters; it was like a space capsule with only a toilet and a bathtub.  The bathtub was a wide, deep, beautiful clawfoot tub that also came from the forties, about half a meter deep, with a sloped back side and beauooootiful.  I'd live there now if I could have access to the bathtub.

So, anyway, Todd and I were laying around talking.  Neither of us were working and we were rambling on about the my game and finding work - and I was talking about this great woman that I had just met in a movie theatre, that I'd started dating and with whom I'd had violent, back-raking sex with a couple of times.  Seriously, the girl liked to claw and I liked to be clawed.  I'm talking about my daughter's mother (it's okay, my daughter knows this story already).

We'd met on October 23 so we were not quite three weeks into the relationship.  I was pretty close to being in love with her already, being that she was brilliant and ambitious and open-minded.  I didn't know, of course, that we'd move in together about six months later and be married after a year, on November 15 (I proposed in July, but it was a done deal by that time).

I was telling Todd about Michelle being at university, taking her masters in education after her music degree and about what I'd learned about student loans.  Student loans were never spoken of in my parent's house - and I had decided after bad experiences in high school that I wasn't interested in education.  I was going to be a writer, come hell or high water.  'Course, by then, I'd seen the real world and, like Dan Aykroyd explaining it to Bill Murray, the real world wanted results and I was far too esoteric in my youth for that.  I was interested in this student loan thing.

According to Michelle, it was possible to get student loans and then keep piling those up until it was time to graduate.  However, as I learned, it was also possible to keep getting student loans as long as a person stayed in university.  That really interested me.  And as I told Todd about it, I found myself getting more interested.

That's when I asked if he'd come up to the campus and help me sign in for classes.  Todd agreed and we started off.  We didn't have a car, we didn't have money for the bus, we'd made no inquiries whatsoever (I was going on what Michelle had told me), so we walked.  I was living about three miles from the university - I remember it was a fairly warm winter day, snow on the ground but it was bright and sunny.

This is a thing about Canada that is hard to explain in the States.  There are no SATs in Canada.  There was no standardized testing at all in 1986.  You had your degree or you didn't, that was mostly all that mattered.  If you hadn't taken English 30 in high school (the standard required course in English - remedial English was called '33,' the numbers being based on three years of high school), you had to take a writing test.  I didn't need to because I had that requirement but I would have breezed through a 500-word writing test.  I was writing novels even then . . . granted, bad ones, but mostly because I was teaching myself plot and character, not because of bad sentence structure.  I needed more time to develop style, too - but that wasn't needed for university.

There was no requirement to "apply" to university, either, unless it was for some highly professional degree like medicine or legal.  Anyone could walk in off the street - and I literally did - and take History, Political Science, Communications, Art, Anthropology and so on.  Drama or Music required an audition; I could have managed Drama, I'm sure.  Instead I took Humanities, which was broken into five parts: religious studies, English, philosophy, languages and classical history.  I filled out the forms and Todd and I wandered the campus.  Four days later, I was told my paper work was fine.

I went down to my bank and filled out paperwork for a student loan.  I had practically no money in the bank and it didn't matter.  I went back to the university and took a course in each of the five humanities subjects, to decide which I would like enough to declare my major.  All were introductory; I picked Russian as a language.  My Russian is очень плохо.  That is, "ochen ploka," or very bad.  Dismal, even.  The reader probably knows more Russian than I do.

I would eventually settle on Classical History: Greeks, Romans, Plutarch, Herodotus, Livy, Suetonius, Thucydides, Xenophon, Tacitus, Polybius . . . all the greats.

It is the defining characteristic of my life to embark upon things in such fashion.  Not because I leap without looking, but because I am willing to look and assess so very quickly and then go.  Most want to mull over these things and mull over them again.  I understand.  I have repeatedly gotten myself into scrapes, like the one I'm in now, because I'm more concerned with leaping that protecting myself.  And when the circumstances change - such as the economic slump that is going on in Alberta right now - I often get caught in it.

That slump is pretty bad.  Most of my friends are unemployed now.  Some are told day to day that they may not be there next week. One fellow I know has been let go twice but then had the decision reversed at the last moment.  We're all just hanging on by our fingernails.  These are bad times.  It has been pretty much my only option to monetize this site, because it is all my partner and I have.

I do apologize for that.  I try not to feel ashamed about that.  I was going to write a very difficult post today about finding a saving grace - but then a saving grace arrived without my needing to do that.  Thank you, good fellow - you know who you are - for thinking me worth it.  I shall endeavor to measure up to that trust.

So, we'll be here another month.  Looks like I'll be packing up and going out of my place the end of June.  That's just how it is going to play.  Step down, catch my breath, hope the economy gets better and take another swing at this life thing later.  Finish the book.  Keep working.  Get back to playing the game again.  Get back to those good times I had.

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