Flash and Thunder

I don’t know exactly where the line is between history and experience, between something that happened and something that’s still happening. Is an explosion still happening while the shockwave is racing towards a building? While you can still hear echoes of it across a river? Is it still happening when you’re dreaming of it, years later? When all you can hear on a still night is the ringing in your ears that you’ve heard since the first flash and thunder?

I think a lot about family. I struggle with it. I struggle with the challenges that family has left me, with sacrifices family have made for me, with the hole in my experience where family should have been. I live with Josh, my brother, who I grew up with. We lived together for eleven or twelve years as kids, and now again for the last two. It’s comfortable. It’s friendly and loving. It has all the things that you should have in a home.

I’ve never lived with my father (not for any meaningful value of ‘living’, at least), but he was always there in one way or another. He was the reason we would be followed home, or why we had to move, or why some of us had so much more than others. When we spent time in the same space, we would inevitably end up at a nightclub, at a recording studio. The music was always loud, painfully loud. I’d yell and ask him to turn it down, my hands over my ears. I could never hear myself yelling. He would never turn it down.

Part of me remembers him telling me to toughen up, to not be such a baby; those memories are cloudy and suspect, just as likely to be a projection of what I assume he’d say as they are to be a recalling of fact. When we would leave the studio and step into the street, everything was bright, muffled, and far away, my skull stuffed with cotton and sawdust.

No matter how hard we try, we’re all defined in some way by him. From my own hypervigilance to my brother Oliver getting locked up at Fenbrook. (It’s his birthday today. He’s 28.)

And now we all try to figure out our own damages, try to find answers where we know there aren’t any. A kind of ritual therapy for blood relatives.

No matter how many years and miles separate me from the boy stepping into the street with a head full of dust, on a still night all I can hear is ringing.

Yukon Ho!

When I was ten or eleven years old, I had a Pennysaver paper route. It was the worst thing. Every Sunday morning they drop off a bundle of papers (98 in my case) and a dozen bundles of advertisements. So you open up all the bundles and separate out all the different advertisements. Then you open up a newspaper and put one of each of the dozen different flyers inside of it. Stick the finished newspaper in your little newspaper cart, and repeat 97 times. I actually cannot even begin to describe how miserable this is. It takes hours, and there’s a crazy amount of paper strewn everywhere and it is a total disaster zone from start until finish.

It was through this weekly process that I first learned to recognize the emotion we call ‘dread’.

After you’ve got your little newspaper dolly full of the freshly-stuffed papers, you wander around the neighbourhood and drop them off in people’s mailboxes, often while people inside yell at you about how they don’t want more junk mail. Because who does, right? Also, the dolly doesn’t fit 98 stuffed newspapers, which means that you need to go back home in the middle of your route at least once to re-up. Eventually you deliver all 98 newspapers to all 98 homes, you get back home hopefully before the sun sets, and you phone them to let them know that it’s all finished.

This is all a lot of responsibility for someone in grade 5.

Once a month or so, we’d get these ‘specials’ where there’d be a full-on second newspaper to deliver along with the first. So you pack your cart with the stuffed newspapers and the special newspaper (which takes up twice as much cart space, which means you need to re-up twice as often) and try to jam both of these things in people’s mailboxes while they yell at you.

One snowy and grey Sunday morning, I opened my front door to get the papers and saw we had a ‘special’ that week: Phone books.

There was a hill I had to climb on my route, and I remember trying to drag my stupid cart full of soggy phone books through this thick wet snow, crying all the way. My hands were red and raw from trying to pull the cart, and completely numb from the cold. I ended up leaving the cart there and going back home to ask for help. My mother’s husband drove me out to the cart, picked up the phone books, and delivered them all himself — probably the nicest thing he ever did for me in the many years we lived together.

The worst part about all of this is that you make something like thirty cents per paper delivered. Not lucrative. After fees and whatever else, for a full day’s work I would get a cheque for twenty-odd dollars. (Years later, I worked as a delivery boy for the Citizen and got cheques ten times that amount for a route a fraction the size. This is how I learned about ‘exploitation’.)

But, at the time, twenty-odd dollars was a lot of money. And it was the first money I had ever earned myself. I took my first cheque across the street to the mall, cashed it in my TD Bank Junior Savings Account, and went to the bookstore where I bought the Calvin and Hobbes Yukon Ho! collection, mostly because I saw the title and thought it was cool that a comic might be about Canada.

