Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's all bad

I don't think that's about to become the new catch phrase its opposite has. But considering today's news, it's hard to view the day as one with anything good about it. And really, just how much depressing news can fit into twenty-four hours?

Five Canadians -- four soldiers and a journalist -- died in Afghanistan today. It was a deadly day for Americans there too. Days like this, it's doubly hard not to think it's a mistake to be over there in the first place.

And to top things off, it looks as if we're back in 'prorogue' mode, with Steve Harper shutting down Parliament until March, after the Winter Olympics.

I'm not sure what kind of government this is -- walking out the door at will -- this time appearing to do so to avoid important questions about our country's possible complicity in torture. The shutdown also gives Harper a window to weasel out of reporting on our plans for climate change, an item we are supposed to give an accounting on by the end of January. But with government 'not in session', that won't happen.

I know this isn't news to anyone. It's been blaring all day. Still, it leaves me feeling shattered. This is where our taxes go? These are people we elected? And a question: if there's any sort of emergency between now and March, what happens? Or does Steve maybe expect we'll just call up Obama and he'll take over?

A bad way to end a year. A worse way to end a decade.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Too many to forget

If you’ve been hypnotized by the lights on the Christmas tree, maybe you haven’t heard or seen any news in the last day or so. If that’s the case you might not realize that today is the 5th anniversary of the largest natural disaster in living memory -- the tsunami that killed over 200,000 people on Boxing Day, 2004.

The scene above is from a beach in Thailand, but one that’s on the Gulf of Thailand, the opposite side from where the devastation took place, the shores of the Indian Ocean. Still, I suspect many beaches that looked much like it were among those destroyed.

As so often is the case, my life gets caught up in what seems to be coincidence. Last night I started reading one of my brand-new gifts, Douglas Coupland’s Generation A. The first character to appear in the book is a Sri Lankan survivor of the tsunami. Page 1 reads like one of the tsunami videos on YouTube, “Imagine walking to the window’s louvred shutters and looking out and seeing the entire contents of the world you know flow past you…palm fronds, donkeys, the local Fanta bottler’s Jeep, unlocked bicycles, dead dogs…”

Thinking of all those people killed in such a short burst of time, I’m brought back to part of a film I caught on TV the other night, Star Wars. When Alderaan is obliterated, Obi-Wan says, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

I think many people felt the same kind of shock after the tsunami hit. How astounding that so much destruction could happen in the space of just a few minutes. Earlier tonight, I lit a candle, and am hoping for peace for those many lost souls.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And to all a good night!


With the reno still going on, this hasn't been a year for much in the way of Christmas baking around here. Despite that, I've still managed a few frantic moments.

Xmas Song

the singing of carols
is politically incorrect
so
i suppose
is this poem


the shopping frenzy virus
sends us frothing
to the malls

a spending fix to soothe
the fevered lists that grow
longer every day by ding-dong day

time for an assembly line
the oven is so hot
ribbons curl like earthworms
poking up from cookie dough

chop chop
bake bake
wrap wrap
swish
our lady of perpetual motion
have mercy on us

Do one less thing than you think you have to, and trust that all will work out. Have a Christmas that is fun and relaxing, one that allows you to enjoy the people you love.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Return of the Light

Sunset today was just about half an hour ago -- 16:16.

There's still a bit of light in the sky, a sign of things to come.

Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah – so many autumn and winterfests are based in celebrating the Light.

The one I love best is Solstice. How remarkable that someone noticed this as the day the light would start coming back.

One of the first times I realized the power of the Solstice was in a hokey old movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth. That was the summer solstice, still. It mattered where the sun was.

Today has been a turning point on a couple of other fronts too. Looking forward to the Light coming back for all of us.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Embarrassing

I'm no pro at PhotoShop, so my altered flag might not quite do the job of expressing my shame and embarrassment over Canada's non-performance at Copenhagen.

Aside from 'winning' awards for Fossil of the Day and then Fossil of the Year, Canada didn't show an ounce of leadership. A single three-and-a-half minute speech by our Environment Minister, Jim Prentice and that just after midnight on Friday.

Locally, things weren't any better. About a dozen people carried awareness signs and walked outside our local Member of Parliament's office. The group caused enough concern among Russ Hiebert's staff that the office workers locked the doors to the place. The sight of a dozen men and women and children must have been terrifying.

Followers of this blog might be surprised with the contention made as the closing line in the news article above: "Hiebert’s staff in Ottawa have told Peace Arch News in the past that every submission received by his office is sent a response." That's simply not been the case.

What I'd like to know is what does Russ do in Ottawa anyway?? And while I'm wondering that, what about the rest of his Conservative pals? If their feeble showing in Copenhagen is any indication, I suspect they don't do a whole heck of a lot.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Surrey doesn't suck

The tagline from Love Story, a 1970 movie, was 'Love means never having to say you're sorry.'

White Rock residents played on that with the slogan, 'Living in White Rock means never having to say you're Surrey.'

Surrey's been home to more bad jokes than Poland, but I think things are starting to change.

Last week I went to a reading at one of Surrey's Kwantlen University campuses. Poet Matt Rader, an instructor there, had organized a reading featuring Elizabeth Bachinsky. Although it was great to hear both of these accomplished writers read from their work, I was most excited by what I heard at the Open Mic portion of the event.

This is Jill, reading from her detailed retelling of the Goldilocks tale, set to the rhythms and patterns of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" -- what an accomplishment!

The other photo shows Nick, who performed a most impressive rap -- a piece that employed exciting rhythms and language and presented a whack of meaningful political comment -- exactly what the best kind of rap is all about.

Both of these writers are clearly aware of poetic form, but are fulfilling its demands their own way. And if these two aren't exemplary of what contemporary poetry is, I don't know what might be.

Lots of hope here -- for poetry, for creativity, and for Surrey as a cultural centre worth bragging about.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

White Rock cares about Climate Change

Despite freezing temps, a stalwart crew gathered for a candlelight vigil at the busy intersection marking the boundary of White Rock and Surrey. Our goal, to show solidarity with those working in Copenhagen to create meaningful policies that will bring positive results.

