Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This is a Pajama Town

This is a Pajama town, and we might as well admit it. In fact, we might as well appreciate it, heck, celebrate it, and all that other warm fuzzy stuff. Now what constitutes pajamas might vary from person to person, with seasonal shifts, personality differences, and so on. For example tonight I am donning as pajamas my down jacket, my winter hat, wool stockings with wool socks over them and, well, pajamas... all for lack of an official heating system in my current living quarters. In fact, I'm so ready to roll in this outfit I don't see any reason why not to. And the fact is, nobody really would care one way or the other if I did, and that's the point.
For years now, my choice of clothing has revolved mostly around the relentless pursuit of 'that pajama-y feeling', which I seem to want all the time. Simply put, I want comfort. I don't want waist lines that cut into my tender fat or bras that shut down my respiratory system; pant-legs that cut off my lymphatic return or inseams that scream up my hootchie, "HOW ABOUT A NICE YEAST INFECTION, HA HA HA!!!" I want comfort. I want to fill the hug-void with flannel, floppy cotton, cozy fleece and squishy slippers.

Now, if someone wants to come along and attempt to overthrow my pajama governance with tender caresses, warm full-body presses, juicy kisses and general touchy-feely goodness, they are more than welcome to try (upon approval). But its gonna be tough. Pajamas are my friend, my steady companion, my resting place,my comfort, my haven, my blanket-against-the-cold. My pajamas are always there for me, require very little maintenance, and never talk back!

Luckily, I am a pajama lover who walks among other pajama people in a pajama friendly place. Pajamas and the like are acceptable wear here in the village. Most establishments allow it, either overtly or implicitly. Even the elementary school has a pajama day. Layered, baggy fashion is not scorned here, nay! Au contraire, it is quite common. But I am suggesting that we click on the bold and italic and underscore what we take for granted: that this is pajama town, and no one will be turned away for the crime of being comfortable in their own skin, or PJ's.

Now 'Pajama Town' doesn't only refer to fashion, although that is its conceptual wellspring. Pajama town means you can do weird, beautiful stuff like paint pictures with ice skates, build wigwams and deliver bean sprouts and have vegan potlucks in revivalist churches. you can do down-home stuff like host a square dance or grow sheep and make your own yarn to darn your holy socks, gosh darn! You can build space ships from paper clips and brew donut wine from dog strangling vine and tell tall tales for amusement park babies -- you can churn the butter, and spurn the gravy.

Pajama town is a place where you can still leave notes on peoples' doors. You can pay the next time if you come up short in the stores. The librarians will lend you books on trust, and someone lives in the greenhouse, and someone else in the school bus, see...

Pajama town excels at deceleration; it takes walks and wears rubber boots and swaps clothing and watches each others' children. It's kind, forgiving, non-judgemental, old fashioned, basic, beautiful, and not always connected to the world wide web. It is unofficial, unplanned, imperfect and out of order. Pajama town is sleepy, and goes to bed early, then it sleeps late, and, takes a nap if need be. It is dog-snooze in sun-shaft and taking the hard things in life like water off a duck's back.

Pajama town is my home, and it's yours too! Its all love and charm and gooey gooey goo. It's not anti-fashionista-- if you want to dress up, that's fine. There are some very snappy dressers here and they're good friends of mine. The point is, take your time! Get cozy, and wear whatever's right-- for you! Cuz this is a pajama town. you might as well admit it, cuz its true.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chicken Bus

I’m writing today on the bus. It’s not a chicken bus, but it’s just as slow. The last time (well, the only time) I was on a real chicken bus, I had a bladder infection and had to ‘hold it’ for 5 ½ hours on the way from the Guatemala border all the way to Lake Panajachel through the Sierra Madre, on my way to visit a stray Wakefield hippie. I distracted myself by covertly slipping plantain chips to a little kid who was squished between me and his father as he slept with his machete between his thighs and his other kid on top of that. The bus groaned and lurched along to blaring latino pop tunes, stopping every 2 minutes to pick up more passengers and discharge garbage out onto the highway, or wherever. Hijole! That was a loooong ride, the scenery was gorgeous, and one chicken bus ride was enough for me…

