Tag Archives: arts

Bittersweet Beginnings

I know I haven’t been blogging, but I’ve obviously been settling into a new life and don’t feel badly at all that my attentions are otherwise focused.

But I have to drop in for a quick hello, even if I have a busy day ahead. It’s worth commenting on this.

My heart’s breaking as speculation mounts that the Book Warehouse in Vancouver might be closing its four locations, the last indie book chain in town, sounding an almost-imminent death knell for independent bookselling in a city of 2 million.

The Playhouse's last night inspired protests. Photo by Arlen Redekop of the Vancouver Sun.

In the two weeks since I left my hometown, which was a decision two years in the making, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has closed down after 49 years, a found 70+year-old “ghost wall” reflecting a time long past, uncovered in a demo, was unceremoniously demolished, and word was announced that the venerable arts-house theatre The Ridge would be shutting down and replaced with, yes, more condos.

I’m broken-hearted for Vancouver, and have been for a long time.

Many of us residents felt it was a joke that the City had so many arts events happening during the Olympics, and we were right, because as soon as the Games left town, so did this newfound arts embrace demonstrated by government.

It seems now the slippery slope of not respecting arts and not playing an active role in finding a way to keep culture alive in Vancouver has resulted in people wondering nationally if Vancouver’s not just a little kid in the sandbox, since the town clearly doesn’t grasp the effect a cultural scene plays in keeping a city vibrant.

And, the thing is, it’s not just about the City Council kicking arts when they’re already down and out, by giving developers carte blanche to go ahead and mow down iconic locations like The Ridge, but it’s the incessant stupidity of continuing to allow foreign investment in Vancouver, when it’s driving rents into ludicrous territory, because there’s no person making under $40,000 who can comfortably live in Vancouver — anywhere — now.

It’s the people who make under $40,000 who answer your phones, serve your coffee, teach your kids, act in the theatre, read poetry in cafes, sell you movie tickets, and more.

And soon none of them will be able to afford Vancouver.

Don’t think I’m the only one who had an exit strategy. That door out of Vancouver’s a revolving one now, man.

There’s no sense living in the world’s most beautiful city if you can’t afford to live there in a way that allows you to enjoy it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver. The Vancouver Playhouse was instrumental in my cultural upbringing. I’ve seen musicals and ballets and murder mysteries there as a youth.

The Ridge Theatre was where I saw my first independent arthouse flick, and turned me onto all things cinematical — from Easy Rider to Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. From Baraka to Rear Window. I saw ’em all on screen at The Ridge. Across town, The Rio Theatre is fighting to stay alive by trying to become a hip place where you can see live performance, filmed entertainment, and have a drink — but governmental idiocy will likely kill them too.

And, Book Warehouse, well, they were never my cup of tea but they have been an important part of Vancouver’s independent bookselling scene for a long time, and the more informed reader could walk in and score deals on writers that met the returns pile but should be more read here in Canada, like James Kelman, Iain Banks, and Colum McCann.

These aren’t just “businesses.” They’re the soul of a city.

Vancouver is a young town and it disses its heritage, saying “well, it’s only 70/80/90 years old, so…” because other towns have been around for centuries.

But heritage is where we come from, and I don’t give a fuck that Vancouver’s become a city of immigrants. It’s OUR HISTORY.

There’s no cultural soul anymore. It’s tech industry and more.

But here in Victoria, they’ve attracted Microsoft, largely because of the quality of life offered to those living in Victoria. I predict we’ll see more businesses deciding not to open in Vancouver because they know it’ll be too hard to attract entry-level employees making under $50K, who are the backbone of any enterprise.

Soon, Vancouver’ll be a city full of Lululemon pants, people who never say hi to each other, toy dogs, and business folk — no artists, no creatives, no funky people.

And I won’t be there when it is.

Yeah. It breaks my heart. I love Vancouver. I just don’t like what it’s become. Vancouver, to me, is like that girl who was always pretty and fun and great to be around, but didn’t know it — then one day she figures out she’s hot, gets in with the cool kids, stops being a geek, wears high fashion, and loses all the personality that made her great in the first place. Now she’s just another vapid hottie.

Vancouver’s quickly becoming the vapid hottie with no soul, and it never needed to happen. There have long been incredible artistic peoples in Vancouver.

There just won’t be, soon.

And if Vancouverites don’t demand change, if laws around investments don’t alter, if tax credits for artistic societies don’t improve, if housing options for those who aren’t working in big biz don’t improve, then, yeah, expect to see a continuing demise in Vancouver’s arts scene.

Please, don’t let Vancouver become a vapid city. Even from afar, I don’t think my heart can take it.