People here on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, an area which still boasts some of the best weather in Canada, care about how climate change is affecting our sisters and brothers around the world.

The message to Stephen Harper and the rest of our government is clear. Now is the time to get moving with real change – changes in action and changes in thinking that will address the climate changes occurring all over the face of our lovely planet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Fun City!

That's one of the names Vancouver's been called before, but now I see that the title is probably going to have to move further south.

Driving through Surrey this morning, I noticed a group of skaters with hockey sticks swirling over a frozen pond. To most Canadians, this wouldn't be worthy of note, but out here in supposed 'Lotus Land' the ponds don't usually freeze. I was glad I had my camera along, and planned to pull over to take the shot on my way home, when I'd be on the safer side of the highway.

Only when I came back that way, the ice stood vacant as you see in the shot above. I can only guess that the skaters had been shooed off, as there was a sign asking me to call my MLA if I wanted to 'free the ice'.

It's difficult to accept this as any kind of safety issue, as the site is a fen -- basically a marsh, and I can't imagine any part of it is deep enough for anyone to drown in. Besides, it's been cold for a week now and the water is most definitely frozen.

Off to phone my MLA, who's used to hearing from me, though not over anything as ridiculous as this.

PostScript: Today's local paper has a story on this, explaining that the issue isn't safety but 'concern for the environment' -- especially litter -- that sees the pond decreed off-limits. Considering that 'they' spent $2,000 erecting a fence to keep family skates from occurring, I am baffled. Didn't putting posts into the ground cause more disturbance to the site than skaters would have? And couldn't they have installed a litter bin for a tenth of that amount?

Monday, December 07, 2009

12 Days to Make a Difference

This first day of talks in Copenhagen didn't bode well for Canada.

Even at home, Canada took it in the teeth. Greenpeace protesters apparently caused the RCMP some 'embarrassment' by being able to climb Parliament buildings and hang banners. So much for tightened security.

But more embarrassing is the fact that Canada received the distinction of a 'fossil' award for its environmental track record, brought down specifically by the Tar Sands.

It will be interesting to see how many more embarrassments we will have to endure before our leaders grow the backbone for us to once again take our place in the world as leaders for change, for making hope a reality.

Friday, December 04, 2009

How does Vancouver say Welcome to the world...

...when all of the signs are in English?

Canada's official languages are English and French, but aside from the airport or other federal buildings, it's rare to see a sign en francais. Oh yes, there's Maillardville, a quiet little community that celebrated its centennial this year. Since it's not home to Olympic venues, it's doubtful it will be much help to francophone travellers.

Yesterday's announcement that Canada has joined the ranks of countries with ‘approved destination status’ suggests that we should expect a wave of tourists from China. As long as they visit the suburb of Richmond, especially Aberdeen Centre, those tourists will feel right at home, as much of the signage there is in Chinese characters.

Still, if they venture far beyond there, I fear they may get lost -- especially if they try to use the newest leg in Vancouver's rapid transit system, the Canada Line. I haven't yet seen a sign there in anything but English -- and even that signage doesn't seem to do a very good job of communicating.

I've always admired Toronto's subway system, with its colourful, distinctively tiled stations. Easy enough to show a person that they need to get off at the red station or the green one -- much harder to ask them to read a crawl sign or listen for the name of a station called out by a pre-recorded robotic voice, no matter how lifelike its tonality might be.

The last three times I've used the Canada Line, I've been approached by people (an older couple, a mother and her daughters, three teenaged girls) who couldn't figure out which train to take or which stop to get off at. And judging from their lack of accents, these were all people for whom English is their first language.

If they can't understand the signs that are posted, how are we to expect travellers from around the world to navigate their way around the city?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rings? Or chains?

The last few days have seen the high-alert mentality around the 2010 Olympics go into a mode that only be called bizarre.

B.C. entrepreneur Wil Tarnasky was taken to task by Canadian Olympic Committee for an image on his heat product,Toasterz. Apparently, the flame on the packet looks altogether too much like the flame on the Olympic torch. This story sure makes it look as though these ad-police have altogether too much time on their hands.

And then, earlier today, American broadcaster Amy Goodman was detained at the Canadian border. Although she was scheduled to speak in Vancouver about health care, border guards apparently challenged her on whether she was going to talk about the Olympics.

If she hadn't planned on doing so, you can bet she will now, and likely will continue to do so once she gets home to her radio show, "Democracy Now!"

Today it was also reported that the City of Vancouver has, as a result of public pressure, backed down on some of its bylaws controlling protest during the Olympics.

Although I try to make a point of not picturing or promoting brand-name products, I'm wondering how much longer I'll be permitted to eat my favourite brand of yogourt.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Renovating -- a reality check

This is what happens when you have to move everything out of two rooms and into some other part of the house. One of the joys of renovating.

If you look above the top of the wicker chair, you'll spot an 'open' cardboard box that looks something like a dollhouse. That's our working/planning model for what will go where. Because I'm the more anal member of our pairing, I also have a to-scale version on graph paper, with the pieces of furniture on bits of sticky notes so I can move them around.

I bet you can guess what I want for Christmas this year -- for this to have magically gone back into its new space!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An anniversary


Rhona McAdam is one of my favourite poets. When it comes to turning ordinary words into something else, I think she's about the best.

Consider this, from her poem, "Anniversary"
It’s been a mother since my year has died,
a clutch of grey hairs, a loosening of skin.
Each day I move closer to you, the sound
of my own voice hums in my bones, a family sound.

And yes, today is the first anniversary of my own mother's death. When I thought about what to write today, I couldn't help thinking of Rhona's poem. There is nothing complicated about any one of the words. The biggest word in there is ‘loosening’. But put the words together, and they make up more than simple sentences. We know about the poet’s mother’s dementia, understand that the poet herself is dealing with aging, yet she never has to say these things directly. The arrangement of these simple words leads us to those understandings. To me, that is what constitutes the magic of poetry.

