Wednesday, September 08, 2010

20 years later

For some reason this seems to be a time of anniversaries for me. I mentioned that Cathy and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary back in July. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how we just marked the fifth anniversary of moving to Nunavut. And now I have another one on me. Except I can't remember the exact date. But I know it was around this time because MUN is back in session this week. And this particular anniversary always coincides with the start of classes with MUN.

By the way, I am in no way diminishing the importance of my wedding, which is obviously a huge day in my life. But to me the bigger day there was always in November, which is when my friend Suzy first introduced me to Cathy. The wedding doesn't happen, obviously, without that day. Moving to Nunavut is obviously big in shaping how our lives have been the past five years.

But the day 20 years ago when I saw my friend Murdo Messer walk into the Muse office and I decided to pop in and say hi to him has shaped everything that's happened to me over the past 20 years.

I know I've written about the Muse, MUN's student newspaper, before. But hang in there with me a minute.

The simple story is this. In the fall of 1990 I was start my third year at MUN, working on a history degree. For at least a year or so I'd been getting restless to do more at MUN then just go to classes. I was thinking of running for student council or perhaps joining the Muse. I'd always wanted to review movies and thought I'd be pretty good at it. However, my girlfriend at the time, Pam, vetoed the idea pretty heavily. Part of it was her being worried about how much time I'd have for her, what with me working 20 hours a week at Pizza Hut and doing five classes a semester, how much time was I going to have for her?

However, she also just hated the paper. Not uncommon as a good chunk of the student population hated the Muse for one reason or another. It was pretty left wing, what with its Gay and Lesbian issue, it's environmental issue, women's issue and arts issue. Some students just loathed it and considered it a waste of money. But I always read it and enjoyed it.

But on this day in September of 1990 I was walking out of the area on the second floor of the Thompson Student Centre where they sold used text books. Across the hall was the entrance to the Muse. And that's where I spotted Murdo walking into the office. I knew him from the couple of years we worked together at Shoppers Drug Mart. I'd lost track of him since I left Shoppers for the Hut and figured I'd just pop in for a second to say hi.

Here's the thing about the Muse. You never just "popped in" for a second. Once you went through the doors and someone noticed you were a new person, they were all over you. "Do you like to write? Have you ever thought about joining the Muse?" And the big hook, "Have you seen this huge pile of free music we have over here? All you have to do is review a tape and its yours."

And I do like free music...

I spoke with Murdo for a few minutes and then the paper's editor at the time, Dawn Mitchell, grabbed me. She quickly sussed out that I wanted to review movies and, in short order, I was the paper's movie critic. It's a bit of a whirlwind, when I think about it. The first thing I actually wrote for the paper is so bad I keep it on hand just to curb any hubris I might develop about how great a writer I am. Hideous.

(Staff photo, Fall 1990, taken weeks after I joined the paper. Note the hair I possessed back then.)

It seems odd to say that joining a student newspaper changed everything for me, but it did. Pam, the girlfriend? Gone within six months. There were any number of reasons for the break-up, but let's not kid ourselves, her seething contempt for the paper I was spending so much extra time at, and that she refused to spend one second in the office if she could help it, contributed. It was devastating at the time, but nine months later I met Kirsten through the paper and Pam became one of those "what was I thinking?" lessons you learn as a young man in university. I was thinking of marrying Pam at one point. If I hadn't joined the Muse, if I hadn't met Kirsten, I might have. That seems insane now, but who knows.

(Staff Photo: Fall 1991. Taken in the lobby of the Engineering Bldg just to piss them off since they hated us so much. The guy in the black hat in the front row is Murdo. It's all his fault I joined the paper. The girl with the short blond hair to the left of him is Kirsten. This was taken a few weeks before we started going out.)

I was studying history at MUN at the time and under increasing pressure from my father to do education because "what can you do with a history degree?" But I hated education. Then, one day, while sitting in the Muse office waiting to write an education exam I knew I was going to fail I had an epiphany. I loved writing. I loved writing news. There are people who do that for a living. They're called journalists. Why not do that for a career?

And so what surely would have been a doomed and ugly career as a teacher was nipped in the bud and a career as journalist began. I don't think I even knew or understood how much I loved writing until I joined the paper.

But just as importantly, I met some of the best friends of my life at that paper. It's not exactly a secret on this blog that high school was mostly a disaster for me. My circle of friends tended to be pretty small. I often felt like no one understood me.

By god the people I met at that paper got me. I made sarcastic quips and people laughed. I might go on a bitter rant that would scare away others, but these guys would join right in. They helped shape my politics, my taste in music and probably in dozens of other ways I can't even imagine. When people tried to storm the newspaper and trash it because we wrote something they hated, we weathered it together. We got each other pizza at 4 am on an endless production nights. They made me feel better when I got dumped, I drove them home when they were drunk and had no money for a cab. But mostly we just laughed a whole hell of a lot.

One of the saddest days in my life was when I graduated MUN in 1994 and realized I had to leave the Muse. You have to, of course. You can't spend forever at a student newspaper. But it hurt a lot when I had to leave that behind and move on to the next phase of my life.

You can move on, of course, but that doesn't mean you leave everything behind. Twenty years later my friends from the Muse remain some of the most important people in my life. The MC at my wedding was a Muser. My best man and one of the groomsmen was a Muser. One of Cathy's bridesmaids was a Muser. We joke we're all going to end up in the same retirement home one day. God, I can only hope so.

(Our wedding in 2005: From l-r, Ted, Lorie, me, Melissa, Hans, Dups, Chris, Andrew, Lisa, Corey and Donna. All Musers. Chris and Lisa, along with Corey and Donna, got married the same week as Cathy and I did. This is one of my favourite photos.)

I don't know if it's the smartest or most important thing I did in my life, but it's certainly got to be top two or three. I grew up at the Muse, in every sense of the word. I became a better writer, a better person because of the Muse.

I once quipped that I learned more at my time at the Muse than I did in all my years going to classes at MUN. My father didn't think much of that quote when it got around (some bright lad used it as a marketing quote to get people to join the paper), but it's true.

So to my friends at the Muse, scattered all across the world these days, thanks for four of the great years in my life. Twenty years later, it still means the world to me....

Last Five
1. Blitzed - The Raveonettes
2. Time's arrow - The Weakerthans
3. Skeletons - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4. Cruel April - Sean Panting
5. Are we waiting - Green Day


SRD said...

wow. those pictures. (oddly, somehow you all look younger in 91 than in 90.) sigh.

rohodster said...

Y'know, something about this blog entry stuck a chord with me. I wish I had joined the MUSE or soething like that when I was at MUN.

towniebastard said...

I always encourage anyone going to MUN or any other university to get involved with something on campus, whether its student newspaper, radio station, student council, or a club or society. Your time at university is immeasurably enriched by the experience.