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June 30, 2010

There have been a few times in my life that I've known what might be considered tragedy. The phone call about the suicide. The call about a cousin who died of a heart attack at 35. Seeing my 43-year-old sister unconscious being wheeled away in an ambulance, never to see her again, wearing a summer T-shirt that said, "Life's a Beach" on the evening before she died. Depressions that seemed like they'd never lift, and wouldn't have, without the support of others. Feeling let down, yet again, by a man. Well, that's not a tragedy really but after a while that reality does take on a tragic quality.  Events that change us (and in spite of the pain at the time, the change has not always been for the worse).

Sometimes however you hear of other people's tragedies, people you really care about, and its as if in their anguish, which is palpable, you experience a taste of mortality that's too strong and you really don't know what to do with it and where to put it and it changes you slightly. And, if it does that to you, the mere bystander, what must it be doing to them? And, you don't know what to say and suddenly you are acting a little different over the phone with people you can totally be yourself around, laugh with, spend the most amount of time with and receive support from and now, because of the situation, you feel somewhat helpless to know how to help them.

Driving on Salt Spring is dangerous. The  deer are waiting to pounce. There are blind curves and invisible ditches. Especially at night. There are other drivers who act as if they are the only ones on the road expecting you to be the most defensive driver in the world, especially on back roads that sometimes have small hills with no center lines and just the slowing down and the hope that the other person coming towards you is as far to the side of his side of the road as possible as you are to yours.

The drinking and driving laws have changed significantly  to the degree that most of us, unless we were to pledge from this day forward to never have a drink when we are driving (which seems like the wisest choice), could look back at our past behaviour and not wonder, had we been caught, would we have passed the breathalyzer even though we'd had two glasses of wine and felt perfectly fine.

I don't know the full circumstances or the details of the event that happened on Saturday night. I do know a bit about the outcome and I can only imagine the ramifications in the lives of a lot of people as a result. Really good people who have had, at least temporarily, their optimism and possibly their futures altered because of an accident.

And, in that thought my mind goes to Pema Chodron's books When Things Fall Apart and Start Where You Are.  No doubt it seems trite to even mention a book but words of comfort and our thoughts matter and sometimes they are all we have to wrap around us and lead us to our future - one day at a time - when on the outside there is nothing tangible that can change where we're at.
"Only to the degree that we've gotten to know our personal pain, only to the degree that we've related with pain at all, will we be fearless enough, brave enough and enough of a warrior to be willing to feel the pain of others.  To that degree we will be willing to take on the pain of others because we will have discovered that their pain and our pain are not different."

June 28, 2010

Salt Spring Market: Matching People to Photos

One of the best things about The Salt Spring Saturday Market as a vendor is not that you can make money but it's in the interactions you sometimes have with people who buy your stuff. I took this photo last Spring some time in the early evening. This baseball was sitting atop one of those memorials in the Ganges graveyard that have plaques on the front. When I saw it, I loved the way the light was glinting off the top right hand corner. I like the look of it as well; so worn and well-loved, no stranger to a bat.

I was wondering whether someone placed it there because one of the people who had died and whose plaque was on this monument were serious, serious baseball fans or whether it just ended up there because during a baseball game at the park across the street it got hit out of the park in a home run where all the players cleared the bases.

I love the shot but when I matted it as a small photo, I knew it would have to be a die-hard baseball fan who would find it appealing enough to purchase it. 

The man who ended up buying it was wearing a Bluejays cap.  He didn't tell me but when he left his wife told me that he 's a director on the board of the Blue Jays charity called Jays Care.  He's got some role in broadcasting as an Executive Producer. 

It's nice for me to think that my photo will be sitting somewhere that matters to someone who cares about baseball and does good things through the charity that's part of that team.

June 24, 2010

In Character on Walker's Hook

Mr. Ron

Last night I decided against going to Derek Lundy's talk on his new book Borderlands and decided a little fresh air was in order instead.

I walked down to my favorite dock. Even the air felt quiet. The sky, the air, the water. All's quiet. I sometimes feel like this is my island; all mine. Especially at this North End. Often, on my walks, there will be no one.