Being remembered by those who love us may be the truest immortality any of us has a right to. By honouring my mother today, I hope I'm giving a bit back to her. The little shrine I made includes treats I've pulled out of the freezer, ones I've saved for such an occasion as today -- Christmas cookies. Why? Because my mother, Carole, was born on December 25th, a date that sadly isn't even noted on the place where her body rests (rules -- but this isn't a time to get me going on bureaucracies).

In closing, one more stanza from Rhona's poem, which by the way is taken from Cartography (Oolichan Books, 2006):
It's been a mother since my year has died,
a hot, dry mother, a cold snow and rain
and now wind, wind as we've seldom seen it
tearing the leaves from the trees and howling.

Oddly, this has been a week of wild winds, ones that have made me concerned for all the trees that live in our yard. I hope, when those predicted winds rise again tonight, my mother will be amongst them, singing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Open Letter to Carole James

Yesterday I learned that a committee headed by MLA Doug Donaldson had spoken out unanimously to reinstate funding to the arts and culture. I was elated, especially when I realized this committee consisted of MLAs from both the opposition and from the governing Liberals, the very party that appears to be behind the recent drastic cuts.

And then the second part of the story came through. Because the HST wasn’t part of the package, you were saying No to the whole thing.

This sounds a little like the diehard vegetarian who turns down a Thanksgiving invitation from her estranged family because she doesn’t eat turkey. Rather than saying yes and simply not taking a chunk of meat, she misses out on the mashed potatoes, the Brussels sprouts, the rest of the trimmings – even the pie. But even more so, by turning down the invitation, she misses the chance to regroup with people who are important to her.

The recent slashes to budgets have been downright mean, affecting sectors already running at bare-bones levels. More frighteningly, the cuts have looked like government-by-backroom-schemes rather than legislative decisions. Even the Feds, through comments by Heritage Minister James Moore, have questioned the economic sense of these massive reductions in funding.

Yet when the opportunity arises to join with fellow MLAs to speak out on this important issue, you seem to think it’s a good idea to just say No.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders just how many of these cuts have been dreamed up – not by the Liberal Party as a whole – but by Campbell, his ego, and the members of his innermost circle.

I’m sure there must be many MLAs, Liberals included, who have been horrified by the cuts and are at a loss when it comes to defending the decisions to their constituents.

So it was very exciting to learn that a group of MLAs – especially ones elected under the banner of Campbell’s party – were willing to speak out in such a way.

Only what did you do? Rather than rolling up your sleeves and saying Let’s pull together and clean up this mess, you jumped on your high-horse and said No. Sure, it might have meant holding your nose to work with those you’ve cast as your opponents, but then this mess is a lot like a backed-up plumbing problem. To clean it up, everybody’s going to have to hold their nose until it’s fixed.

I suspect the only way my message might register with you is to say that by taking this non-action, you’ve probably lost even more votes for your party.

But the real issue here isn’t about winning or losing votes. It’s about seeing that the people of British Columbia start getting government that represents all of us, that it isn’t just government by the rich and for the rich. It’s about seeing that the people of British Columbia can count on our MLAs to speak out on our behalf. even when it might require some nose-holding to achieve a common good.

How disappointing, Carole James. You’ve turned down an opportunity that might have led to real change.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering

Just before 11:00 this morning, I turned on the radio to see what sort of acknowledgement of Remembrance Day there might be. As I'd expected, there was a bugler as well as a piper playing the traditional mournful songs, but most striking was listening to the moment of silence. Not the usual 'sound' one expects from the radio.

The photo above shows a replica of World War I's famous Sopwith Camel, a structure that was on display in our local mall as part of Veterans' Week. As you can imagine, it drew quite a lot of attention.

This is also another of the many days when I remember my dad, who piloted a bomber in World War II. Like so many men who fought, he rarely spoke of his experiences in the war.

And there's another person I always remember on this day -- a man who not only spoke about his war experiences but who wrote about them -- Kurt Vonnegut. Ironically, his birthday was November 11th. I couldn't help thinking of Vonnegut earlier this week, when I ran across a YouTube posting of an ice cube being subjected to heat but not melting. It worried me, as it sounded much too much like Vonnegut's Ice-9, the material that debuted in his Cat's Cradle.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Taking a positive step for the Arts

Today saw a diverse group of artists gather for an Open Space forum. Our goal? To formulate answers to the day’s guiding question, What will grow and sustain our local arts community?

The day's gathering was sponsored by the City of White Rock, but drew artists in many genres from well beyond the boundaries of the city.

For a change, despite all the doom-and-gloom cutbacks we’ve seen to the arts here in BC, I think all of us left with the feeling that things are going to improve.

As one of the visual artists in attendance envisioned it, she showed us her painting of a bud ready to burst. She followed that with a second piece -- blossoming into this vibrant display.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

99 bottles of beer??

Nope, this time it’s 99 days. Days remaining in the countdown to Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics.

Probably the first marathon tv-viewing I did was the hours I spent in front of the screen watching the Olympics. I remember taking a shovel out into the snow and clearing off a little frozen stream near our house so I could have a place to practise figure skating without an audience to laugh at me. When it came to the Olympics, I was a believer.

And now the Olympics is coming to a city near me. Considering all the security precautions and anticipated scenarios, that may be a city too near me.

It’s hard to get excited about something that appears to have had so many negative effects on anyone who isn’t among the elite – the only ones who seem able to afford the pricey tickets.
This photo is just one of the panels on a truck I drove past yesterday. Although the point they’re making concerns our coming Harmonized Sales Tax (again, something that looks as though it will only benefit big corporations, the already-wealthy), the visual pretty much sums up the many cuts to social services, education and the arts that are occurring on a daily basis here in B.C.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Which way to the witch's party?

Welcome! What are you doing for fun tonight?

With hopes that it's a Happy Halloween, and with thanks to my friend Ella for the terrific sign.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Almost-Halloween pumpkins

Yesterday, in the produce shop, a woman started telling me about how her brother back east raises pumpkins and sells them – not as we do here, by weight – but straight-up for two dollars each. That got both of us to thinking about Halloween pumpkins and how most of us just carve ’em as decorations for the big night, then chuck them into the compost (or worse, into the garbage). Our conversation encouraged me to find a better way of conserving those contents this year.