Today’s bus is a lot cleaner and I fit into the seat, designed for adults. My bags enjoy a whole spot to themselves beside me. People with large personal buffer zones get on and off the bus without so much as a squawk. Rain pours down outside and the scenery is strip-mall Hull interspersed with stations d’essence and depanneurs. I don’t have to wonder what will happen next, or how much to agree to pay, although I do wonder where to get off to make a connection to the ‘other’ side, (Ottawa), and then to the O-Train to Carleton University. “C’est une autre compagnie,” the drivers tell me, explaining their cluelessness as to what goes on ‘over dere’. Three busses later, I find it myself.

You see, I have been exploring transportation alternatives in the region since the SAAQ (the Quebec Car Bureaucracy) suspended my license and vehicle registration for taking five unfortunate steps across petite Rue St Henri next to Jean Talon Market in Montreal last October. “But officer!” I had protested, to no avail. Apparently yellow stripes are not universal markers for pedestrian crosswalks, but how am I supposed to know that, estie, tabernack?! I tell everyone who stops to pick up the hitchhiker-with-a-briefcase my tale of woe (or, whoa!). I even told the cops who stopped to harass me the other day. Oddly, I have the luxury of time and the creativity and patience to make do in the meantime, so my car stays parked, and I’m going back to Montreal next week to fight the ticket, which has grown from $55 to $210 in the year that I ignored it. (Ca c’est ma faut, biensur!). It’s extortion, and I won’t pay it. I will wear decent clothes and address the judge as ‘your honor’ en francais.

Yesterday was a holiday for my thumb and I was glad that I didn’t have to go anywhere. I was woken early anyway by the rumble of another kind of chicken bus as it pulled up in front of my window, packed full of 89 yapping birds on their way to the Thanksgiving Day slaughter. The old bus has been parked out on the back 40, serving as a hen house, but it will be empty now by sundown. (Maybe I can borrow it to get to school tomorrow, and mark my trail with mud and blood through the tunnels of Academentia!) Meanwhile, the farmer and his sons have their work cut out for them, as wringing chicken necks “is never very pleasant,” the farmer’s wife, my friend, advises gently. I think it’s a good thing— young boys learning where their food comes from, and how to face the grimmer side of life, right in front of my window. I would have even stayed to help, but... I had to catch the bus.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mud is Not for Sissies

It’s fall in the Gatineau hills, and I’m shacked up in my friend’s loft in the top of a converted old barn. From the inside, it could be a spacious Soho studio, with its polished cement floor, high ceilings, picture windows, fairy paintings, sexy/artsy furniture, and, (god has blessed me,) a piano! I feel coddled, lucky to have temporary, comfortable refuge in a period of extreme homelessness and transition, and happy to not be sleeping in the car. As a matter of fact, it’s downright luxurious, in a way, although the furnace and the kitchen sink aren’t hooked up just yet, the mice keep nibbling at my supplies, and I’m still living out of suitcases because there’s no place, really, to put my things. But I digress. Luxury is relative, and I’m a happy camper with a roof over my head and a view of Gatineau foliage. Yes, I am home again.

Just outside the door, it’s another world. You see, my friend's husband has a brand new tractor, and he spends hours and hours driving back and forth, pushing dirt around, creating new piles and potholes and generally rearranging the earth— I’m sure with some plan in mind, but one that isn’t left to settle for very long before the strategy, or priority seems to change. We all have our way of working things out, and the sound his tractor going back and forth and around the loft/barn is a comforting one to me. It reminds me of my dad, who processed life in hay bales, not mud, but with a similar down-beat on the John Deere.