While I was coming back from the end of the dock, a couple with their little boy named Henry stopped. He was a teacher, she was an organic farmer. They own a farm in Sonoma County, California. "She had worked in Hollywood," he said. "She didn't like that much. Then, she went to the school U.C. Santa Barbara, some organic farming course that's really well known he said. He was a teacher. They were renting a cabin on North End Road.

"It's like a fairy tale here," he said.

What do you mean? 

A fairy tale. You know. It's not real."

His wife went to the end of the dock to be with Henry. I noticed, looking past the father that she was showing Henry how to use a small point and shoot camera. 

When we walked back to the end of the dock, Henry had disappeared. Now, I see how fast kids can disappear. I could feel their momentary alarm. Henry was hiding on us in the bushes.  He came out after a while.

Walking back towards home, I came across this man with his jaunty hat and his handle bar mustache. He had a cane and if I'd had more time and been a little bolder I would have found a way to take more than one photo.

"Why do you want to take my photo?" he asked laughing.

"Because you have a great face."

"Less than 10 minutes and I've had my photo taken twice," he said pointing down the road to a black suburban.

"The guy from the paper just took my photo. He had me posing and everything,"he said.

I looked down the road and I saw an arm stick out of the truck and wave.

"It would be a joke if you got a better photo than him," he said.

I realized it was Derrick Lundy. I laughed.

I really need to start taking more photos of people I thought to myself.

June 23, 2010

Going Sideways on B.C. Wine

On the grounds of Mistaken Identity Vineyards last year.

Last week I met the owners of a local liquor store called The Local as part of a story on wine. Colleen Kennaird and Steve Knight moved to Salt Spring from Vancouver in 2003. At that time, the government was talking about getting out of the liquor business. 

Knight and Kennaird bought what was a bankrupt nightclub and transformed it into a liquor store and have specialized in B.C.`s regional wines while stocking everything else you can typically find in a liquor store including organic vodka (which may not be so typical. It`s called Schram.)  As a result of our meeting I was updated on some really great B.C. wines recommended by people who really know their wines from extensive tasting and knowledge of the wine industry.  So far, I`ve only tried the Herder Meritage 2008 (which I am in love with) and last night I took a bottle of Road 13`s Rockpile to dinner at some friends. It was even better than the Meritage. There`s nothing like the inside scoop from people who really know what they`re talking about.

Now, even though I took a wine tasting course quite some time ago from UBC Continuing Studies and even got to tour this amazing wine cellar on the campus which is underground somewhere near the UBC Bookstore and part of the Wine Research Centre there, I most definitely do  not have a nose that`s able to distinguish the scents within a wine`s bouquet. I can have my nose buried deep in a rose and can barely smell the wonderful perfume so I`m no candidate for a sommelier.

While I was doing the last minute (or last second) finding people to talk to who knew something about wine with some credibility, I recalled that Kennaird had urged me to talk to Terry David Mulligan. I had no idea that he has a wine tasting show that goes into the Okanagan and soon, Tofino, perhaps upcoming Salt Spring will air it as well. It`s called Tasting Room Radio. When I talked to him, I discovered that the way he discovered The Local is because his son owns the Salt Spring Adventure Co. here and that`s how the connection to The Local was made. The other website, recommended to me is really great and written by a well-known wine expert and author on wine John Schreiner.

I can see how wine tasting becomes a bit addictive. Just thinking about it brings back fond memories of my trip to Naramata last September.  Apparently, the next up and coming wine region in B.C. is the Similkameen Valley between Keremeos and Chopaka near the U.S. border. Try the Orofino Chardonnay 2008 if you`re a white wine drinker. 

There are so many others I could share with you but I think I`ll leave it there.

Tried any new wines that blow your sox off lately? Let me know.

June 21, 2010

The Tale of Two Art Events

It's interesting to go to two events on island and experience such a different tone. On Friday night I went to ArtCraft Mahon Hall and then ArtSpring to take in the opening night of the Masterpiece weekend. Essentially, each Salt Spring gallery picks an artist or two and they create one very special piece for the exhibit.

John Bateman's kids were playing on his work. A big round rusted metal ring with two drum sticks attached that his kids were beating from each side. It was loud and fun.
There is some beautiful work at Mahon Hall and at ArtSpring. As always, amazingly talented individuals; their souls on display. I didn't study it. I didn't have to write about it and when I don't have to write something, I tend to just do a cursory glance at those openings and then go back when it's empty to really have a good look at the pieces.

