Field Trips

No. 28 >> The Creative Spaces Issue: Where we work and play.

MAKING THE WORK // Writers at Home

A. and I live in a 604-square-foot condo-style apartment, which costs about the same to rent as a mortgage on a three-bedroom house with a yard in most small towns. We’ve had to make some adjustments lately because we work here too. 

It started with A. He’s in the “multi-purpose room” at the dining table. The table used to be at the end with the window. He’d sit with his back to the window so he was facing the room. That meant that if I came into the room we’d be facing each other. Instead of having to respond to me with his face, thus potentially distracting himself from his work, he developed a sign system. One side of the tented sign he used the most often said “Working” and the other side said “In”. Sometimes there were other signs too, meant to give off the power of suggestion. For example, “Getting Laid” or “Eating Snacks”—neither of which he’d be doing, but was hoping to do. When those signs were out he was usually just laying on the couch reading. 

Now the dining table is tucked up near a corner and A. can look out the window at the CN Tower. It used to be that he cleared the table every day after work so we could eat, but that had become another problem, so for a couple weeks now he’s had it set up like a desk with his own tchotchkes and stacks (and stacks) of paper on it. It can be cleared easily enough for guests, or games nights, or Pancake Sundays, but there’s been a paradigmic shift, so it’s now his desk that’s sometimes a table and not the other way around. We’re considering getting TV trays so that we can eat in the living room area a few feet over instead. In the meantime, we’ve been balancing meals on our laps or eating in bed while partaking in long-form narrative (i.e. binge-watching Nashville).

I work in the “den” (I prefer the term “lair”), which is really a nook by the front door. If I want to look out the window, I have to scoot my chair to the left by about a foot, then lean over the side and hang my head down the hall. For the most part, I’ve gotten used to working in the dark. After A.’s workspace got rearranged though, mine started to feel stale. It'd also become too cluttered. Plus, I’ve always had a hate on for the Builder’s Beige paint that came with the apartment (to quote my friend Roy Green, “Beige is the colour of the hopeless/ beige is the colour of the bland/ beige is the colour of the chubby inner thighs of a bald, old English man.”) We eradicated the beige in half the apartment last summer, but that didn’t include the den. So, after de-cluttering last week, I went and got a quart of paint.

Now my den/lair is painted “Coco Chenille”, like the bedroom. For some reason, what feels serene and plush in the bedroom, feels a bit rock n’ roll back here (I’m sure this is only in my head), so now I keep my guitar back here too. It's good for creative cross-training, even though it means playing the same Annie Lennox song (“I Need You”) and PJ Harvey song (“Desperate Kingdom of Love”) over and over again (choices that reflect my fraught earlier years), with the odd verse of “You Are My Sunshine” or “Miss Ohio” thrown in.  

For now, our writing spaces are as rejuvenated as they can be and it’s helping, but I’m not going to lie: we still long for the day when we have enough space for us to each have a writing room we can go to. It's not about physical space—it's about psychological space and doors that close. Though it has to be said that the current open concept makes it easier to stalk each other, which is part of what makes our work days fun. It’s so entertaining to hear what noises someone makes when you scare them out of that faraway place in their head, or at least, it breaks up the day. 

FIELD TRIPS // HackLab.TO Open House

A pre-recorded male voice that sounds like a cross between a radio announcer and a carnie comes over the intercom and says, “Welcome to HackLab. Approach stranger. And welcome to our Open House.” 

HackLab is housed in a multi-tenant 70s-style building in Parkdale (it used to be home to Usher’s, “the largest grocery clearance house of its kind in the world”). Our friend Nicolas told us about the place and is meeting us here too. This is what I know about HackLab from their website: 

HackLab.TO is a community space with a diverse membership, including artists, computer programmers, web designers, and hardware hackers. It is inspired by the philosophies of the global hackerspaces movement which encourages people to socialize, share knowledge, and work together on their projects. Newcomers are welcome every Tuesday night at Unpatched Tuesdays.

We use the term “hacking” in the MIT sense. We make things, repurpose things, program things, invent things, and make lights blink!

A. and I go up the stairs and push the door open to the lab and find ourselves in its hub, which consists, at a glance, of laptop stations and hardware storage. There are a handful of people about. When Nicolas arrives, we get a tour from a member named Alex. 

There are four 3-D printers in the hub. Someone is printing an auger on one of them. Beside the 3-D printers there’s a laser cutter that’s been repaired—or hacked—with a new external circuit board and a joystick controller. A member who works for IBM is using it to singe Alfred E. Neuman’s face on Matzos. We’re shown a previous project: a wooden circle about the size of a Chinese Checkers board that’s inscribed with a spiral chain of numbers and a large pi sign in the middle. This is what happens when nerd humour meets design: you end up with a pi plate. 

