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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Water's not for wasting

It's good to see that more people are paying attention to the way they're using water. Happily, our neighbourhood is full of more brown lawns than green ones. This time of year it's sure easy to see where the property ends.

By not watering, we all save on energy too -- because we don't have to mow anywhere near as often. Depending what kind of mower you have, that's a saving of electricity or gas or maybe just old-fashioned push power. Whatever, this seems such an easy way to conserve -- by doing nothing.

Maybe by next summer there'll be more people understanding just how beautiful brown is.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It's an art show!

Oddly, the weather turned autumnish today, but all the better for an art opening!
The show features the work of Kirsten Taylor as well as mother and daughter, Patte and Kari Rust. Each of the three artists spoke briefly about her artistic process. As Kirsten explained to us, her work explores several media, everything from prints to photos and paintings. Patte paints wonderful landscapes, while Kari's work shows strong influences from her work in animation.

There was something comforting about joining a crowd of enthusiastic art-appreciaters at the local gallery. Dare I say the word? It felt a bit like fall.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Black and blue

But no pain. It was another day for berry picking. This morning it was blues, this afternoon, a batch of blackberries from the back yard patch.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Hokey can be good

One of the joys of living where we do is that every once in a while it still feels like a small town.

This weekend is Sea Festival in White Rock, and one of the festival's traditions is the torchlight parade. There aren't any actual torches anymore (I wonder, were there ever?), but it's still a bit of a thrill, even if a pretty hokey one.

As in most small town parades, there are old time cars and police vehicles and marching bands. But for this parade, all of them are somehow decked out with Christmas lights or at least an array of glow-in-the-dark thingies.

This year's event was disappointing in that there weren't any pipers, an element that seems just about essential to me. At least we got some would-be Blues Brothers -- not quite the same, but fun nonetheless.

Spent with a group of longtime friends, it made for a beautiful night along the seaside, even long after parade's end.