Buying that book changed my life. I read every strip and bought every book after that. Calvin and Hobbes is a fucking subversive comic, man. Sexism, racism, environmentalism, war, death, friendship, bullying, love, an existential crisis, labour issues — they were all in those books. Before I learned about any of that stuff from Asimov or Aristotle or anywhere else, I learned it from Calvin and Hobbes.

I got a Calvin and Hobbes tattoo when I turned 19 because I was terrified of not being a teenager anymore. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be as the same kind of person as I got older, and I wanted to leave a reminder to future-jairus that ‘growing up’ means whatever we want it to mean. And to leave myself something like a litmus test:

If, when I got old, I didn’t like Calvin and Hobbes anymore — then I was right to be afraid as a teenager, because it would mean I had become someone else entirely.

We’ll never have to clean a plate
Of veggie glops and goos.
Messily we’ll masticate
Using any fork we choose!

The timber wolves will be our friends.
We’ll stay up late and howl,
At the moon, till nighttime ends,
Before going on the prowl.

Oh, what a life! We cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!

908

One of the weirdest things about this trip is the peek it gives on how I could have turned out.

I’m a bit of a celebrity here, because I’m the only one of Flint’s children who made it to his sister’s funeral (the big man himself was explicitly uninvited, and was smart enough to stay away).

Of course, no one here really knows me. They know a part of my story, or what I was like when I was eight or ten or fourteen. (One aunt refuses to refer to me by my name, she calls me “the genius” instead, like I’m from a different world.)

I’m asked a lot why I never moved back to montreal, why I’m not moving back now. There’s opportunity abound (this cousin just bought a fido store on a whim, that uncle runs a very successful new media firm, etc.) and it’s difficult to articulate my reasons in ways that make any sense to them.

The stories shared over drinks (congac that I could never afford, let alone appreciate) are equally alien: turning Bill Gates down for an opportunity to invest in Microsoft in ’73, trying to call a cab to a family-owned factory in the heart of Compton at 4AM, or paying off a hit on a brother to save their life (and then telling them years later how much they regretted it).

More to come as I get the chance to post it.

4W/6E

While I was there, I lived for the quiet moments of shared space with other people, but now I mostly remember the sounds and the smells — like how the floor would go dark and quiet after lockup, and what the wooden spoons they used to give you with ice cream would taste like.

You couldn’t keep them, of course. Too many girls had driven splinters into their arms, and so the orderlies made sure they were all collected after we finished eating.

When they’d let us, we’d go to the games room to play pool and listen to music. We only had a few tapes, and we played them over and over until they were so worn and thin it sounded like we were underwater. Whenever I hear any of that music today — Fixed, Unplugged in New York — I’m always amazed at how crisp and full it sounds.

Hurry home, Spring.

softer, lesser, slower, weaker

I took a sick day today. I’m feeling pretty icky, but mostly I’ve just got the winter blues, and I wasn’t up to a Monday morning.

I feel like shit whining about how I feel like shit, especially since I’m well aware how heavily the season is weighing on my mood. I know that it’s exaggerated, and that if it were bright and sunny I wouldn’t really feel this way, but that doesn’t change what it’s like inside my own skin.

I’m not going to be heading out on the Chemlab tour with Cyanotic. The details of why aren’t really important, but mostly it just didn’t make for good logistics.

I’d like to take some of my vacation time and travel somewhere, commitment-free. Nowhere fancy or far away, just somewhere where I won’t be DJing, playing, working, or doing anything out of obligation. A week in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, to drink coffee, explore the streets at night, and wrap myself in the anonymity that comes with being a stranger in a big city.

I do have friends and family in all of these places, but I’m not sure that my navel-gazing would make for good company. I’m also not sure where I stand with a lot of these people — not for any reason other than the erosion that silence and distance work on relationships — and I don’t want to impose my yearly existential crisis on anyone else.

I don’t talk much about why this time of year upsets me so much, or about the place that it puts me in.

A year or three ago, I wrote my excessively wordy LJ bio:

“I would tell you of my childhood, but I remember very little. I lived with my mother, and I was sixteen before I saw both of my parents in the same room together. I remember moving, always moving. I remember being kidnapped when I was eight, and a Christmas that the Hell’s Angels gave us a tree and gifts when we didn’t have money for food, much less toys […]

Mostly I remember a sense of profound sadness; A feeling that above all, life is about survival, and little else.”

That’s what Christmas reminds me of, and that’s how winter makes me feel. I was always profoundly aware every Christmas just how poor we were, and how hard my mother worked to bring my brother and I that single day of toys, smiles, and happiness. She’d do everything she could to get us whatever it was we’d been dreaming of all year (which was almost certainly video games), and more often than not she’d succeed — but it wasn’t what she gave us that was depressing, it was the struggle itself. It brought into sharp focus just how little life cares for fairness, how naive the idea of karma really was.

