Writing Process: Not Knowing Myself

This blog has been effective at turning over the rocks from my childhood, dreams and half-realized works. The Young Chronicles in particular has been telling as it reveals my lack of identity; I distinctly remember having clarity when I was eight years old and then none on my hitchhiking trip eleven years later.

Pretending to be confident and cool somewhere in Saskatchewan

I was always on edge, unsure of where I was, scared to camp alone, scared on the side of the road, scared of riding in stranger’s cars. I wanted to be somewhere else and, when I got there, somewhere else again.

I found vague clarity a few years later in between tree-planting seasons, camping with my cat Popo in the Gulf Islands, reading dawn to dusk, but still scared of sounds in the night and the dark waters, of being alone, but nevertheless running away from others.

My little log cabin on Ahmic Lake. Scared even there.

That’s as close to a sense of self as I have ever come.

Writing Process: Lost Images

As of late, I have been scouring through old images (prints, negatives and slides) in search of material for my Young Chronicles series. However there is one picture I cannot find, that of a boy looking back through the gap between a bus seat and the wall. All I can find is this lesser shot of his hand.

Boy’s hand on bus trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Not being able to find the image of the boy haunts me in an odd way. I don’t know how I could have lost it and look for it again and again. To no avail.

The feeling reminds me of a fruitless search as a boy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. There had been a exhibition on the Amazon that I had loved, but it was a temporary thing and had vanished forever.

Searching for the lost Amazon exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

That didn’t stop me from endlessly searching the corridors and rooms, peaking behind the dioramas, looking for the secret passageway that would lead me back to that magical place. I am still looking for that.

Writing Process: My Precious Photos

I have been on a sentimental journey of late, going through old images – photographs, slides and negatives – to give visual support for the Young Chronicles section of this blog.

A early selfie with Tim Paquette at his home, the end of my first day hitchhiking.

While some shots work, like the one above, I now realize that most do not because I was trying too hard to be arty with landscapes and the like.

It’s a lot of emptiness, which does reflect my feelings of much of that summer, but comes across today as repetitive and unengaging.

The process of searching through my images and notes is the journey now; and the aim is to make it so for others.

The route out from Toronto to Nova Scotia and then back across Quebec and Ontario.

Young Chronicles XXIII: Sydney to Kouchibouguac National Park

The Young Chronicles detail my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the initial eastward bound leg, I now head west from Newfoundland through the Maritime provinces.

June 19, 1983 Mileage 292 miles

Ride One: Sydney to Kelley’s Mountain, Nova Scotia. Red pick up. Drivers works for CN Marines, dives on wrecks and has seen many sharks, whales and trout.

Ride Two: To Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Green car. Red cap, beard, knives. (Wait: 3 1/2 hours.)

Ride Three: To Truro Turnoff. Car n/a. Boring history teacher, sweaty chin and shorts.

Ride Four: To Moncton, New Brunswick. Car n/a. Beers and quarter pound of cheese. Former Mountie, works as a bartender now. Has driven Sydney to Edmonton straight.

Overnight in Moncton. No hostel. YMCA closed. Only have $15. Walked around, followed by a silver Mazda camper pickup truck. Went to the A&W and left my bags there and ran after the camper as it sped away.

No one at the A&W was willing to put me up for the night. Went to the police station to report the stalker but didn’t have the license plate. Policeman: “I don’t know what to tell you.” Asked to sleep in a jail. He called The Sunset Inn and guaranteed that I would pay the next day. Front desk clerk told me of a guy who left a gold chain as collateral and then skipped.

June 20, 1983 Mileage 61 miles

Waited outside of Moncton for a long time, looking at their signs of community pride: Moncton, You’re Okay! Hey, Moncton, Picture This! 4H Thinks Greater Moncton Is Great! Welcome One And All From Moncton With Love.

A truck side-swiped a car just past me. The sideview mirror skittered twenty feet ahead. A bystander picked up for the driver. “Sir, are you all right?”