And then, this morning I started wondering about why we use pumpkins at Halloween. While a number of sites mentioned deals with the devil, the story that most appealed to me was the one claiming carved “…lanterns represented the souls of the departed loved ones and were placed in windows or set on porches to welcome the deceased.”

Because this is the week our family observes the death dates of two beloved grandmothers, this is the explanation I choose to believe. Then sadly, on last night’s news I learned that yet another Canadian soldier has died in Afghanistan.

I think I’ll have to get one more pumpkin for our door.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

350 events

The signs are everywhere. This one's from Granville Island, under one of Vancouver's bridges.

Vancouver had an event on another bridge.

And then there were the 350 poems.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A day of observances

Every year I make a point of attending at least one of the many sessions offered at the Vancouver International Readers' and Writers' Festival. Despite the rains, I headed into the city and was well-rewarded for my efforts with a stimulating session featuring several interesting writers.

But looking back, a much more important part of the day was a side trip I took to the core of the Downtown East Side. I went to the First United Church, the place where U.S. war resister Rodney Watson has taken sanctuary in hopes of not being deported and likely imprisoned in America.

We spoke for a little while, and he confirmed that when he'd joined the U.S. military, it had been with the understanding that he'd serve as a cook. When that turned out to not be the case -- and when they tried to extend his contract and send him for a second tour of duty to Iraq, he deserted and came to Vancouver.

I've written to our government before, recommending compassion for war resisters. My local MP, to give him credit, has at least replied -- but with legalese gobbledygoop as excuses -- despite the fact that the very Parliament (of which he's a member) has passed two previous motions suggesting that war resisters once again (as in Vietnam days) be permitted entry. Currently, there is a private member's bill even more specific to this issue.

There's a twist to all of this -- one that only dawned on me as I was getting off the bus near the church. Today is the anniversary of my receiving my own Canadian citizenship. Heck, they let me stay, and the fact of that made me feel both embarrassed and ashamed about Rodney's predicament.

I'm very glad I got to spend a bit of time with Rodney -- particularly on such a significant day. I had tears in my eyes when he hugged me. He was awaiting a call from Ron Kovic, the Vietnam vet who wrote Born on the 4th of July. All I can hope is that Kovic will have some good ideas to help Rodney Watson and the rest of the war resisters be heard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend at Trauma Farm

For a while there, I’d thought a gathering of seven women would dispel any aura of trauma at the farm where our friends live. But darn it, the name caught up to us after all.

First it was the bodum imploding for no apparent cause. One minute it was resting on the counter while the flavours seeped through the water; next thing, it was weeping coffee everywhere from a sudden long crack in the glass.

The bigger trauma was the discovery of two dead chickens – hens, at that, cutting into the supply of those golden-yolked eggs. One of the worst parts was the fact that the hens hadn’t even been eaten by their killer. Only their heads were gone.

As the weekend went on, the traumas continued. Another hen lost her head to our uninvited guest, apparently a mink. Believe me, if we’d have caught him, I’d have been wanting to make a couple of swish coats for Barbie.

And, oh yes, a purse disappeared. The purse at least held nothing of much value – a bit of cash and a lipstick, no documents or credit cards.


Still, I’m glad that our home has a much milder name – no trauma or even drama to live up to.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just the fax, ma'am

The following is a message sent to Premier Gordon Campbell, with copies to several members of his cabinet, as well as to my local MLA.

I hope you will do what you can to speak out about this horror.

To Premier Gordon Campbell:

This isn’t a matter of party lines. It’s a matter of promises made to the people of the province – promises broken and ground underfoot.

It’s a matter of commitments. And it’s a matter of tossing those commitments aside and delivering the message with a phone call that says you’re toast.

It’s a failure to live up to the groundwork that’s been laid over years, groundwork that has helped BC’s publishing industry grow into what it is today.

What used to be a faint western echo to publishing in Toronto has become a force to be reckoned with. Just look at the names of all those BC authors and publishers on the current list of finalists for prizes across the country, including the most esteemed of all, the Governor General’s Awards.

Government is quick to say that business is the basis of our economy. Publishing is a business, a business that represents our province in a powerful way. So, why should the agencies fostering and promoting this business have their funding yanked away?

The current situation is simply unacceptable.

Restore full funding to BC Bookworld, to the Association of Book Publishers of BC and to the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers. The work these groups do is vital to the health of the publishing industry in our province – and vital to the cause of literacy and to ensuring British Columbians can read the stories that matter most to us.

Heidi Greco

cc: Kit Krueger
Rich Coleman
Colin Hansen
Gordon Hogg

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Does this look like a lethal weapon?

Apparently, RCMP officers in Vancouver thought it did.

It’s two years today since Robert Dziekanski died at YVR after being Tasered. He’d arrived hours earlier from Poland, but because he didn’t speak English, he wasn’t able to adequately ask for assistance. When he became agitated, the police were called to help deal with him. Then, shortly after their arrival, Dziekanski was dead. It seems police had reacted to Dziekanski's picking up a stapler and waving it in their direction.

Fortunately, this is a digital age, and Paul Pritchard recorded what he witnessed.

So, what’s the lesson here? It might be, don’t travel to Vancouver if you don’t speak English.

And if that’s the case, that might mean you better not come to the Olympics.

Outside of Vancouver’s Punjabi Market or areas of Richmond, there’s not a lot of evidence of multilingual signage.

To give the airport some credit, they’ve established an information booth near Customs and it offers services in a number of languages. I’m not sure though what its hours are, and whether it would have benefited Dziekanski, whose death occurred in the middle of the night.

Canada Line, the rapid transit system that takes visitors from the aiport into the city, doesn’t even have signage in Canada’s second official language, French. So, if your English isn’t very good, maybe you’ll have to hope to find a taxi driver who speaks your language.

Any other lessons to consider on this sad anniversary? Hmm. Maybe, be careful not to pick up a stapler if the RCMP are around.

Monday, October 12, 2009

No rant, just gratitude


It's Thanksgiving, so I'll lay off for a day, and think about some of the many things I'm grateful for.

