Finding Pockets of Artistic Magic

I’m not sure what I would do without the magic that is art in all its many forms.

Sometimes there’s no better antidote for a crappy week than a little magic when you’re not expecting it. And when you desperately need something magical and heartfelt and soul nourishing there aren’t too many things I can think of that equal the beauty of music and art. WesleyHardisty

I left the house on Sunday and headed over to Maillardville to check out the Festival du Bois. I was motivated when I saw that Wesley Hardisty from Salt Spring was part of a fiddle jam happening that afternoon in Mackin House, a beautifully restored heritage house.

We all crowded into the tiny living room, standing room only in the hall, and I felt as if I’d been transported to what I imagine a kitchen party in Cape Breton might be like, minus the good homemade hooch.

I love the collaborative and improvisational nature of how fiddlers decide on the next tune, the banter between them, and a wee story as introduction.  I was seated on the floor directly at their feet and it just made me so happy after, okay, I’ll admit it, being in such a bad mood for most of the week.   They played and somewhere in the dining room behind us, someone had a set of wooden spoons to add to the ambiance, and they clacked out the rhythm to the toe tapping.  It was such a welcome bit of magic injected into an otherwise frustrating week.

And again, this afternoon, as I often do, I got out of the house after a morning of focus. I headed over to Deep Cove and wandered around a bit before checking out the small Seymour Art Gallery there. I came upon an exhibit which focused on repetition. It was inspired by French artist Gilles Deleuze who wrote, “I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon.”

The press release said, “In these six artists’ work by repeating the process of depicting their subjects over and over, the original meaning of the project starts to slip and the process itself gains importance.”


This painting, above, by Suzanne Fulbrook, is a self portrait of a kind. She has exclusively painted her own face since 2008. “When you say a word 30 times or more, it appears to lose its meaning, becomes harder to say and becomes almost meditative. What happens if you repeatedly paint an image of yourself?” I guess she could now tell us.

I had a private curated talk by Vanessa Black, an Emily Carr grad, a painter, and the gallery assistant, and of course her descriptions provided the insights that brought the process and the works to life even more.


This is by Elizabeth MacKenzie, a growing series of ink drawings to consider and affirm the experience of difference through the archetypal figure of Frankenstein’s monster. She is particularly fascinated by the un-named creature that Dr. Frankenstein created in Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic novel. She draws these on rice paper and puts them directly onto the wall.

It was a really interesting afternoon topped off by a late birthday dinner with a friend.

Vanessa will be hosting a talk this Sunday and a free bookbinding workshop for kids at 11 am and for adults at 2 pm.

A new exhibit called Tattoo, Ink and Flesh, with BC tattoo artists showing photographs of their most memorable works on skin, and discussing the challenges of working on a living medium is happening, March 15 from 2-4 pm. Local poets will perform and all poets are invited for some on the spot literary sharing.

Fundraiser for a Revolutionary Daughter: Carmen Aguirre

AguirreBefore I went to the Salmon Arm Writer’s Festival, I knew next to nothing about playwright, actor and author Carmen Aguirre. I’d heard her name. That was it.

I vaguely recall hearing about her book: Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter. It was published in 2011. Aguirre spent 8 years writing it plagued by fear of what telling her story might mean for her safety and for what it might mean for the future of her young son.

I did not know that she was out $60,000 in royalties because the Bank of Montreal called a loan on Douglas & McIntyre which put them into bankruptcy according to Howard White who through his Harbour Publishing purchased the bankrupt company.

Aguirre’s book, although it came out to critical acclaim, sold barely 1,500 copies when it was first released.  Typically, a publisher won’t take on a book in Canada if it thinks it can’t sell a minimum of 3,000 copies. Then, Canada Reads happened in 2012 and the singer Shad backed Aguirre’s book. It won the Canada Reads competition that year and suddenly it began to sell and she became an in-demand guest speaker on talk shows, thrust into the spotlight, meeting with First Nations leaders and even an unlikely guest speaker at Vancouver’s exclusive Terminal City Club.

In Salmon Arm in May, I took Aguirre’s workshop because it was about memoir and monologue but mostly because it sounded interesting. Some of her advice: “Put your theme in capital letters and keep it in front of you when you write.  Find one word that describes your theme. Then, find the opposite of that word. What is the conflict? When there is no longer conflict, when there is no longer a struggle, the story is over. The character(s) have to have a super objective; they have to feel that they will die unless they achieve it.  Do this in every chapter. Every chapter has to have an objective that will move the story forward.”