When I was a very, very young child, it was Kelvin, my grandfather, who would take me fishing, or to a new movie, or to the arcade. He wasn’t related to me by blood, but he was my grandfather, and I loved him as much as I loved my mother.

He died on Christmas day when I was eight. My mother didn’t tell me until Boxing Day, and I vividly remember how numbing the news was. I didn’t feel shocked, or sad, or much of anything at all. I didn’t cry when she told me, or at his funeral, and in all truth and honesty I don’t remember crying again until I was fourteen and I found a hidden folder of stories and comics on a friend’s computer, each one making fun of me in a different way: My hair, my nose, my teeth, my voice, my everything.

I do have good memories of Christmas — staying up all night and all day with Josh playing our new Nintendo 64, seeing the little furry ball of kitten that my mother surprised me with, sitting on the porch with Tracy Page and smoking cigarettes, watching the snow fall — but they’re few, far between, and hopelessly outnumbered.

Now I try to spend Christmas with friends, in a quiet, safe space; but Christmas is just one day in a long winter.

This is why I travel so much during winter, in spite of how unhappy the cold makes me. When I’m writing in an empty Toronto cafe with the wind pounding at the door, or walking down St. Catherine between giant snowflakes, that’s my insulation. My quiet, safe space. It’s not fair to expect my friends and family to shore me up emotionally every day until the sun comes back.

630

From the mid-60s to the early-80s, Western culture experienced a period known as the ‘Consciousness Revolution’. It started with Vietnam protesting, and the development of counterculture for counterculture’s sake. Green, feminist, black power, and a number of other movements came out of this period. There was a generation gap, with the Greatest Generation on one side, and the Baby Boomers on the other.

This is the environment in which the Baby Busters and the Generation X crowd were born and raised.

Gen Xers (as I’m sure you all remember), grew up at the end of the Cold War, and watched multinational corporations come to power at the same time as the Soviet Union collapsed, developing cynicism and disdain for the works of the generations past. We can call this cynicism The Nirvana Effect.

In any case, Gen Xers tended to band together, and build their own works and communities, rather than rely on the ones they inherited. Whether it was a revival of political action, development of record labels, or the entrepreneurships which led to the dot-com boom, they banded together, and built things.

…and then, of course, came the hilariously and iteratively named Generation Y. Gen Y grew up with computers in their schools, didn’t watch the Challenger explode, and only saw the Berlin Wall fall in history class. IT has always been a part of the world around them, and like Gen X, they banded together, and built things. While these things may consist of elements as distasteful as pop punk, emo and That’s So Raven, they still built things.

However.

There was a gap of several years between Gen X and Gen Y. Not a big one, just a few years. The people born in this gap are creatively called Generation XY, or The No Generation (although I prefer The Doom Generation).

They grew up in a very narrow transition period. Young enough to enjoy The Simpsons as a cartoon when it first aired, and old enough to enjoy it as comedy genius when the Cape Feare episode aired. Old enough to remember when Nintendo led the world out of the darkness after The Great Video Game Crash.

They watched the Berlin Wall fall, and were the last people to be born with any memory of life during the Cold War. They grew up with Carmen Sandiego and TMNT, and watched technology move from the realm of research and sci-fi into BBS networks, and the creation of the World Wide Web.

However.

There aren’t really many of them, comparatively speaking. They’re not large enough of a demographic to be marketed to by advertisers, or addressed by politicians. The ‘great albums’ of the late 80s and early 90s had already been written and released, and the great TV shows were absent, or incomprehensible. Too late to have seen Battlestar Galactica, and too young to know what the fuck was going on in Twin Peaks. They had Saved By The Bell instead, which, while featuring a cast of characters and a puntastic premise (Principal Belding. Saved By The Bell. Bells go ‘ding’. Get it?), still sucked hairy goat balls.

This generation is markedly characterized by a complete lack of association or identity with the popular or political movements that were present as they grew up, or that developed afterwards. They did not band together, they did not build things. They just watched the world as everything happened around them.

While usually I can fake being part of the older Gen X world with my overwhelmingly Gen X friends, or pretend like I understand what the fuck those little Gen Y jerks are on about, I can’t do it today.

Today, I feel exactly like the out of place person-without-a-culture that I am.

Do you sleep soundly?