Extreme Writing 101: Scab-picking

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself,” is meant to be a dry poke at the medical profession. You may be god-like, but you can’t fix yourself.

“Writer, heal thyself,” however, isn’t a poke, it’s a goal.

In talking with a friend over dinner last night, I likened writing to the extreme sports of the artistic world. No other art requires one to be so isolated and confrontational, so alone and challenged, for so long. It’s an endurance sport, one with almost impossible odds. You’ll never say everything you want to say, you’ll never be as complete as you want to be. You never get to the end and go, “WOW, look at what I did!” like when one climbs a mountain; you’re always flawed and missing a certain something.

There is no “right” way to write, unlike what the schools will tell you. Grammar isn’t even as rigid as you might think it to be. Schools of thought exist on many different grammatical styles. The most hotly contested wordgeek event of the year is the Oxford Dictionary releases annual new words. “Unfollow” was a big one last year.

There is a right way to do the writing, though.

From a place of truth. Honesty. Rawness. Forget what your mother taught you about picking at scabs. Rip that motherfucker off.

This book I’m writing is highly cathartic. I’m forcing myself to be more honest there than I am for you. It’s not that I’ve been afraid of sharing those truths with you… it’s just that I think it’s kinda like how women shouldn’t wear microskirts — don’t just give that away, honey.

You haven’t earned the right to know about my deepest, darkest passages. This needs to be a two-way street. Right now, I give to you, you take, I get nothing. But that’s the way of the blogging world.

In a year or two you’ll be able to buy your very own copy, and feed the belly of this beast. That’s when you earn it. And that’s not me being a bitch, that’s a brutal fiscal reality.

What, I’m supposed to eat idealism for breakfast? That’s how it works if I choose art, not ratrace? Really?

There’s not many things in this world that I love to do, am good at doing, and see myself wanting to do for the rest of my life. There’s nothing, actually — except writing. For that to happen, for me to pull these scabs, spend late nights staring in blackness at a cieling I can’t even see, as I think of topics I want to tear apart, I need to pay my rent.

At some point there enters into this a consciousness about you, my audience. I know you’re there. I can now engage in a monologue that’s both true to me, yet relatable for you.

It’s an interesting consciousness. An even more interesting exercise.

If I was in grade three, I’d simply explain it as: I find writing weird, and writing for an audience even weirder.

It’s something I know in my heart I’m very good at — but I see myself as being very good at writing the kind of thing I like reading; not necessarily “very good” at the craft as a whole. If I was GOOD, it would have to be harder for me, right?

Then again, I’ve never really tackled fiction. Who knows, right? But, still, I don’t follow traditional writing schools or all the Proper Things To Do. I’m not even very linear, I go all over the place. But nothing comes more comfortably for me in life than writing.

I was talking with writer friends about Twitter — they don’t follow me and I don’t know if they’ve even seen my Twitter stream, but I pepper the thing with one-liners. I’m all about the jokey stuff and scathing observations. And one says, “I don’t understand some people — how they just post all their best stuff, great one-liners. I mean, you could spend up to 60 minutes composing a single tweet…”

And I said nothing. I’ve never spent more than two minutes on a single tweet. Never! It just pops in my head and BOOM, there it is. There are so many areas in my life that DON’T work efficiently, though.

But there? Writing? It’s seldom a struggle, not anymore. For six years, I’d have better luck squeezing water from a rock than pushing out readable words, but once I found my way out of that writer’s block, I’ve never gone back.

At some point, you gotta figure out who’s the lion (the writing) and who’s the tamer (me), and then it’s all about remembering who’s in charge.

It’s my extreme sport. I’m always pushing to see what new thing I can say, what new button I can push. It’s what I really, really enjoy doing — whether you’re reading it or whether it’s gathering dust until it finds its way between covers or never sees the light of day. THAT’s my extreme sport. That’s where my life’s legacy will probably be found, in words I’ve cobbled together over decades and credos I’ve hammered out one phrase at a time.

There are people who go their who life without ever knowing who they are.

I may be broke, facing losing my job in the coming days, unlucky in love, always rehabbing, waging battles with ADHD, and any number of other things…

But I know exactly who I am, who I want to be, what’s important to me in life, and what I cannot live without doing — what’s as important to me as the air I breathe.

Writing makes me one of the richest people I know.

Hopefully I can take that figurative statement and make it literal in a “Holy shit, we’re capitalists?” kind of way over the next year — but not at the risk of losing my soul or my self.

Some prices can’t be unpaid. That, too, people can go a lifetime without learning.

Like I said, I’m one of the richest people I know.