The photo is one I snapped in a coffee shop on Saturday. It went on to be thankful for, among other things, the fact that modern Barbie dolls are flexible -- makes it much easier to dress 'em.

On a more serious note, it's Gratitude Week in Vancouver, an initiative with the goal of ending homelessness. Sadly, that's a problem that won't be going away anytime soon.

But I can certainly say how grateful I am that I have such a wonderful place to live. Warm and dry, with a cupboard that's full.

Donating a dollar a day to a food bank or shelter can make a huge difference. That might be something to work toward for some holiday sharing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Further tales, hypocrisy squared

It's a hurry-up day, but I can't let it go by without venting about the latest round of government cuts to the arts.

This time, it's BC's publishing industry. This is an industry our premier has praised for its accomplishments on the provincial front, in the country, and on the world's stage.

One of the hardest hit is a magazine that's available to everyone in our province, as it's distributed in bookstores, and even on BC Ferries. BC Bookworld has been publishing for over 20 years. Its promotional service to BC readers, writers and publishers has served as an examplar to similar publications in other provinces.

But it's more than a magazine. It's affiliated with an online database of over 9,000 BC writers, a website that's accessed by users anywhere in the world.

Similarly, the Association of Publishers of BC has also had its operating budget slashed. It's always been a bare-bones operation, so it's difficult to imagine what might be left to cut. They've accomplished amazing feats; there's even a beta-version of digitalized BC books set to go online in January.

For a province that's poised to host the world for the 2010 Winter Olympics, it's looking as though their promises to showcase our cultural accomplishments (part of the basis of Vancouver's 'winning' the games) mean nothing.

Brags by our premier about the importance of literacy mean little in the face of such contradictory behaviours.

You can bet there'll be more to come on this topic. But for more information, follow the publishers' alliance here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

High-pocrisy

So our prime minister deigned to attend an arts ‘gala’ – one of those nasty events he complained about last year. Sure, it probably helped that this event is one of his wife’s pet projects. Still, it’s pretty amazing that he attended – even more so that he sang karaoke.

The fact I find most interesting is Steve’s choice of song, With a Little Help from my Friends. Admittedly, the choice might have had something to do with it being one of Ringo Starr’s songs. Although Ringo’s always been my favourite Beatle, even I would have to agree his voice works best on melodies that don’t require a lot of vocal range.

Steve seemed quite confident about knowing the song’s lyrics, so he can’t say he didn’t understand what the words were.

I just find it darn ironic, especially considering the recent actions allowing Marc Emery’s extradiction, that Steve would choose a song with the line, “I get high with a little help from my friends.” Oh yeah?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

High in the sky -- a reminder

Last night's (okay, early this morning's) full moon was so bright it pulled me out of bed.

It was the proverbial harvest moon, celebrated in songs old and newer. If you'd like to know more background about the name, you might enjoy this story 's explanation of the name's origin.

Today was also the annual 'Run for the Cure' and it sounds as though Vancouver's run drew about 10,000 participants.

One of the reasons I'm always aware of the full moon is that I use it as a monthly reminder to check my breasts for changes or lumps.

If you're a woman who doesn't regularly check your breasts, here's a fairly long (7 minutes) but very clear video on how to go about doing this important self-check.

One thing I still don't understand about last night's light show is why the moon seemed so much higher in the sky (almost directly overhead) than usual. If anybody has an idea, please let me know.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

39 and counting

And no, except in my sister’s case, that hasn’t got anything to do with a birthday.

That’s how many dollars I haven’t spent since I quit buying B.C. lottery tickets at the end of August.

I keep thinking about part of a letter to the editor which ran in The Vancouver Sun earlier this month (September 15th). Although attorney Phil Rankin was addressing the government’s failed promises regarding legal aid, he raised a valid parallel about the way our government has diverted lottery monies from cultural venues and charities -- the very places we were led to believe would be the beneficiaries of those funds. Rankin wrote:

Remember the seven-per-cent legal services tax, which was supposed to be spent on legal aid but was instead taken — by both the Liberals and the NDP — for general revenues? It’s very much like Social Development Minister Rich Coleman’s announcement that charities aren’t entitled to lottery revenue. What hypocrisy. First they take bingo nights away from churches and food banks, promising them lottery revenue; then they deny the charities lottery revenues after addicting the population to gambling to solve their revenue problems.

When even James Moore, the federal Minister of Heritage calls B.C.’s arts cuts “devastating”, you have to know that something is very rotten out here in the West.

Since my earlier posting, a friend and I have started a group on FaceBook – STOP buying BC Lottery Tickets. It's an open group, so you don't even need an invitation to join.

I understand that some artists are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking out against the gaming cuts (especially when they’re involved in groups who were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of those three-year grants the government decided they couldn’t back out of).

However, I can’t help but think we have social responsibilities. I look back to history, and specifically to events in the southern U.S. during the early ’60s.

It was a time when people who weren’t white were blocked from attending many public schools and universities, couldn’t drink out of the same drinking fountains as whites, had to ride in the back of the bus.

Still, many whites believed that such ill-treatment was wrong. Even though they themselves were allowed to attend school wherever they wished, could apply for any job they wanted, experienced no impediments to voting, etc., there were many courageous whites who travelled to the south and stood up to say that segregation laws were wrong. Some of them even died for their beliefs.

Just because we might not be the ones who are suffering (yet) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a stand on behalf of our colleagues whose funding has been cut.

So far, I’ve saved $39 – not enough to change the world, not enough to make a dint in anyone’s disappeared budget. Just ask folks at the Helen Pitt Gallery how much they've had cut from the operating budget of their 35-year-old art space.

But maybe if a bunch of us pooled what we save by not buying lottery tickets, we could assemble an amount that might make a difference.

I'm still trying to figure out ways to fight these dreadful cutbacks. As always, thoughtful comments/suggestions are appreciated.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Must be something in the air...

September is traditionally the month for getting back to work, whether that means school or just plain more thoughtful pursuits. This month has been no exception.

The last week has been filled with events pointing us in the direction of thinking and creating. Specifically, for me, this has meant lots of poetry.