I’ve written a few times about my childhood, but I can never find the words to convey the feeling of fragility and conflict that was a part of every day, every activity, every material possession. I am my father’s son, and this relation alone is enough to ensure I always sit with my back to a wall. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived so close to violence can understand.

When I was young, I lived for a time with my father and his family in Montreal. There was an ongoing power struggle between my father, and the other organized crime figures in the area. Several of my father’s friends and family had suffered kidnappings, brutal attacks, and countless acts of property damage, in an attempt to persuade my father to back off. My father has never backed off.

I was placed in the care of my aunt and uncle, and their two daughters. I was given a nice room, a comfortable bed, and more than enough books to read. We had private security, an alarm system, and a police trained german shepard.

I had only been there a week or so when my uncle came in my room to pick a suit jacket from the closet, as he did every morning, and found the cuffs to every jacket had been cut off, neatly folded, and placed in the pocket of the jacket, which was then buttoned closed. There were probably about twenty jackets in the closet, which opened up right next to the nighttable of my bed.

I was flown to Halifax shortly after.

The Hood: 1991-1997

The Hood: 1991-1997

The Hood: 1991-1997


The Hood: 1991-1997

This is it: Craig Henry. Anyone who knew me when I was a teenager knew this place.

If you click-through to the Flickr page, you’ll see my annotations and notes. It’s incredible how strongly I feel about this place. Writing even the few works on the Flickr entry has really left me shaken and sad.

I drove by here in a Taxi last week, to visit my mother. I hadn’t been out there in years, and when I saw all the new massive big-box stores and the suburban house developments, it literally made me ill.

I can’t write anything more about it.

5000km

I read my own biography today:

I was born to a mother who was a biker, a graduate of the streets and the right hand of my father, who was a nightclub baron and was also diverse enough in his business dealings to be crowned “The King of Coke” on the front page of the paper when they took him down.

I would tell you of my childhood, but I remember very little. I lived with my mother, and I was sixteen before I saw both of my parents in the same room together. I remember moving, always moving. I remember being kidnapped when I was eight, and a Christmas that the Hell’s Angels gave us a tree and gifts when we didn’t have money for food, much less toys. There was abuse and trauma, but this is so common as to be typical, and I suffered nothing that a million others have not.

Mostly I remember a sense of profound sadness; A feeling that above all, life is about survival, and little else.

Sometimes I wonder what Joshua remembers of those times, if he remembers the asshole addict babysitters, or the urgency in our mother’s voice as she explained that we’d be moving again, a thousand kilometres away.

Then, I wonder about our little brother Charlie, and how different his childhood memories will be. My mother’s a thousand kilometres away again, but this time she moved because of what was waiting for her. A house, and a quiet life by the sea

I remember being a teenager, and always watching for the white van with the incompetent RCMP officers who thought we didn’t know they were there, or listening for the click on the phone line that meant every word would be recorded, examined, dissected. I remember the knowing looks from officers in the courtrooms, on the street, everywhere.

And I think about what’s waiting for me, thousands of kilometres away.

A house, and a life by the sea.

11

I’ve been consistently finding myself at a loss for words, trying to take emotions of the last weeks, and trying to sample them down to simple ascii characters.

There is something cathartic in this, but also a feeling that not all has been said, that not all can be communicated in this medium. That somehow, a small glance given over a coffee would be more than enough to convey everything that I’m feeling — but not this text, these words.

When I was young, I was caught unawares by a total lunar eclipse. I was at a park surrounded by trees, and when the moon began to fade, and change colour, I climbed to the top of the playstructure to see what was happening, how someone could simply be turning the moon off.

After it went out, I swear that there was no light at all, only the most perfect velvet black around me. Blind, I found my way down to the earth, and wandered into the forest, to try and see if the whole world had just shut down, if everything was dark forever.

And when I thought perhaps it was going to be dark forever, there appeared a crescent of light in the sky, a beautiful ice blue, and on every leaf and branch and surface that could cast a shadow, there was a miniature blue moon, dancing with the wind.

I cannot put into words how I felt then. I cannot put into words how I feel now.

More:
egyptian gods watching me behind glass, still and cold.
jessica kissing my cheek as I left, snowflakes everywhere.
the fog on the ottawa river reaching to a purple sky, tearing itself apart.
hearing leslie’s whispered secrets, unable to look away.
the outro of ‘2 rights make 1 wrong’, the first time.
stepping off a bus in edmonton after a three day ride, knowing amanda was there.
at christo’s mother’s cottage, making sacred space.
telling stories around the bonfire, every one of us friends.
knowing that i had come home.