But, this post  isn't about the art. It's about ways of being. I've had the experience a fair amount here on Salt Spring of having written about someone - which means spent time with them in person talking to them, sometimes in their homes for more than an hour and yet, when I see them on the street, I could be looking right at them and I don't get a smile or a hello.

Is it that I'm a female nearing 50 and therefore unmemorable? Is it that they are snobs? Is it that they hated what I wrote? Or, is it that they are incredibly insecure? Which is it?  Because, none of them are very good reasons in the end.  And, I'm not the only person who has said this. The lady beside me last night mentioned the same thing. She went to the opening of Gallery 8 and was meeting someone there who didn't show. "Not a single person spoke to me," she said. "They looked at me. They gave me that look - up and down - and they went back to their conversations." She was dressed stylishly, she's relatively new to the island and she just wants to be social. C'mon people. If you're going to put your art on display, how about putting your manners on display as well.

And, now, to be fair, it could be that they don't recognize me or that they're thinking the same about me except the difference is, if you approach me on the street or anywhere else, and I recognize you, I normally am open enough - unless I'm totally lost in thought - to acknowledge you if I want to or if I recognize you. But, then again, I don't paint, dahling! And, yes, I could approach them and say Hello, if they'd let me. But, there's something about these people that make it almost impossible to acknowledge them in these venues. I can't explain it. It's like they don't want you to talk to them.

Contrast that with Mona Fertig's events related to her publishing venture Mother Tonge Publishing. I really like Mona because she's open, she's friendly, she's genuine and most of all I admire her because she did something that nobody thought was a good idea and she didn't care because it mattered to her. She decided to do it anyway and now, less than two years after saying she was going to do it, she's done it. Bravo!

Less than two years ago in Aqua, I wrote about her grand scheme to publish some non-fiction books about the "Unheralded Artists of B.C." including her own father - George Fertig - and now she has done it. The books  are really interesting and they add an additional layer to B.C. Art history that wasn't there previously. Financially, I have no doubt that it wasn't a good decision, but I'm sure that personally, and as a tribute to some of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of artists in B.C. who toiled in the 30s, 40s and 50s, with creativity and talent never recognized, it has been an unqualified success if we must label it that way at all.

Last night she held an evening on Salt Spring as part of a series of launches. This one was dedicated to her father, George Fertig. A retrospective of his work, that she organized, is now taking place at the Burnaby Art Gallery to July 11th. She said it took her 14 years - with the silences in between of raising two kids - to do the research on her father's past and connections to make this happen. She spent a lot of time in the Vancouver Archives and came across some amazing finds including an invitation to one of his shows that had hung in their house when she was growing up. She had forgotten all about it until she uncovered it in a plastic folder hidden away in the archives.  The Burnaby Art Gallery had two of his paintings hidden away in the basement. She doesn't know how they got there but they were there, in the basement, the frames almost crumbling in her hands.

When you go to one of Mona's events, everyone is welcome. There's no snobbery there and I haven't heard her say things to me about others, that I've heard some other people say who, for example, think just because their poetry has been published that they now have the right to be the critic of all poets. I can't stand that. For me, all that matters is that people are trying to engage in some form of creativity. Yes, some people have passion and talent and some people just have the passion. Some people's work resonates and is exquisite and is commonly accepted to be of a quality that is easy to agree on. But who cares. Really. Because, when it comes to creativity, it really is about the journey. Ask J.K. Rowling. I don't think she'd say it's about the fact that she's famous and rich. Not that that isn't fabulous as well. Fame can never trump the creative process.

It seems to me that the signs of a true professional (with grace) are to acknowledge those who are farther behind you on the path. I think Mona does that really well.

Is there someone you've met recently whom you really admire? Pass your admiration forward. You can even do it here by leaving a comment!

June 16, 2010

James Bay in Three Days

I was in Victoria for the past couple of days at a workshop on Motivational Interviewing and as I walked around in three days of beautiful weather, I noticed that Victoria really seems to be growing on me. When I drove into the city at 7:00 am on Sunday morning, the streets were pretty empty and the Olympic Mountains in the distance looked as if they were floating with their white tops painted in acrylic on the sky.