We see the kitchen next. Two members are making a vegan Indian feast for the open house that smells amazing (in part, they're trying to attract new members who'll pay $50 per month to join their community). Then there’s the lounge, with its board games and books, and the shop, which has a serious ventilation system. On the other side of the space there’s a huge classroom where workshops, movie nights, talks, and other events are held.

Alex shows us a touch screen that’s mounted on the wall with an interface that he’s designed. There are options to choose transit, weather, chat, kitties, or puppies. There’s also a Door Race Leaderboard which clocks the amount of time it takes for members to swipe their cards at the front door and charge up the stairs to the lab (I’m sure it took us nine times longer than the leader—but I dropped my pen on the stairs and was also struggling with the zipper on my coat).

Over by the darkroom, which is situated under “The Treehouse” (a loft lounge with a disco ball that you have to climb a ladder to get to) we meet a guy in a Star Wars t-shirt carrying a “patchable analog synthesizer” called Phenol. He invented the musical instrument and is developing it thanks to a KickStarter campaign that raised over $140,000. 

In another corner with two fluorescent-lit stations that look like dressing tables, is the DIY Bio Lab. A woman and a guy in a lab coat who looks like he’s from central casting are experimenting with beverage products. They have future plans to test grocery meats to see if they’re really what they say they are.

After the tour, we chat to a member who’s sitting at one of the classroom tables tinkering with blinking lights. He tells us that he’s leant his pressure cooker to the DIY Bio Lab so they can sterilize their equipment. He also tells us he’s just lost his job at Future Shop, but is excited about what might come next for him and talks about his interest in virtual reality.

Back in the hub, as we’re getting ready to leave, someone comments on the lab coat that the guy from the DIY Bio Lab is wearing. Someone else suggests that all the members should wear lab coats. Alex, who’s already told us he’s been looking for a use for an embroidery machine, says he could put the HackLab logo on them. There’s a flurry of excitement and Alex is on the Internet looking into ordering lab coats when we close the door behind us.  

The thing we talk about on the way home is the community—the generosity of spirit, the friendliness and humour, the carpe diem attitude. Those things impress us as much as the hacking. It feels special. 


PROJECTS // The Last Occupant of Troy, A Pop-Up Theatre Experience 

One of A.’s plays that he wrote on spec is called The Last Occupant of Troy. It’s about a travelling storyteller, lost in the desert, who finds himself outside the walls of the ancient city. It’s a work that evokes Vaudeville and Beckett, Monty Python and Tennessee Williams. It was described as “too weird and too smart” for production by the last theatre company he sent it to. 

So what do you do when you’re at the mercy of the gatekeepers? How do you create your own opportunities? How do you still show people your work because you believe in its power to entertain?

A. has teamed up with our friend Jordan Bodiguel, a director. Jordan remembered the play from a reading at the Playwrights Theatre Centre in Vancouver years ago and asked A. if he could do something with it... because he thought it was weird and smart... go figure. 

So, Jordan assembled the perfect cast who’ve been seen on stages ranging from the Fringe to Stratford—Matt Gouveia, Mary Pitt, and Mike Rinaldi—and we did a table reading in our living room, with sound and projection designer David Mesiha there too. As they say, magic happened. 

Now, what theatre needs is, of course, a creative space to exist within. Enter Cahoots Theatre Company, where for a reasonable cost, as Jordan discovered, you can host a private event and experiment off the grid. He booked it and now there’s going to be two, by invitation only, staged readings at the end of the month. We're calling it "A Pop-Up Theatre Experience" and there'll be cheap beer and peanuts. 

Austin Kleon, who I’ve quoted before, says in Show Your Work to “Think process, not product.” That’s what this is. It’s a chance to let an audience into a process because art is as much about process as it is about product. We—the seven or eight people now involved—also just like doing fun stuff. Jordan even found an anonymous patron for the event, which feels ooh-la-la and delightfully old school (we’re not saying we’re Shakespeare, but he wouldn’t have been Shakespeare without his patrons).
Guests don’t have to pay to come, but we might ask them to pay to leave. Just kidding. Sort of. Okay, so we’ll ask them for a donation after the reading. But if they don’t have any money (neither do we), they’ll be welcome to donate something else—say, a Tweet, a testimonial, their time or a space for a future iteration of the work, or even just a hearty handshake. We want them to feel part of things. And, if they like the play, to help us spread the word and move it forward in any way they can.