During the workshop, the best workshop I attended there of many good ones, when Aguirre spoke, what I noticed most was her personal strength communicated through the precision of her words. Think of a sword slicing a blank page in one fell swoop. That is what comes across in the way she speaks with such intensity. She knows where she’s going in front of an audience. She wants you to find your own committed path to where you’re going as well, at least on the page.

In 1997, on vacation during a Christmas vacation, I was standing in the lobby of a hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas when our GAP tour leader explained that there had been a massacre, 22 kilometres away at a place called Acteal. Fear rose inside me but only momentarily. Then, like a suitcase ready and packed, that horror, distant, unreal, nothing to do with me, easily slipped back inside, remote. A remoteness born from a Canadian upbringing and ignorance about the realities that occur in the lives of people who aren’t as lucky in the random geography of their births.

Outside the workshops when I passed her on the wharf she seemed remote. Maybe a little bored. Professional. Polite. Given her past, perhaps that remoteness is a way of being that can’t ever be fully released. Her face is riveting. Her jawline as sharp as the edge of the tool that plastered the walls Diego Rivera painted his murals on.

This morning I finished Carmen Aguirre’s memoir and it is the kind of book that will accompany you forever once you’re done.  I can’t begin to imagine how it would be possible to experience what she describes on the pages and then to return to Vancouver in all its safe and pleasant banality and not feel that you weren’t in a constant state of disassociation. Moving forward and embracing a future might be surreal in a very different, yet just as unsettling way. I don’t know. I’m just surmising.

On June 9th, there will be a fundraiser for Carmen Aguirre put together by those who worked on the book at D&M and bringing together communities her life intersects with in publishing, the theatre, literary.

It’s taking place at Heritage Hall on Main Street, 7:30 – 11pm. You can contribute virtually without even attending.

Get tickets and/or contribute through the Eventbrite website.  Online sales end June 8th.

Are you a cultural entrepreneur, an artist, or both?

paintpeelingabstract“Too often creative people do not recognize that by allowing themselves to be exploited they are contributing to the exploitation of their fellow artists and writers, as well as aspiring artists and writers, and by allowing exploitation of themselves, they are inadvertently helping to shape an economy of exploitation on a societal scale.” – Kate Oakley, PhD.

I heard this the other day at a talk at SFU given by Kate Oakley, a professor from Leeds, who participated in SFU’s Dream Colloquiam on Entrepreneurship.  

When she made the above statement, I thought it was so true for so many, except for, perhaps, the most accomplished.

And then I wondered. Does Douglas Coupland ever feel exploited, monetarily that is? I know you’re probably thinking, of course not, he’s wildly successful. But, I really wonder if people ever nickel and dime him asking if he could just give them the art for less? If the exhibit could be paid for at that price but could they have it for a few extra months?

Are the people at the very top of the creative pool whose work is coveted commercially, the only ones who should expect to be paid adequately while the majority should expect to scramble for whatever meagre dollars they can be paid even if others are making money because of their content?  Think about whether that’s true for any other industry.

Did you know that the so called Creative Class is more male, white, and more middle class than in any other industry and it’s getting worse according to Oakley. This is certainly true for newspapers (which may explain their continuing demise).

What are the differences between artists and entrepreneurs?  Oakley said one difference is in how they approach work. Artists typically do not like to do the same thing twice. Entrepreneurs won’t walk away from something if it’s commercially successful even if they have to make a million widgets.

Why is it that it’s okay for some to make a decent living from your contribution to their newspaper, their magazine, their art gallery, their publishing company and yet so many writers and artists are mere weeks away from introducing Friskies Cat Food into their daily diet?

Those magazines, newspapers, art galleries depend on creative content to make the decent living they have become accustomed to, and yet, somehow, historically, they refuse to adequately pay for it from the people who make it possible.

Our society loves creative work in general it would seem. It enriches our lives. Do we want to pay for it? Yet we pay millions for hockey.

Creativity for creativity sake. Take the commercial out of it. Is that the answer? Is the answer to change expectations. Is the answer to refuse to be exploited, refuse to participate in being paid less than?

