Friday, February 13, 2015

Non-Virtual Life

by Jean Roberta;_ylt=A2KIoB0Id5U7io

(Ack. Here is my pitiful attempt to embed the original video of "Your Daddy Don't Know" by the band Toronto from 1982. It was the themesong of my life at the time.)

Ah, the intensity of the 1980s. I never had big hair because mine never grew that way, but I tried.

I could rock a wrap dress in those days, especially when it was paired with hoop earrings and stilettos.

It was a decade of first-times. I entered the sex trade and had sex for money for the first time with a man I had never met before. It was exciting and scary, since I didn’t know if I could continue to earn grocery money that way while staying alive and out of jail.

I was living in a co-op for low-income single parents, and hoping to give my daughter a “normal” childhood, whatever that might be. I didn’t know the best way to deal with tantrums and resistance to eating vegetables and demands for things I couldn’t afford. I suspected that no parent knows the best way to cope with such behaviour, but I was a divorced white woman raising a mulatto child. I knew that if any representative of a government agency took a close look at my life, they would probably find a reason to take my only child away and put her in a foster home. I needed to stay under the radar.

My daughter learned about video games from her friends. We had no computer, and I couldn’t imagine buying one, since I didn’t think I needed anything that complicated and expensive – it would be like acquiring my own space station! But then we learned that the same kind of games that are played in arcades could be played on a TV. How could I deprive my kid of something that all the other kids had?

One of my single-mother friends sold me a second-hand game for $80. Apparently that was less than the cost of a new one, but I was aghast. And then my daughter got bored with it.

The Spirit of the Eighties was just too expensive and wasteful for my taste. And it seemed too late to live in the crunchy-granola culture of the seventies. Nothing forces an adult to keep up with the times like having a child in school.

Luckily, there were resistant pockets of leftist thought. I got hired on a six-month contract to write articles for Network, the journal of the Saskatchewan Action Committee on the Status of Women. I got a few reviews into Briarpatch, a collectively-run leftist mag that couldn’t afford to pay a staff. I even got half-a-volume of poetry published by a small local publisher that combined my poems with those of a woman I had never met. (Despite the assumptions of some people I knew, this was not an example of self-publishing by sistahs who were doin’ it for themselves.)

Near the end of the Eighties, I was thrilled to get a response from a single-woman publisher in another city who liked my collection of lesbian stories and was willing to publish them.

Looking back, I see that era as a Golden Age of small presses and quirky, grass-roots journals and zines with gay/lesbian or feminist themes and audiences. It was also a time when a collectively-run bookstore could flourish. As a member of the collective, I applied to work in the store full-time on a government grant that paid minimum wage, and I got hired. Oh joy!

Who could have foreseen how much the zeitgeist would change?

This is why nostalgia never really returns us to the experience of the past. When we are in the moment, we don’t expect the future to arrive.

On Halloween 1986, I sprinkled baking soda all through my hair to make it look grey, so I could pass for an old witch. Heh. I couldn’t imagine that as my permanent look.



  1. I'm pretty sure "tantrums and resistance to eating vegetables and demands for things I couldn’t afford" is a more-or-less normal childhood. I'm not sure wether my granddaughter's fixation on mac-and-cheese is better or worse than her father's youthful love of Spaghettios. Marginally better, I guess, since one can get organic mac-and-cheese mixes, and the Spaghettios stained worse when projectile vomited. Okay, that was just once, but once was enough.

  2. Jean:
    I can't decide who's story is more edgy, yours or Daddy's. What an amazing tale of survival. My kids wouldn't eat vegetables either. I didn't make them. They have turned into fine young men.

  3. Wrap dresses and hoop earrings. Oh yes. With my flat feet I could never manage stilettos, though.

    And yes, in that "golden age of publishing", it seems (looking back) that creativity and artistic integrity were more important than money. But perhaps that's just an illusion? Or perhaps because few of those collectives survived or flourished from a business perspective, a bit more attention to money might have been appropriate. (I don't know. I wasn't publishing, or trying, in the eighties.)

    "This is why nostalgia never really returns us to the experience of the past. When we are in the moment, we don’t expect the future to arrive."

    This might be the perfect summary of this fortnight, Jean.

  4. What a wide range of experience is represented on these pages. The 80's were a breakout for many. Susie Bright's memoir is largely set in those times as well.

  5. Thank you for commenting, all. And now I realize that I left out some fairly important aspects of the Eighties: the first few cases of *gay pneumonia* that became the AIDS epidemic by the end of the decade. The clash between Seventies activism (especially feminist) and a rising conservative backlash. (Backlash by Susan Faludi provides solid evidence of this.) I think there was a lack of business sense among inexperienced individuals and collectives that tried to run small businesses to sell worthwhile products or services, including books. A general, vague leftist belief that making a profit is sinful was not helpful, but then, a focus on making money to the exclusion of everything else does not lead to a satisfying life, IMO. The Eighties seem to have been a decade of extremes.

  6. As someone who was quite young during the eighties, I'm always jealous when I read about things I wasn't yet ready to appreciate, like your bookstore run by a collective, etc. In general, though, I think it's hard to locate oneself in the cool part of a moment, and those things never seem possible to hold onto.

    Thanks for the vivid post!