Ride One: Moncton to Shediac. Family car. Shared Moosehead beer and cigarettes. A painter by trade.

Ride Two: To Kouchibouguac National Park. Silver Honda sports car. Comical laugh. Loved Bach’s Variations. Anti-Wagner. Teaches education at University of Maine.

Camped on the ocean side.

Writing Process: Virtual Junk to Myself

My family had many Christmas traditions. Presents were not put under the tree until Christmas Eve. The living room door was kept closed until after we had a proper breakfast. Christmas cards were used as decorations around the house. And after receiving our gifts, we had to write thank-you notes to everyone. It was an onerous, yet vital task.

Thank-you notes are a thing of the past; now children just call aunts and grandparents, or worse, send texts and posts. A quick word with an emoji or two, and they can go back to their games and chats. The same goes for notes and letters. Indeed when was the last time you received a postcard?

Postcards from camp to my parents in 1973

It’s not as if I’m pining for the days of writing thank-you notes but that, as these artifacts go, so do our memories. The Young Chronicles series detailing my 1983 Cross-Canada hitchhiking trip would not exist if not for my hand-written notes.

Original notes for Young Chronicles

While these sophomoric scribblings are not vital to living my life, they are key to reminding me of where I’ve been.

I wrote a piece twenty years ago on the poor state of sports journalism. I interviewed many sports people including Allen Iverson, Mark Messier, Cito Gaston and the sports editor for The New York Times. It was a solid bit of writing which The Globe and Mail considered publishing but ultimately rejected as being too controversial because I named names – including Stephen Brunt and Gary Mason, godawful writers still working today. The story is gone, lost because it and all of the notes were on a floppy disk that vanished in the years of transition. And so I only have this picture from Gary’s Instagram.

I rarely write on paper anymore. I text myself my notes. I do this so much that my Gmail account has flagged me (the same Gmail account) as junk, junk unto itself. Yes, even my computer is sending the message for me to get back to paper, maybe even print out these posts so that I can reflect and share on whatever platform is to come.

Young Chronicles XI: St. John’s to Fortune, Newfoundland

Young Chronicles is my record of a 1983 Cross-Canada hitchhiking trip. This section details my first few days in Newfoundland.

June 11-13, 1983 St. John’s

Stayed at Will and Helen’s house. (Will was my ride into St. John’s.) They insisted that I sleep in their son’s room who moved into the living room. Sat in the kitchen as Helen rolled cigarettes with a small machine and Will did the crossword. Incredibly friendly people who left me on my own during the day and had dinner with me every night. Treated me to fish and chips on my final night.

Went to Signal Hill where I photographed an iceberg and mused: The massive shiny white behemoth silently watches the land as its turquoise blood seeps ever so slowly into the sea. It knows its time is limited yet continues its silent vigil with its very own evaporation. Its powers is incredible, its size immense, yet it is unable to combat the pleasant rays of the sun. The beast sinks to its mother. A gull glides past and defecates upon its melting brow. The mortal evaporative wisdom of an iceberg, never understood, yet always cursed. The giant melts, and I do not. Does the shining beast acknowledge my presence? I say nay. (Yes, indeed, I really did write all of that.)

June 14 St. John’s to Marystown

Ride One: To Trans Canada Highway. Mother and young girl

Ride Two: To Kelce Goose Turnoff. Brown Rabbit. Old guy. Hair all over back seat.

Ride Three: To Argentia Turnoff. Military man from Maine. No talk by his request.

Ride Four: To Marystown Turnoff. Red LTD. Cool Scottish guy with wife and kid. “Watch yourself down there. It’s backwood-sy.”

Ride Five: To Swift Current. Three guys. Quiet times.

Ride Six: To Marystown. Avis Rental. Money-minded Oil jerk.

Ride Seven: 45 Kilometers short of Fortune. Silver car. “If you don’t get a ride, drop out.”

Ride Eight: 30 kilometers short of Fortune. Chrome pickup. Local who loved Red Rider.

Ride Nine: 10 kilometers short of Fortune. Red car. Man named Schneider; hates Toronto.