Last week was another event promoting a new collection from Mother Tongue Press, 4 Poets. As one might suspect, the book celebrates the work of four writers, in this case "New BC Poets" -- and it does so in a way that stimulates a deep understanding of their work.

Mona Fertig, editor and conceiver of the series, has given us a book that contains more than just poems. Each author makes a statement on his or her Poetics, provides an interview, lays out draft versions of poems, and even offers a poem in translation.

The event I attended at VPL saw only two of the poets in attendance. And though I regretted not having heard Peter Morin or Al Rempel at earlier events, Daniela Elza and Onjana Yawnghwe gave readings that kept us listening intently.

Daniela, who's doing graduate work in education at SFU, brought along a collaborator for part of her presentation -- a dancer! Su-Lin's performance worked wonderfully with Daniela's words; I can only think of one other time I've seen these two arts mixed so successfully.

But if that event wasn't enough, there was Thursday's reading by four local authors, followed on Sunday by one of Vancouver's most vibrant literary events, Word on the Street.

I was lucky enough to serve as host for an event that featured Evelyn Lau, Russell Thornton, Colin Browne and Vancouver's current Poet Laureate, Brad Cran. The little Poetry Tent was full, with an overflow crowd spilling out onto Library Square. It was great to see such enthusiasm for this genre too many people choose to ignore.

But of all these inspiring events, the sight that meant the most to me was one I saw yesterday -- and naturally, it was one of those times I didn't have my camera. It put the phrase 'word on the street' into action, literally.

A girl was walking down the sidewalk, steadily moving forward, but with her head bent to an open book. Now, that's being engrossed by the power of the written word!

Friday, September 25, 2009

An evening of short readings

Our Community Arts Council reading series kicked off its new season with an evening of short readings by four local authors.

When I introduced Vaughan Chapman, I teased her a bit, as she almost always wins the door prize at these events -- thus, she 'won the prize' and got to read first (and wasn't allowed to enter the draw). The poems she read were memory-based, placed in the context of family. Geographically, the poems were very much of the prairies. One of the images I loved was from her 'Pea Poem' -- "...fruit hard as teeth coming through."

Vaughan was followed by Virginia Gillespie, who read poems based in the Four Corners area of the U.S. (the juncture of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah). She transported us, not only with her words, but with her lovely and clear singing voice. She also supplied me with a line I'd like to adopt as my new mantra, "Free me from this erratic pace." Oh, yes!

Following these two poets, we switched gears and moved on to Ian Lauder who read from his post-Arthurian novel, Elfindale. The book follows Lauder's take on the apprenticeship of Morgan LeFay to Merlin. Lauder extolled us to reach for a state he calls 'lightness of being' and suggested that to attain it we "...develop our androgynous psyche."

The evening closed with Cristy Watson, who usually serves as bookseller at our series, reading poems old and new. One of the chapbooks she read from, DNA, was fresh off the presses that afternoon! Watson, a survivor of breast cancer, has a series of no-nonsense poems about her experience. Most enthralling (to me, at least) was a piece about Icarus, only with the focus on his flight instead of his crash. "Who wouldn't seek to climb the moon?"

Watson's poem goes on with the line, "The sheer magnitude of futures sprawled before him..." and so, I suspect, does the future for these writers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wake-up Call

Even though today isn't quite the first day of autumn, it felt like a day of moving forward. That feeling might have something to do with today's Global Wake-up Call to Climate Change.

I've been reading a pretty chillling book, Forty Signs of Rain. It's the first in a trilogy called Science in the Capital, a series that's been called 'hard science' fiction because it relies on (and utilizes) so much current research. The author, Kim Stanley Robinson, speaks knowledgably about the climate crisis. Here's an interview if you'd like to hear some of what he has to say.

I was part of a group who met in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. It was a beautiful day, and while it was great to see friends (and strangers), the part that made me happiest was the fact that our local event had been organized by Caitlyn, a local young person -- not one of the usual middlin'-to-older sorts who generally take on such projects.


Yes, Virginia, there is hope for the world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terrible symmetry



1 - 3 - 1.

One hundred and thirty-one.

That’s 20 more dead soldiers since the last time I wrote about the rising toll in Afghanistan.

And now it’s reported that the most recent victim, Pte. Jonathan Couturier, apparently considered the mission ‘a bit useless’.

It’s seeming that more people are finally questioning Canada’s actions in Afghanistan. Recent statements from Senator Colin Kenny compare the mission’s futility to the war in Vietnam. Robert Fowler, the Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped earlier this year, has also expressed doubts.

The promised date for withdrawal, 2011, seems just too far away.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Celebrating the Arts with The Grapes of Wrath


Even though our government doesn’t seem to value the arts, I still do. Saturday night saw a group of us heading over to our local Legion hall for a concert by the most recent incarnation of that great Canadian band, The Grapes of Wrath.

For a band made up of only two guys these days, Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane made a helluva sound and a whole lot of terrific music.

I’d gone to the event expecting good harmonies, but hadn’t realized just how well these two voices work together. Live concerts sometimes prove the power of the studio mix, but not with these guys. Sure they were singing their two parts, but there were songs where I was hearing at least three-point-five harmony. Besides learning harmonies from Simon and Garfunkel, a duo they admitted listening to, I wondered who else their early influences were – The Turtles? Seals and Crofts?

Beatles fan that I will always be, I especially loved their George Harrison tributes, their own composition as well as their cover of Here Comes the Sun. The strumming was right, the plucking of individual notes – even the right foot raised in that slow-kick clunky dance step George did. Sigh.

I bought their CD and am glad that I did. So, not only do I celebrate the arts, I support ’em. Hope you’re doing the same.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A grey day in Vancouver



People who don't live in the Lower Mainland of B.C. might laugh at that subject header and ask, "Isn't it always?"

But today was grey in ways that went well beyond the weather.

A noontime protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery saw artists and friends of the arts gather to protest the deep cuts our government has made to this culturally important sector. As part of the action, we all tried to wear grey -- to portray the drabness of a world without art.