I’ve been slucking through the muck a lot myself lately, and not only in the squishy rubber-boot path from the studio to the car, where I keep a selection of shoes to slip into once I get out of the driveway. Great globs of bureaucracy are decorating my days and ruining my shoes. From complicated institutional procedures to parking tickets, insurance conundrums, financial woes, health care line-ups and loose ends of all sorts, my problems are the inevitable result of the mail having to follow a zigzag path across North America to find its way to me, which mostly, it doesn’t.

It’s hard to explain my transitional state, which some more annoying people have started to call my ‘lifestyle’. Bollocks. I guess they have never experienced the difficulty of finding a roost: the right roost, on the right tree, in the right forest, with the right companions. Maybe those people just take life as it comes to them, or never leave home in the first place. I find patience to be the only missing ingredient within myself, and the rest is just a matter of persistence. “I’m fine,” I say, with an evasive half-laugh and a shift of eyes to avoid the all too natural ‘interviews’ of the curious. (“How are you? Where have you been? What are you doing? Where are you now?”— Hand them a drink, point to a flock of geese, make a weather comment, run.)

Other people require no explanation. They take one look at me up to my knees in mud, and nod quietly in greeting. They know that mud is not for sissies. One of these friend-saints gave me some words the other night. He explained to me how the early English settlers to Canada (his ancestors), came over here and toughed it out for years, all the while groaning over the hardships and getting increasingly frustrated, until finally they managed to lurch free of the new world soil to return to the warm breast of the motherland. Once there, they realized mud was much sexier than the queen, and so they turned around and came back. “They called it the 10,000 pound cure,” he says. I have no idea exactly what that means but yes, it does feel that heavy, and yes, I think that it may have worked.

I’m tired. I show up with globs of wet dirt caked to my sneakers which are falling apart from walking so far, only to arrive back where I started. Not so unlike my friend’s husband on his tractor at the end of another day -- the terrain now both different, and yet essentially the same, as a result of his muditations.

So for those who still don’t understand, I’ll let Eminem speak for me, rather than attempting to explain any further. “A lot of people been asking me,” he says, “where the fuck I been at the last few years. Shit. I don’t know! … But I do know one thing… I’m back now… Ha ha!”

Monday, September 28, 2009

If I Were Running For Council

Kudos to future councilor Louis Rompre on the official announcement of his candidacy to represent Ward 6. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. Up until recently, in the absence of any official or unofficial volunteers to replace Lynne Berthiaume, I’d considered it myself. Over a decade a resident of Wakefield, a former community organizer/developer, a writer, a poet, and a fool, I considered myself more than qualified for the job. Plus, in my new incarnation as budding urban planner, I was downright enthusiastic about the opportunity.

In fact, I’d imagined a clever campaign slogan for my walk-in (uncontested/acclaimed) candidacy—“Vote Horak: Better Than No-one!” I’d had fanciful visions of clever campaign tricks like slogan-stitched doggie sweaters and old sneakers hanging from trees with “Vote Horak” stenciled on the bottoms. But after a (top secret) official meeting with the Ward 6 incumbent, I realized that I was being swept away by funky artistic fantasies instead of casting a steady eye toward the real issues, and the real job at hand.

And there are real issues to be dealt with. And so, dear voters, here is my unofficial platform:

1. We need an Economic Development Plan that is based on us.

First of all, it is incontestable that we need an economic development plan, and I hope Councilor-candidate Rompre will see fit to promote that. The PPU makes only passing commentary on the subject and in fact should itself be drawn along the lines of economic planning, not in isolation from it. Additionally, our PPU, god bless it, articulates our economic base as primarily touristic and nature-recreational, which is mostly accurate. But we need an economic plan that recognizes and invests in the artistic and creative riches that makes our community worth visiting. After all, we are as much a part of the natural landscape as we are inspired by it, and the funkiness that we embody (I think this is the “spirit of Wakefield” to which Councilor-candidate Rompre refers) could also be seen as the untapped rescource of our “Social Capital”, to be developed and promoted. We have a tremendous opportunity to promote tourism around who we actually are and what we actually have to offer that is unique and different, beyond a train ride and a donut from the bakery.