Ride Ten: Fortune. Young couple from Toronto.

Stayed in Seaview Lounge and Motel. A dump. Cheap curtains, chipped walls, ugly lamps, semi-intact luggage rack and rude inhospitable staff. Went to see the capelin run where many were out with buckets to catch them on the beach. “Hey, kids, out of the water. Let ’em come in!” A number of teenaged boys approached me. One thought I was an undercover cop. He was a bootlegger who dealt acid. Another boy, Corry, was formal. “When you address him, do it politely.”

The ferry to St. Pierre/Miquelon, France was cancelled. I tried to get a ride with a fishing boat but they left without me. Cold and foggy. I went to camp in the bog the second night but was too cold and freaked out by all the bog noises. Went back to Seaview Lounge and Motel and watched Butterflies are Free with Goldie Hawn.

Young Chronicles X: Prince Edward Island to Newfoundland

The following excerpts are from my journal from hitchhiking across Canada in 1983, heading out east from Toronto to Newfoundland and then back across to British Columbia.

Day Nine Mileage 1345-1507 (Includes PEI-Nova Scotia Ferry)

Ride One (Cavendish to Hunters River) Ford Granada. Nice old farmer. Talked about weather, bugs, gas, cars and tourist season.

Ride Two (Hunters River to Charlottetown) Beat-up brown pick-up. Sailing fanatic. Said that the “Hey Hey” song originated in Chicago.

Ride Three (Charlottetown to Georgetown turnoff) Old Chevy. Older woman with daughter and son. Many stories of getting out of the jailhouse.

Ride Four (Georgetown turnoff to Harbour Island Ferry Terminal) Sports car. A continual interrupter who talked about drugs, including snorting coke and shrooms in the school yard.

Ride Five (Caribou Island N.S. to Westville) Old green two-door. John Lennon look-a-like and attractive girlfriend.

Ride Six (Westville to Port Hawksbury) Company van. Terry, a native of St. John’s, an oil rig inspector. Very little conversation.

Ride Seven (Port Hawksbury to North Sydney, Ferry to Newfoundland) White Cougar. Clive on his way home to Newfoundland from Toronto. Very tired. Did some weaving and shoulder sliding. Prefers female hitchhikers “because you never know”.

I learned the following Newfie expressions from Clive on the ferry: Proper Ting (affirming a proposed action), Mare (tomorrow) and Nipper (mosquito). Ferry cost: $10

Day Ten Mileage 1507-2207 (Includes Newfoundland Ferry)

Ride One (Portes-Aux-Basques to Grand Falls) This terrain, flat and deserted, is much better suited to Clive’s wild style of driving.

Ride Two (Grand Falls to Clarenville) Old manual pick-up, slow on the upgrades. Very friendly moose hunter. Average moose gives 1000 pounds of meat. Stories of the Screwdriver Murders. Belief in capital punishment.

Ride Three (Clarenville to St. John’s with a stopover at Finney’s Pond) Small white pickup. Will and Bob. Very friendly guys took me fishing in mostly frozen pond. Bobby appeared in the film Orca. Will loved junk food. Truck couldn’t make it back up the hill. We had to leave the truck behind and hitchhike together to St. John’s with a drunk van driver who nearly had several accidents on the drive.

Young Chronicles IX: Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

I spent three days on Cavendish Beach, PEI in early June 1983, eating nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I wrote the following at the conclusion:

Solitude is a necessary state that all should experience for some extended period of time. It must also be noted that man should not be in this state for too long lest he lose his sanity. Man is an insecure beast. So be it. Not only is he dependent on other men but also on external imaginary forces. It is man’s brooding mind that entrances him upon such a state. .

The fact that we are aware of our existence does not prove our existence; it only clarifies our insecurities. Does a bird brood upon its existence? Nay. It is because it has no reason to, as it concentrates its attention on the day-to-day. Man, in his comfortable and unnatural state, is cursed with his awareness. He cannot enjoy life as it is because he worries for the future. And so do I.

