Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time for Gratitude

Today is a day for remembering. Today is a day for being grateful.

I'm grateful that the Olympics, despite all my gripes about the money they've burnt, turned out to be a time of getting along. Maybe those peace prayers during the Torch Run helped.

It's also a day for remembering my dad, who died 20 years ago today. Tonight's fireworks display, documented by Jevon, is something my dad would have loved. Do you suppose he knew we'd be observing a 20th anniversary tonight and picked the day he went to spirit? And a night with a full moon in the sky for an even longer-enduring light show?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Busy days, Lower Mainland style

It's been yet another very rich week -- busy in all the best senses of the word. Tuesday saw me making my way into Vancouver (via transit, of course) for an unconventional, not particularly Olympic adventure.

One of my first stops was Granville Island, where I wandered down one of my favourite streets there, Railspur Alley. The gentleman above seemed to greet me with just the right amount of absurdity. He greets passersby outside the Peter Kiss Gallery. Even his title is a delight: "John Had Hoped His Spirit Animal Might Have Been More Impressive".

After a good ramble through the laneways and the market, I hopped one of those little rainbow-coloured boats -- the ones that ferry people across False Creek. I felt a bit like a dignitary, as I was the only passenger on board. Playing tourist in my own city, what a lark!

On the city side, I started the trek up Hornby Street, where I happened into the Appleton Gallery. Their collection of Inuit and Aboriginal Art is remarkable. And as my luck so often seems to do, the gallery operator invited me into the back of the store where Inuit artist Palaya Qiatsuq was working on a carving. Visiting from Cape Dorset in Nunavut, he was kind enough to tell me about what he was working on (a small carving of a seal).

Wednesday must have been a day for laundry and catching up after Denman. Amazingly, I didn't take any photos that day. But Thursday was dedicated to poet Ray Hsu. I picked him at the bus stop and dropped him at one of the local high schools where he presented workshops to students in Grades 10-12.

And as if that wouldn't have constituted a full day for most people, that evening he gave a reading/presentation to an audience at White Rock's Pelican Rouge Coffee House. All of this was part of the Community Arts Council's cultural offerings.

Friday saw a couple of us off to Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus, where we took in a display of the winning entries in an urban design competition called Townshift. Since the two of us had been part of a team that had prepared an entry, we wanted to see first-hand what had beaten us. While our entry was nowhere near as professional (heck, we're not architects), it was good to see so many of the ideas we'd hit on included in many of the entries.

Rounding out the week was a visit to the dentist. No details necessary, but when I googled dentistry, it surprised to find so many dentist games. I'm not sure who plays these, but really, who'd have thought it?

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's been a full week

And I mean that in the sense of fullness -- as in the previous posting with that glass full of ocean and sky.

It felt like an honour to be part of the first annual Winter Writer's Retreat on Denman Island. Although really, the weather felt much more like spring than winter.

I was with a group of writers who wanted to learn more about shaping their work into publishable manuscripts.

Their works-in-progress ranged from history to historical novel, from taut political intrigue to a manual that will help communities become energy self-sufficient. One of the projects will be a coffee-table book that combines photos and writings on a very specific area of Vancouver Island. There will even be a book on achieving spiritual enlightenment; its message is tempered with wonderfully clear-eyed humour.

I just hope that all the participants will maintain the kind of energy they put into the workshop's activities. For now, the house where we worked holds some good energy, and I'm sure it will lend itself to many other creative ventures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The glass is half full

...of mountains and sea.

I'm lucky to be part of Denman Island's Winter Writer's Retreat, and even luckier with where I've been assigned for accommodation. That photo is the view from the room where I'm staying.

Life is certainly good here. The loudest noise is the raucous lullaby of barking sea lions on the rocks (their evening cries, ork, ork, ork!). The quietest sound is the silence of all those extra night-sky stars. So many, so bright!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's up?

Even though I live in the middle of suburbia, I’m near enough Vancouver to get there in less than an hour by car. The trip’s about the same by transit, a combination of bus and train. All of this is, of course, dependent on traffic.

Considering this, it’s impossible not to get caught up in all that’s going on with the Olympics.

The event started on the worst possible note, with Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger from Georgia, being killed during Friday’s practice.

While BC Place was filling with those who could afford (or were well-enough connected) to attend the opening ceremonies, protesters moved through the downtown streets.

In the tradition of those protesters in the early ’60s who first stood up against segregation by sitting down at lunch counters, when Vancouver's protesters were confronted by a line of police, they sat down in the street.

By Friday night, their numbers had grown to over 2,000.

Jevon was in the midst of the crowd outside BC Place. Like the Legal Observers, he was there to watch and witness and learn. He took this photo of a woman whose message is clear. Like me and so many others, it isn’t that she’s necessarily against the Olympics, but against the fact that 90% of arts funding has been cut from the provincial budget, apparently to facilitate these games. What we’re against is the way the event has been mounted on the backs of our schools, our health care system, and our programs for the poor.

But as I’ve said before, here in BC we have a government that’s by the rich and for the rich.

It sounds as though the police must have been getting messages on their headsets, clearly from someone somewhere else, not there on the streets. And yes, this sounds a lot like the way the military’s decision-makers too often command their troops from too far away from the reality of a situation. Even though Jev was on the sidewalk and not even in the street with the bulk of the protesters, he was shoved by a police officer. Not good, not necessary.

And then on Saturday, things got even uglier. I don’t like that store windows were smashed or that vehicles were spray-painted or otherwise vandalized.

I remember a T-shirt that read ‘Perfect Paranoia is Perfect Awareness.’ So I can’t help wonder just who it was that threw those newspaper bins into the windows of the official Olympic department store, the Bay. Since the people who did this were apparently wearing masks, it’s anybody’s guess who it might have been.