As well, our Economic Development Plan must strongly articulate, in word and policy, the intent to support and encourage our already strong and growing local enterprises that provide essential goods and services and keep our dollars flowing locally, especially in the 100 mile food-shed.

2. Affordability and Gentrification

Wakefield, particularly the village ward, has changed for the better and for the worse, depending on what side of the dollar you sit on. For local businesses, increase in population, tourism, and an increase in general village activity has been a blessing that has aided the slow growth of a vibrant village core. Businesses may still struggle, but they no longer face inevitable shutdown after 5 or 6 months of the ‘wrong’ season.

But living on the other side of the coin has definitely gotten harder. Ask any youth, local worker (restaurant/cafĂ©/storefront staff), single mom, artist, musician, farmer, or other person who works for an approximate minimum wage and they will tell you that affordable housing in or near the village has become nearly impossible to find. New funky Wakefielders who aren’t sporting professional salaries, as well as some more longstanding low income characters-around-town, are suffering. Disproportional increases in rent are forcing these people elsewhere—to Masham, Rupert, Alcove, Farrellton and Lascelles. Not that there’s anything wrong with living on the edge, but the cost of gas adds up, and community is less accessible.

For the truly local, buying food here costs 20-30% more at both grocery stores, making dumpster diving a lot less recreational than it used to be. Ironically, many of these particular Wakefielders contribute great riches in social capital and volunteer energy, but still struggle to meet their basic needs. Some longer-term working class residents are lucky, and own their own homes. But if you didn’t put your deposit down on your little village house, or cabin, or trailer before the boom, you can forget about it now.

So, you see, affordable housing is not only lacking for seniors. Municipal administrators, representatives, and community leaders need to take a comprehensive look at this. Now, not later, is the time to examine policy options, and come up with some creative solutions, or Wakefield will continue to become a place for the cash-rich, to the exclusion of the rest of us, despite our artistic, labor, entrepreneurial, and civic contributions.

3. East Meets West meets North meets South: Unity and Diversity

One of my favorite quotes by a PPU committee member reflects on the diversity of our community in a somewhat sardonic way. “Wakefield,” he says, “is not the kind of place you can really put your arms around.” Indeed, divisiveness is as much the norm here as diversity, and I’ve never once experienced an all-encompassing group hug here in the village, (although hugging is a popular past time). Our challenge is to turn all that difference into asset as opposed to obstacle.

While Mayor Bussiere has come to better understand and relate to the ‘other’ side of the municipality, the perception and reality of ‘parts’ still exists, culturally, linguistically, politically, and economically. The question is, how can we use this to our advantage? One thing is for sure, East and West will meet at the council roundtable and those differences and divisions will still play a role.

Proudly I can say, Wakefield may be a real opportunity for surmounting some of the francais-anglais divide, with strong leaders like River Echo Language School presenting opportunities for language exchange and education, as well as a generally side-by-side semi-integrated population. But the effort to learn and understand each other across a gulf of 250 years of standoff has to involve concerted efforts and congenial gestures on both sides. I, for one, observe the whole situation from a semi-outsiders’ perspective (being neither of French nor English Canadian descent) as do many other Wakefielders who, strung together, pretty much cover all regions of the globe. I have had many local days where I had the opportunity to speak all 5 languages I know and a few that I didn’t. I believe this, our diversity in a wider sense, may be a part of the solution. Events like the Harvest Festival forge a new bridge out of the richness of Aboriginal tradition into a future of multi-culti, earth-lovin’ fun. If unity, or at least peaceful coexistence, is a real possibility, I would expect a glimpse of it here, in a landscape that does hold its arms around all of us.

And so, dear readers, I am not actually running for Council. I am far too insecure to go up against the likes of a Rompre, and besides, I don’t really want the job. But I hope that public participation in our political process will be funky, fun, and growing rather than groaning, screeching, and lurching to a halt. Here’s my hat in the ring. Now its your turn.