This I write to my future wife. The skies may cloud, the seas roughen, the days grow dark, but we will walk upon the crimson dunes of time (sic) together with the swallow at the glimmer of first light. Let us dig in our footholds together.

Remember: I ate nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Young Chronicles IX: Halifax to Charlottetown

June 6, 1983 Dalhousie University, Halifax

Construction worker tearing down house in Dartmouth, “God knows why the’re tearing it down. I don’t think they’ve decided anything yet.” He used a blow torch to cut through a solid beam.

Big-breasted, purple garbed woman, a typical lunch-hour secretary, fed the ducks in the public gardens. Sleazy, sultry and of an inefficient nature, full lips pouting and omnipotent (in a sexual sense), eyes watching, obviously dedicated to some rich jerk. Ducks meditate on the luxurious summer in harmony with the crude coo of pigeons.

June 7 Mileage 1172-1243

Ride One: Halifax to Bedford, brown Cadillac, middle-aged man, “Fuckin’ Toronto.”

Ride Two: Bedford to Fall River, Department of Nova Scotia Transport, big hippie with a red headband.

Ride Three: Fall River to Amherst (Al’s Camp), blue Trans Am (or Firebird), Al Smith, balding, excessively friendly. Al invited me to stay at his cabin in the woods. He talked about not wanting to work, man’s self-centered nature and the sanctity of human life As he got more comfortable, he said that he wouldn’t mind if his daughter was a lesbian or did porn. He went on to show me a giant stack of porn in the woodshed. The cabin was just one room, my bed a few feet from his. I did not sleep well that night. (Editor’s note: I now realize that I might have avoided being raped and murdered on this night.)

June 8 Mileage 1243-1320

Ride One: Al’s Camp to Amherst, blue Trans Am (or Firebird)

Ride Two: Amherst to Carleton, PEI, Custom Deluxe Truck, Dwaye with a strange mustache. “Potato farming is a bigger gamble than Las Vegas.” In 19 car crashes over his life, one where an old woman was killed.

Ride Three: Carleton to Charlottetown, red Oldsmobile, a Charlottetown resident who supplied food to eight schools.

Self-realizations in Charlottetown: a) bird chirps equal freedom b) I am an external viewer opposed to a tourist c) My photographs are artistic, not materialistic d) Hobbling is apparently our way of saying we’re sorry.

Young Chronicles VIII: “Hey You!”

Cross Canada Hitchhiking Trip, Day Two: Montreal to Halifax (Mileage 344-1116)

Ride One: West to East end of Montreal; Brown bakery van. “You’ll get murdered.”

Ride Two: Across St. Lawrence River; early 70’s car. Spoke only French.

Ride Three: To Boucherville; 2-door escort. Man with crumbs on sides of mouth.

Ride Four: To Victoriaville; forgot make of car (too tired). Belgian chef who loves Canada.

Ride Five: To Quebec City turnoff; VW Rabbit. Saw a moose.

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Ride Six: To St. Jean Port Joli; large old car. The driver was a woman in her late 20s with her mother and grandmother, also another hitchhiker names Clairmont. No one spoke English, but all very loving and Catholic.

Ride Seven: To Riviere Du Loup; blue Chevy van. Told stories of his hitchhiking days including “being fucked by horny broads” and the tale of hitchers on bad acid in Wyoming who ate their ride.

Ride Eight: To Hwy 17; Camper van. WWII veteran who once drove border to border across Ontario in one day.

Ride Nine: To Truro, Nova Scotia; red Mack truck. All-night drive with non-unionized driver named Ed Haggerty. Married for 39 years to woman from England who “never said boo to anyone.”

Ed Haggerty

Harassed waitress at diner because she was new. Intentionally mumbled, pretended not to understand, changed his order, complained about the service and then gave her a 25-cent tip. I saw signposts turn into cyclists. I stayed in the sleeper of the truck. Ed prepared a full breakfast and then drove me into Halifax. I wandered around and then stayed at the hostel.