Lise Johnston has some of the most diverse interests of anyone I know. From bad dance movies to new wave French cinema, to baking, power tools, science fiction and Russian literature, she enjoys high brow and low brow indiscriminately and without shame. We have been friends for over a decade so I was curious what I would learn about her in this interview. I begin by asking what her parents do.
My father is a general practitioner, and my mom, I guess she’s an artist slash mom. I was deciding what I should say because what she always says is that she is singlehandedly saving the Anglican church. I don’t really know what that means but that’s what she says.
How is she saving it?
I don’t know! By attempting to teach students about the traditions of Anglicanism because they don’t care and my mom doesn’t like that because she likes the traditions of Anglicanism, like the Book of Common Prayer et cetera. Which is why she gives the book to anyone who shows the slightest interest in it at all.
We have this thing called like learner’s exchange and she did one. They get a speaker to talk about anything vaguely related to Christianity or Anglicanism.
What did she talk about?
Definitely the prayer book. It was like specifically a talk about why the prayer book is important. And what parts of it are, and why it’s good and shouldn’t just be thrown away because the language is from the 16th century.
How long has your dad been a GP?
I think that the first year my parents were married, which was 1980, he was doing his… I just know the American doctor show terminology, so I don’t know what it’s called in Canada, I guess it’s an internship… in Saskatoon. They didn’t have a honeymoon, cause my dad was in the middle of medical school so there was no time for a honeymoon. Then they spent a year in William’s Lake and he was the head of the emergency ward or something. My mom got pregnant with my brother and everyone in the entire town knew about it like 3 days later and my mom realized that being the wife of the doctor in a small town was … that everyone knew when they had sex apparently.
And then they moved to Vancouver in 1983. He was doing locum work, which is when you are a temporary replacement to another GP in family practice. Or whatever, it’s called a locum no matter what. They moved into our house then. They rented it and the week I was born they bought it. The people they bought it from are my dad’s patients and they gave them a deal on the house apparently. It was $500,000, which in 1987 was a shit load of money and my mom’s entire family thought she was insane. Apparently grandfather flipped out and did his usual ‘Jesus Christ Norah what the fuck are you doing? You’re going to bankrupt yourselves.” But we all showed them…Vancouver is on the up and up.
Has your relationship changed a lot in the last few years?
Well the entire time I was a teenager my brother was on meth. I was like a secondary concern which, completely, I’m not angry about but I felt like there was not a lot of time in their lives for me on a serious level. I hung out with my dad a lot. Maybe that’s why we’re friends more. But my mom was really depressed and she felt like she couldn’t leave the house because my brother would come home and steal anything.
I remember when I was like 12, Melissa, [the daughter of a family friend] took me to see some movie at Oakridge and it ended at 11:00. We missed the bus and we just decided to walk home. It was me and her and her cousin Diego. Meli was like 16 and Diego was 18 or something and it took us 2 hours to walk home. I was 12 and I got home at 1 o’clock, 1:30 in the morning. We stopped at a 24 hours grocery store for cotton candy. I remember there was no repercussions for that on me. My dad was mad at Meli and Diego obviously…but it was like, there was no time to be mad at me.
Like what did I do in high school? I did nothing, I never did anything wrong but I also never tried, at all, ever and no one really cared because my brother would disappear for days and that’s why I’m crying. So that’s yeah my relationship with my parents. They suddenly actually kind of care where I am, which is nice.
Are there any memories of your parents, together or separately that stand out?
My dad cut off three of his fingers with a dado blade on a table saw when I was like nine months old and he’s fallen off the roof twice. The third time he didn’t actually fall off the roof, he just slipped a little bit so that doesn’t count. And the first time he did it he wasn’t hurt. I was building a box, which I am fully capable of using a table saw correctly, since the first time I was allowed to use one by myself I was nine or ten years old, and last year I was cutting some plywood really unsafely and it kicked back and punched me in the stomach. I got really dizzy and then I phoned Dad and he said ‘Do you feel nauseous’ and I said ‘No’ and then he said ‘Ahh you’re probably fine.’ I’m sure that my complete disregard for my own safety when it comes to power tools: he definitely taught me that.
So just Dad almost killing himself – but the reasons he was doing that which is fixing things in ridiculous ways. They always end up looking really good when he’s done. It starts out looking terrible but then when it’s all finished it looks amazing and I think that’s exactly how I work. I start out and it’s like a bomb exploding and then at the end it’s, well not amazing but…
There’s just so much mess when he makes anything. The bathroom. He designed everything and he found all the stuff and it looked terrible. He had some guys come in and grind a pan for the shower out of the concrete floor and the entire house was covered in dust for like 6 weeks because it was so fine and it was settling. My mom wouldn’t vacuum because she knew there would still be more. Everything he does is a disaster at the beginning but then it looks cool.
My dad just taught me how to build stuff. And how to fix things. And how to hurt myself but I just brush it off and keep going. Dad taught me how to build everything and he started teaching me when I was like an infant.
The biggest way my mother has shaped my life is that she used to be really really obsessive compulsive about how clean the kitchen counters are. My brother and I would have to do it over and over and over again until she could run her finger over the counter and it would not come up with any crap. Now I’m also that way and I hate it but I can’t help myself. Dirty dishes are fine – but if the dishes are supposed to be clean they better be frickin’ the cleanest dishes you ever SAW.
Except now mom’s eyesight is going she doesn’t really care any more and it’s awesome.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
My parents are pretty cool.