We stood in the misty drizzle and listened to speakers explain the depth of the cuts. They also urged us to promise solidarity as we look to convince our government to stop the cuts to arts funding.

The actions the B.C. Liberals have taken are unprecedented and not all in keeping with what other provinces are doing. The rest of the country seems to understand the importance of the arts -- not only for their cultural contributions, but for the financial returns they bring to the economy.

The trek home meant a ride on the recently opened Canada Line, a new step in the area's transit infrastructure. Because so much of the route is underground, even this leg of the trip home was the uniform grey of concrete tunnels. Oddly, even the stations where the train stops are blandly grey (though I suppose they are referred to as 'taupe'), as if we're all practising for a world that really will be the grey shades of a world without art.

More to come on this, you can be sure.

Monday, September 07, 2009

End-of-summer traditions

Besides the tradition of going to the PNE, going out for an end-of-summer lunch date is another. The day's been coolish, so big bowls of Udon soup were the order of the day.

After that, an end-of-summer stroll on the beach. With the tide out, it felt quietly private, even though there were plenty of kite-flyers, skimboarders, dog-walkers and puddle-waders.

No sadness over the season changing -- besides, I know it really won't happen for another two weeks.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A much better than fair day at the fair


The fair in question, the PNE, would stand up to the test of anyone's notion of a state fair. it's an event with its roots in the traditional agricultural fair, only it's grown far beyond farm displays. Still, there are plenty of critters as well as displays of mushrooms and honey and other B.C. produce.


We spent most of the day there, starting with a big band performance by Dal Richards and his group. Dal's looking and sounding pretty great, especially for a guy who's going on 92.

Besides the big band experience, we took in a group of performers who go by the slightly pretentious title, Celtic Legends. This overly broad name makes them difficult to track down, still the building was packed and I wasn't the only one who seemed enthralled by their presentation. The musicians were top-notch, and I have to admit the sound of that fiddle stirs something in my blood. I wonder if my Irish grandfather has anything to do with that. And the dancers were maybe even more impressive -- with their straight backs and free-as-marionette legs, their stomping was really quite the thrill.

I'll admit I still miss the car show that was such a long-standing tradition, the demo derby. This year's replacement, 'On the Edge' was completely lame. To make matters worse, 'climax' points in the show were punctuated by the eruption of huge flames. These not only emitted a huge blast of heat, the stench from whatever fuel was used was horrid -- and strong enough that many very little children were instinctively reacting by covering their noses and mouths. So much for the fair's 'green' brags.

Much more fun, and in keeping with our traditions here in B.C. was the revived (albeit on a smaller scale) lumberman's show. Log-rolling, axe-throwing, speed-sawing and more. This is a tradition I really hope they'll decide to retain. In fact, it might be an excellent installation in the B.C. pavilion apparently still being planned for February's Olympic extravaganza.

Eating, of course, was one of the reasons we went to the fair. There's so much to choose from, you can't try even the tiniest portion of what's available. The soft ice cream (intentionally soft) might have been the highlight for me. Not something I know how to whip up at home, especially not with that curly swirl!

Of course, there's so much to see just wandering around the midway, considering the merits of various rides, and just plain people-watching.


The evening's free concert was the Gipsy Kings, and there must have been thousands crowded into the viewing areas. Big screen video made it easier for those of us in the back to see. Great sounds to round out a memorable day.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I quit



For too long, I’ve been one of the sheep who convince themselves that buying lottery tickets might bring a big payout.

But recent decisions about gambling in this province have made me think differently.

I got nervous when I learned that our local transit service would soon be taking a different route into the city, forcing riders to transfer to the new Canada Line train. While I can’t disagree with taking people out of gas-burning buses, I’m distressed over the site they chose as the transfer point – Bridgeport station, the stop for a casino. If I were a person with a gambling problem, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for me to use public transit anymore.

I grew even more concerned when the B.C. Lottery Corporation raised the weekly limit for online gaming from $120 to $9,999.

I know a family whose lives have been ruined by a member whose gambling addiction went over the top. Lying, denial – she used any ruse at all to keep playing. I can only imagine the horror stories that will develop as a result of this new policy.

But yesterday’s news has made me decide that it’s finally time to quit.

The provincial government announced, despite promises to the contrary, that funding to the arts from the Gaming Commission has been cut. This habit of going back on promises seems to have become their newest mantra.

For the past few years I’ve justified buying lottery tickets with the probably-too-flip excuse that “I’m supporting the arts.” But since it turns out I can no longer fall back on that excuse, today’s the day I’m quitting. No more buying lottery tickets for this girl.

This decision feels liberating. I suspect it’s something like the feeling other quitters get –the smoker who’s tired of getting winded every time he tries to run up some stairs, or the boozer who realizes she’s offended her best friend by some regrettable drunken remark.

Because I already bought tickets on Thursday, tonight’s the last time I have a go at that pie-in-the-sky one-in-fourteen-million chance to win a life-changing sum of money.

Wanna bet that my financial situation will have drastically changed by tomorrow morning? I’ll give you better odds than the lottery corporation that it won’t have. But hey, if I do win big, I’ll have to share, as I know of a few arts groups that could really use some help.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Disappointments, big and small

I experienced a couple of small disappointments last night. Here I'd been seeing Google's subject header all day, a compilation of telescoping letters proclaiming that it was the 400th anniversary of Galileo's invention. Only then I found out, maybe that wasn't exactly so. Still, when I got home from a movie (about extraterrestrials, at that), there was the bright star of Jupiter riding the sky.

Last summer we'd actually had a telescope here on loan, so had been able to look closely at the giant planet and even to observe several of it moons. Silly me, I thought maybe binoculars would work, but even when I propped them against the letterbox as a sort of tripod, I couldn't hold them still enough to see more than a bouncing blur of light.

But my big disappointment is ongoing still today.

The Canadian government continues to reject the idea that Omar Khadr should be returned home to Canadian soil, even though he remains the only citizen of a Western country to remain in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Australia and Great Britain removed their detainees years ago, but Canada continues to dig in its heels and has currently decided to challenge yet another court directive demanding that our government bring him home. 

