My Freakin’ Life pt 3: 2008

Another new year, another crossroad in my life. It was the beginning of 2008, and it was time to piss or get off the pot.

I’d been having this on-again, off-again relationship with Canada Post for over a year by this point. As a letter carrier (aka “mailman”) for the nation’s postal service, I was very well-paid, for the small price of my health and sanity. Like many, many other postal employees before me, I was finding the job incredibly hard on my body. In fact, by the end of 2007 I’d found it nearly impossible, and ended up leaving for extended periods while I tried to figure out if my back, knees, hips, shoulders or feet were going to start working properly again or if I was going to end up as some sort of cripple.

The only pics I could find on my computer from 2008 were of an outing I made one day to snap some graffiti pics down by the train tracks in Halifax. Not sure who this writer is but looks sort of like Deza’s style.

To understand where my head was at during this time, a little context is necessary. After high school, I’d spent almost my entire late teens and twenties working (primarily as a bike messenger in Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax). When I was about 25 I started Zero, which later morphed into ZBQ, and by the age of 30 it had grown to the point where I was finally fully self-employed. After 12 years of slogging it out in the trenches of the work force, I’d achieved my dream of being my own boss, and for the next 5 years I saw that dream grow and thrive into something I was extremely proud of. By 2005 ZBQ’s fortunes had grown to the point where I thought the future was only going to get better.

But in 2006 I’d started to hit the wall, in more ways than one. The company had grown too quickly and acquired a fair amount of debt that was getting harder and harder to manage. I made some really stupid mistakes with money, spending large amounts on print advertising in VICE and other magazines, and was falling further and further behind on my regular bills. My main supplier, American Apparel, cut me off about halfway through the year and I had to resort to using an inferior brand for blanks. And while all this was happening I was having some sort of nervous breakdown after having spent nearly 2 years practically living in my print shop- exhaustion doesn’t begin to describe how profoundly burned out I was. I was working myself to death with nothing to show for it. So it’s not hard to see why, when given the opportunity, I’d paused ZBQ to move out west and jumped at the chance for the job with Canada Post.

This is Aper, who was a very active writer back then. Wild, styles.

But the adjustment to the new situation had been a lot harder than I’d anticipated- not only physically, but mentally as well. Here I was getting up at 6AM every day, finding myself in this regimented, almost military type of environment, sorting mail for hours under bright florescent lights before trudging through another long, cold, miserable day- whereas only a very short time before, I’d been riding high with ZBQ and it had seemed as if things were on an increasingly upward trajectory. I started to feel a little bit gypped, to tell you the truth: after battling for years, I’d lost, and society had won. I started to wonder whether maybe, nervous breakdown notwithstanding, I’d given up on my dreams a little too easily, and now I was stuck in a situation that was demanding every ounce of my time and energy.

To my credit, I had lasted over a year with the post. I didn’t like working that much, but the money was quite decent and I had to admit that it was for the best if I really gave it my best effort. And I know that I did, no question. But by the end of 2007, I had nothing left to give. Not only that, but my pogey had run out. Someone at Service Canada told me that I would be able to continue to receive more benefits, but only if I officially quit my job. As I found out later, that was most likely not true, but at the time I was desperate. So in January of 2008 I tendered my resignation. I would never be a letter carrier again (or so I thought).


My family took my quitting a lot harder than I did. I think that when I got hired at Canada Post it had been the first time my parents were actually proud of me for anything. They’d always been nearly completely indifferent to ZBQ or for that matter anything else I’d taken an interest in. But they were old school, and Canada Post was seen as a “Career”: one I was willfully walking away from. My dad actually cried when I told him. I felt like a loser and a quitter, and it took a long time to get over those feelings.

My maternal grandmother, who I’d been quite close with, died in May. That summer, my father passed away unexpectedly. It was a double blow and life has never really been the same since. Some say you don’t really become a man until your father dies. I’m not sure about that, but it sure makes you reflect on your own mortality a lot more, and you start taking a lot less for granted.

Another APER piece.

I began living the “Canadian dream”, which of course is to spend as much time as possible drawing employment insurance benefits. And it was good, because I needed time for my body to heal, and I also started to get back more into ZBQ world again. I started sharing a new print shop with my old crew from ECLips, so began working on a ton of new prints. It was a tough winter- there were multiple visits to the food bank- but I was feeling optimistic about life again.

I was offered an opportunity through my employment insurance benefits that seemed too good to be true: I could be sponsored to return to school, as long as it was to train for a career that could be shown to have some demand in the work force. And so I chose Information Technology, and I was soon registered to start a 2 year program at the local community college that following autumn. My tuition and books would be covered and I’d continue to receive a modest living allowance.


Why choose IT? Well, my reasons were partially selfish: I wanted to boost my skills as a web developer to potentially get work, but also to be better able to manage and improve my existing site. There was also a business management course that was part of the foundation year that I thought would be helpful for me.

The only thing was, in order to get into the really juicy web development stuff, I had to spend a whole year doing all these foundational courses, and most of them were about as exciting as watching paint dry. Networking in particular was a real struggle, not only to comprehend the material but just to stay awake in class. I did get to take one web dev course which covered a lot of the exciting new things happening with XML and CSS at the time, but everything else was incredibly dull.

Unknown wheat paste, west end. Street art in Halifax was really thriving for many years.

Not only was the material dull, I was actually getting less money from the government to live on now that I was trying to do something with my life. That’s right, they’d given me more money every month when I’d been sitting on my ass, and even that had been barely enough to scrape by. So I was starting to find it really hard making ends meet. Luckily I was able to get some custom screen printing work, and ZBQ continued to sell a few shirts during this time, but the new print shop was in Dartmouth (Halifax’s sister city which is right next to it). I didn’t have a car, and the bus ride to get over there was nearly an hour each way.

All of these factors started working together to make the whole school experience more and more challenging for me. I had never been a model student in my high school days, and a lot of the same bad habits and patterns started to rear themselves: procrastination, skipping as many classes as I could get away with, doing the bare minimum on assignments. I stopped going by November.

If you know the neighborhoods around Dalhousie University, you might recognize this bridge. Just beneath it was a portal to an evolving gallery of spraypainted expression that was often surprisingly exciting.

So I wasn’t feeling great about myself. I’d quit a great job and then I quit school. I was broke, my shirt line was a shadow of its former self and I was still physically a mess from the year at the PO. Self-esteem had ebbed to a new low.

I was bloodied but unbowed. Well a wise person once said that when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. I’d long wanted to start exploring the world of cut-and-sew fashion, and try my hand at making my own clothes. Printing on pre-fabricated t-shirts had become mostly pretty boring and unchallenging. As 2008 drew to a close, I picked up a cheap sewing machine and started messing around with it in my basement. It would be a crucial pivot, both for ZBQ and for my life.

Sun’s low in the sky. Snap one more pic and head home. Still not really sure why I took so few pictures that year- I was probably without a working camera. It sort of makes me sad.

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