  • When I learn that a community newspaper in the Yukon owned by Black Press is essentially paying only slightly better than the starting wage for reporters 20 years ago, it makes me shake my head.
  • When I learn that a magazine in Victoria is paying less now for  freelance than just a few years ago when the rates were already crappy, it makes me angry.
  • When I learn that a national real estate magazine is paying $30 cents a word which would be $300 for 1,000 words, I have a problem with that.  Shouldn’t I?
  • I want to know whether AdBusters is actually paying writers when they put out a call for submissions to one of their themed issues or does AdBusters need to be busted for their hypocrisy in how they might be treating some of the people who provide their content.

It makes me think about Mona Fertig’s project on Unheralded Artist of BC. (Video)

Were the Beatles both cultural entrepreneurs and artists? What about Mick Jagger?

How have you reconciled your desire to participate in creative work and your need to to be able to support yourself and balance the two?

A few links about Creative Entrepreneurship, which, I know is different from art, or is it?

Vancouver busy in some intriguing ways

tikiThis past week has meant a whirlwind of arts events and dining out in Vancouver all of which were courtesy of friends. It was my birthday. Over now. Spoiled!

On February 14th, Gwen treated her friend Karen and I to dinner at the Afghan Horsemen, a place I remember from 20 years ago at its former location on Broadway. We followed that up with attendance at a micro-performance by T.J. Dawe, whose only other play I’ve seen was Medicine, about his experience with Ayahuasca.

This micro-performance, produced by Boca del Lupo meant 22 people crowded into a triangle-shaped space to sit on tiny, rather uncomfortable stools. It wasn’t clear which direction was the “right way” to face. T.J. walked around the perimeter talking the entire time while showing slides on three walls that revealed what the term fugue means in music. That’s how it began. Life has become a fugue state. Busy. Many layered. Here’s the example of a fugue that helped him explain the premise for his multimedia presentation. It was unique. I like the way he thinks. Not to everyone’s taste for sure.

Once that was revealed, he used all sorts of slides to reveal the way fugue has been used in other areas of life. He used maps of London and talked about the enlarged Hippocampuses of London taxi drivers as a result of their need to memorize locations. He referenced Aldous Huxley’s book, Point Counter Point, and Mark Twain’s On the Mississippi, and Robert Altman’s style of film-making. The other thing that couldn’t be missed was the heat. There was a reason they demanded you give up your coat before going in. Good thing it only lasted 20 minutes. That was enough.

Prior to the show, crammed into a tiny, tiny space waiting to enter the even tinier space, we ended up talking to a guy named Joe. He looked like a biker. He didn’t look like he would be interested in this type of performance. I liked that. I like it when people’s looks and interests are incongruous. I don’t know why. After the performance Joe asked us if we were going for a drink. Karen left. Gwen and I joined Joe at the newly renovated Bridges Bar. He told us he knew T.J. Dawe (his Grade 5 teacher’s son) and we got to hear about all things techie and how he broke his neck in Chetwynd quite a while back.  It was interesting in a “that was kind of weird” way.

My ever generous sister, June, treated me for lunch the next day. Later that night Heather and I went to Caffé Brixton for a drink and then to Raincity Chronicles at The Rickshaw Theatre to hear storytellers talk about all things gone wrong in love. Some of them were pretty funny/weird/scary/interesting.  Who can’t relate? If you can’t relate, there must be something wrong with you. To make it as authentic as possible, unbeknownst to Heather, a former love interest of hers was there and I got to meet this guy I’d heard about ad nausea. I could see the charm. Sometimes charm ain’t enough.

Sunday Dee and I had pre-planned a trip to the ever packed and kitschy, rather politically incorrect (at this point in history), breakfast eatery on the North Shore called The Tomahawk. After that we headed off in search of Lynn Canyon. I must be the only person who was born in the Lower Mainland who can never find the place. But, we did…eventually.

Tuesday night Donna treated at Bitter on E. Hastings.  I feel like I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the Downtown East Side attracted, I hate to say it, by all the gentrification and interesting places that have popped up.

On Wednesday night, Colleen wouldn’t tell me where we were going except which neighborhood: Kits. “Just get me in the vicinity and then you can take me by the hand and I’ll close my eyes and you can surprise me.” Funny thing to say given that we were going to Dark Table, where you eat in the dark (pitch black) and the servers are “supposedly” blind.