Their next (and final, I would assume) step in challenging such directives is having the case heard in the Supreme Court of Canada, a step that of course will be paid for by all of us.

I have no idea whether Khadr is guilty or innocent. But for that matter, no does anyone else. Even though he's been held for seven years -- and in a prison that doesn't meet Geneva Convention standards -- he has never been taken to trial. If this isn't cruel and unusual, I don't know what is.

For all of our country's platitudes about decrying human rights violations in China, and complaining about so many African countries' abuse of children as soldiers, it seems awfully contradictory for Steve Harper and his Conservatives to forget the fact that Khadr was brought to Guantanamo when he was only fifteen. If that doesn't qualify him as being a child soldier, what does?

Oh yes, just one more disappointment. As a concerned citizen, this is a matter I wrote about to my local (Conservative) Member of Parliament. Like so many of his party colleagues, he's great at playing up his dedicated religious beliefs. Among the things I asked him was: Wasn't Christ's message one of love and compassion? Naturally, I haven't received a reply.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Art in the Park

Yesterday was the first in what will hopefully become a series – an event called “Art in the Park”. Even though there’s lots going on in Surrey this summer, this was a one-of-a-kinder, an arts picnic at Library Grove in Holland Park.

It was a mixed show, grounded by the music and lyrics of cellist Corbin Keep. Painters and photographers were showing and selling their creations, and four writers read from recent work.

The photo shows Lois Peterson, one of the people who dreamed up the notion of Library Grove. Then employed by Surrey Public Library, Peterson’s group envisioned a grove of trees that would stand as a symbolic ‘payback’ for trees consumed in the making of books, and also as a symbol of growth and environmental responsibility. So it seemed especially appropriate that Lois should be one of the presenters at this event. She read from Elsie and the Silver Rain, one of her forthcoming novels (she has two coming out in 2010). Other readers were Sylvia Taylor, Virginia Gillespie and me.

But hearing Corbin reminded me that the Lower Mainland doesn’t have an armlock on talent. This summer, when I was on Denman Island, I had the pleasure of meeting Del Phillips. I’ve been playing his CD nearly every time I get in the car. And each time I listen, I hear more. It’s worth clicking onto his website where you can listen to samplers from the CD, or just explore the musings of a very interesting mind. When you go there, click on ‘Impossible Odds’ for a spin through some of Del’s amazing insights and visions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Publishing, the perils of

This morning I met with a man who is serious about wanting to get published. He’s 83 and frankly admits to feeling a certain urgency.

Sadly, his desire has led him into a deal with a publisher who’s not as squeaky-scrupulous as we’d like the world to be.

We talked about what he’d done and what he’d committed to by signing their more-complicated-than-necessary contract. Turns out they hold exclusive copyright on his work for the next seven years.

Chances are, when it comes to my friend’s poems, this doesn’t mean a huge whole lot. However, there are people for who it could have meant the difference between sweet diddly-squat and a fortune.

Consider The Celestine Prophecy. Anyone who’s made it through its 200-some pages probably won’t proclaim it great literature. It ain’t. But the message it contains is one that millions of people apparently needed to hear, as it sold and sold and sold.

Its author, James Redfield, self-published the book. By word of mouth and assorted networked ripples, the book caught the imagination of enough people that a commercial publisher decided it would be a worthwhile investment. As it turns out, the book sold millions and was even made it into a feature film.

Had James Redfield self-published through the company my friend’s dealing with, he’d have been out of luck when the big publisher took notice and wanted to buy his manuscript. That seven-year clause would have meant the shall-remain-unnamed publisher would have been the one to make the fortune that should have rightfully gone to the author.

Not all self-publishing companies operate this way. Many are legitimate enterprises that respect their authors and don't take advantage of them. The photo on today's post shows a number of self-published books in my collection. They range from the very professional (inside and out) Sixty-Five Sunsets to a couple of spiral-bound productions to the tiny, purposefully homemade look of books I bought from a street busker in San Francisco. And oh yes, The Joy of Cooking. Like James Redfield's book, it too was originally self-published.

Nor are all poetry ‘contests’ scams. But there sure are a lot of miserable characters out there who prey on unsuspecting writers who believe it when they're told their poem is going to win the Nobel Prize or their book is going to be the next bestseller on the New York Times list.

Good information about publishers and publishing is available. Here are three good links. The first is specifically for poetry, the links page at the League of Canadian Poets’ website. Explore the links there to find out about contests and other publishing information.

The Federation of BC Writers also offers links to an extensive list of markets and legitimate contests.

And a great site that lists questions to ask yourself if a publishing offer sounds too good to be true (it probably is) is one presented by Writer’s Digest.

But don’t put that pencil (pen/keyboard) down. Happy writing!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

By the time we got to...

Most of didn't 'get there' -- not even Joni Mitchell, who wrote the famous Woodstock anthem.

Yet even though we didn't get there -- not to the festival, nor to all those idealistic goals we held, even the most stubborn would have to admit the world has changed in the last forty years, and the sort of folks who did go to Woodstock had a fair amount to do with those changes.

We dress much more casually than we used to, even for work. If you disagree, stop and consider the fact that people used to dress up to fly on a plane. Like, what's the point in ironing an outfit if you're going to spend the next four hours sitting in it? And those nifty little hats that women used to wear -- in many situations, because they were required to wear them? (I'm thinking of going to church. I remember having to bobbypin a tissue on my head so I could attend mass. Like, if God were actually there, he/she might care there wasn't something on my head?!) I'm not heartbroken over the relaxation of any of these restrictions.

But not everyone would agree that the changes have all been for the good. Drugs are more readily available now, and using them holds much less of a stigma; swearing has become more common, as we're not so afraid of all those old taboos; sexuality is more open -- gays can live their lives honestly, young women no longer have to 'go away' if they're unmarried and pregnant.

I, for one, am glad of most of these changes. Without the kind of thinking that brought about some of these changes, this morning probably wouldn't have seen me putting my kitchen scraps into our compost bin or my newspaper into a blue box. I may well add to this list as this commemorative weekend goes on. Then again, I may just go and bake up a batch of commemorative brownies.

Peace, man.