Where the police had so much of their original ‘security wish list’ cancelled, who’s to say the rowdies weren’t placed there by those who wanted to discredit the protesters? What a wonderful excuse to get out the big guns. Which, by the way, is exactly what they did.

When I hear that the police are armed with batons and riot shields, I am saddened. When I hear they’re pounding their sticks against those shields and shouting in unison at the crowd, I am ashamed. But when I learn that some of them are packing assault rifles, I wonder whose country I am in.

And almost lost in all the hooplah was the news that Joshua Caleb Baker became the 140th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan. It was a training accident, but one that probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been in Afghanistan. And even though it wasn’t an IED that killed him, he’s just as dead.

When I hear those helicopters – especially in the middle of the night – it’s hard for me to feel particularly safe. I wonder what they’re doing. And I wonder just how secure all these new measures are making us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Too many things going wrong

Last night, I woke in the middle of the night. The numbers on the clock flashed just about one. So, what was it woke me? The Dear Man snoring? Nope. Helicopters buzzing the sky.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Olympic flame of a different sort

I was down at the beach yesterday morning, just about the same time the Olympic torch passed by through White Rock. Pink streaks of light filled the morning sky, a sliver of moon still hung above the sea.

The crowds who’d come down to witness the torch were already trudging up the hill, heading for their cars, the busy-ness that would be their day.

Alone against this tide of people, I wandered along the railway tracks, snapping too many photos of sky, sea, trees, and birds.

Walking past the band shell in the park, I noticed a small group of people who looked as if they were waiting for something.

Approaching them, I asked, “Where’s Gordon Campbell?” After all, our premier’s been popping up almost anyplace where there might be a photo op. They point to each other and laugh, as if one of them might be Campbell in disguise. Then one claims instead to be Stephen Harper. “Oh yes, of course, he’s on holiday. He should be out here any day now.”

As it turns out, they’re going to have a prayer of peace for the Olympics. When they invite me to join them, I do.

Organized by a local group, called the Awakening Heart, the people here represent various faiths and belief systems. Among us, there is an imam, a few Jainists, several Buddhist monks and a nun. The representative from the Unitarian church is charming. She makes the claim that her church has ‘borrowed’ from everyone else. Many, like me, are of no particular affiliation, yet all of us clearly respect one another.

The prayers are multilingual – in Arabic, Sanskrit, and, luckily for me, English.

My place in the circle is beside a man from Sydney, Australia. I can tell by his headpiece that he is likely Muslim. When we are asked to join hands, I have the sense to hesitate, realizing that he and I are probably not permitted to touch. He smiles and indicates for me to hold on near the cuff of his sleeve. This makes the link. We are respectfully joined to the rest of the circle.

At one point the sound of helicopters is too loud for any of us to hear what the other might be saying. We stop, and though I realize this is the noise of the omnipresent Olympic security forces, I think of the many places in the world where this might be the sound of an attack.

When we resume, the angle of the sun reaches into the band shell, shining on us even though we are standing beneath the structure’s overhang.

As the circle of prayers nears its conclusion, a chorus of birds revs up with a glorious morning song. And then a dog jumps up on the platform, sniffing us in turn. It’s as if the animals understand what we are asking, and try to say that they want peace too.

As I leave, I carry a flame in my heart, one that burns stronger than the Olympic torch possibly could.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Superb Owl rises yet again

It's that day again. And sure as the moon will shine in tonight's sky (even if it's hidden behind clouds, it'll be there), Superb Owl will also be there.

He's no ordinary owl (not that there's anything ordinary about owls), but he is -- well, his name says it all -- superb. If you're uncertain about the origins of Superb Owl, click here for a bit of background info.

And while Superb Owl spreads his wings and flies above us all tonight, make some good wishes, for they're sure to come true.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A very nice break

It seems I’ve spent most of the last month sorting papers and books. Considering my packrat ways, this is probably a good thing. Still, it isn’t a whole lot of fun.

But today provided an opportunity for a wonderful break. I was invited to Alexandra Neighbourhood House to do a mini-workshop with a group of young writers. They were welcoming, and best of all, willing to try new things and share the results. And some of their results were pretty amazing. When it came to thinking outside the box and applying imagination, they were pros.

Their goal is to create a small book for publication. So, besides leading them in some writing exercises, I passed around a sampling of some of the chapbooks I own. I think this infusion of new design ideas might find fruition when they make their own booklet.

After such a productive-feeling time, I was left with a head full of good thoughts. So I decided to nourish those with a walk on the nearby beach. What a great start to a weekend!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The world is on its way

With only ten days to go until the Olympics begin, it's becoming clear that Vancouver is putting on the finishing touches and doing its best to look good. Granville Street is filled with lanterns that make the evenings look magical.

The other day, when I was picking up family from the airport, it was easy to spot international visitors, including this one, who it turns out is one of the clothing providers for the Russian team.

But even though there's lots that looks great, some elements aren't quite in place. One thing I'm concerned about is the lack of public toilets in the city. Australia had no such qualms about hiding such facilities. Every little town had prominent signs pointing the way to the nearest loo.

And despite Vancouver's claim for being so green, I was unable to find recycling facilities for the plastic cups we were served from at an event at the Orpheum Theatre. Thanks to a Christmas gift, we were able to attend a concert that's part of the Cultural Olympiad. Oddly, when the emcee announced thanks, she credited Heritage Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia. Hmm. Go figure where B.C.'s arts money has gone, if not to these showy events. But nope, no recycling available at these, the greenest Olympics in the 'greenest city' around.

I've since heard that there won't be any garbage containers available -- all part of our Big Brother Security Show. I'm not sure who'll be looking after the streets, but this sight on Granville (admittedly from over a week ago) doesn't seem very welcoming.