I know. I’m a total cynic. I don’t believe all the servers are blind.  Wash your hands really well before you go because you will end up using your hands to eat at some point. It’s easier than cutlery. And besides, your fork or knife will inevitably end up on the floor, probably right after being seated as mine did. As someone who is easily distracted by my environment, I found it strangely soothing not to be able to see anyone else.  A word of advice. No gossiping. You just never know who’s sitting two tables over.

Afterwards we headed over to the Shameful Tiki Room on Main St, sat at the bar and who should show up but Colleen’s neighbour whose nephew owns the place. The décor is fantastic, really authentic (or to me it seemed that way) and in Vancouver in February, it’s worth taking a mental health night there. Pretend you’re in Tahiti. Or re-ignite any memories you may have had, if you’re old enough, of the former Trader Vic’s at the Bayshore. Small black and white screens at the bar take you to Honolulu complete with the beach and hula dancing circa 1965. Fun! I had a Chi Chi. Colleen had a Pain Killer which would explain why she overslept by an hour the next morning.

Tonight, Dee and I are headed to Macy Gray at Hard Rock Casino tonight. Tomorrow I’m taking in a walking tour led by John Atkin, a Short History of Shipping in Burrard Inlet, and then a play at the Firehall called The Drummer Girl.

On Monday, it’s a fundraising dinner at Graze to raise money for Blumin Warehouse where eight readers will read for eight minutes each.

It’s been a memorable and very entertaining week. Gratitude!

Serendipity and Speaking of Mothers

I’m a huge proponent of paying attention to serendipitous events when the little tinker bells get set off. Ding. Ding. Ding.

Much of  Sunday and Monday of this past long weekend saw me deep into a story that I’ve been working on about my mother.  I was re-writing it trying to add more depth, pulling seams that might unravel buried moments in time.

Now pay attention. Here’s where serendipity comes in. A few days ago, I noticed an event that was happening at River Market that had something to do with storytelling and healing. There was a workshop component. It said that it was a fundraiser for the businesses that were lost to the recent Columbia Street fire.

Four women were presenting. First up. The founder of Royal City Writers who is the speechwriter for the president of UBC. Next? A doctor who is an actor and a film maker. Then, an actor/writer/producer and the founder of something called the Mothership Stories Society who happens to be a New Westminster resident. And last, Elee Kraljee Gardiner, host of Thursday’s Writing Collective in the Downtown Eastside, and a woman who must have huge amounts of energy given all that she’s involved in.

When Marilyn Norry, the founder of Mothership Stories Society got up on stage to speak,  I couldn’t believe it. Everything she was speaking about was relevant to what I’d just spent the past three days focused on. I realized that she’s the one who developed the idea that grew into two books and a play that I’d seen in North Vancouver last year at Presentation House; a play that had eight actors performing stories written by women who were telling their mothers’ stories. Serendipity with a capital S!

gordandIasbabies(Of course I’m the redhead on the right)

When it came time for the breakout groups, I sat in on hers. Three other women were in the group. I kept thinking that I had met one of the other women before but couldn’t place where that might be. Don’t ya just hate that?

Turns out she’s a scriptwriter for television. So, okay, there’s no way I would have met her related to that. She was wearing a red Baywatch jacket which she said, they were told, they could wear anywhere they wanted as long as they never wore it to a beach anywhere in L.A.  because someone might mistake them for a real lifeguard.  I thought that was funny.

There’s no way I know this woman and yet she seems so familiar to me. She grew up in New York and has lived and worked in L.A. Now, she lives in New West and in her words, I wouldn’t trade this place for anywhere…”  She’s lived here four years.

We exchanged cards and decided that it was a great idea to get together as a way to keep focused on continuing with the exercise.

So, New West, I’m opening my mind and getting rid of the “attitude” towards you.  Childhood was another lifetime ago. That was then. This is now. You’re not Salt Spring. That’s painfully clear. But, it’s been two years already. Since I’m here, a little acceptance and a little participation is long overdue.

As an aside, here’s something I wrote about my mother after she passed away.

If you’re interested in writing your mother’s story, Marilyn Norry hosts workshops.  You can put your mother’s story right onto the Mothership site.