I stayed at the James Bay Inn because of its fantastic location but mostly because of its great weekday rate ($69) and its charm. It must be one of the first hotels in Victoria and it's just down the street from Emily Carr's house which I have yet to take a tour of and have wanted to do for some time now after reading a few of her books. I can't recall the name of the woman who wrote the last one but it was a fictional story using Carr's life as the basis and it's a good read and I can't find it online. It's really bugging me now.

I wandered down towards Dallas Road and the wind was whipping up the whitecaps pretty well. There were at least 10 guys getting air and sometimes getting water while they did tricks on their parasailing boards or whatever those things are called. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home. I know, I know. Strange but true. I wanted to just walk around looking with my own eyes, not through a camera lense. Alas, the only photo I took was from my cell phone.

I walked along the seawall back at the inner harbour and went into the Flying Otter in search of a fish and chip place that I heard was down there and really good. I got directed to go farther north and found Red Fish/Blue Fish. Try the traditional halibut or cod fish and chips or get adventurous with all sorts of spicy seafood Tacones.

On one of the mornings I had breakfast (a steal of deal with two eggs, toast, hashbrowns and coffee) at the James Bay Tea Room.

I walked along Toronto street, a one-way street where the James Bay Inn is located and admired all the colourful Victorian-style houses with their tiny yards butted up against the sidewalk and daisies and wildflowers poking through the small, white picket fences keeping the narrow sidewalks in some semblence of a straight line.

It wouldn't be a visit to Victoria without a trip to Munro's books. In addition to the latest Ruth Rendall Mystery, I purchased a book called Eating India; Exploring the Food and Culture of the Land of the Spices and another, A Life Less Ordinary, about a woman who ends up writing a book about her impoverished life in India after she receives encouragement to do so while working as a maid for an educated family in Delhi.

As I continued towards the port where the cruise ships doc, I marveled at the beautiful condos on that side of the downtown. What a great place to live.  There's a small seawall that you can follow all around the harbour that takes you past the Laurel Point Inn and houseboats and fish and chip take-out with the floatplanes taxiing right in front of you after they land heading back to their home berth.

I enjoyed the energy and sounds of Victoria a lot, worryingly so. My mind feels more alert in the city. I like looking at  people I haven't seen and don't know. Strangers are good.

Not that it wasn't nice to return to a view worthy of an Emily Carr painting with 11 Douglas Fir trees no more than 25 feet from my window and the ocean a grey-white ribbon of a background on this overcast morning. But, the wheels are a turning about living on an island. I can use the techniques I learned to resolve my own ambivalence. Yes, I can try that. Where should I move next?

June 08, 2010

D.C. al Coda

A band concert does not truly begin at the band concert. A band concert begins the day before the concert when, miracle of miracles, you finally lift your instrument from its case and realize that it's the first time since you started that you've actually decided to practise. At least, that's how it feels. It's not true of course. The road to good intentions, is, well, you know...

I can tell it's a band concert because Derrick, professional trumpet player and veterinarian, is sporting a shiney red bow tie that he keeps for special occasions only. Wendy is looking polished in her black on black. Bruce, middle school music teacher, has on his new spring line of psychadelic Converse hi-tops. His red necktie tie has one lone black sheep on it surrounded by white sheep. Which one am I? he asks jokingly. From where I'm seated, waiting to play, the black sheep looks like a dark blue ink stain. I decide Mr. Kreswick has been watching too many re-runs of Mr. Holland's Opus.

I'm surrounded by parents and fellow band members, 10 year olds and a few adult lookie loos contemplating their own career in the esteemed Island Winds. Wendy, our conductor, has decided upon a new name for us - the name of her own music studio - at the ready for next year's session. Just when we're figuring things out, it's time to take a summer break.

The band concert begins with choice of attire.Charlotte has forgotten the red, white and black dress code edict for the evening and showed up in blue jeans only to be rescued by a friend who lives just across from the school. 

I cast my curious gaze upon the statuesque flute player in the beginner band. She has some ostrich feather like thingey attached to the top of her head that looks a bit much I think to myself staring down at the same white shirt, black pants that I wore to work earlier in the day.  I did make an effort on my necklace carefully choosing the one that looks like a volcanic explosion that I purchsed from Volcanoes National Park a few years back. I'll try harder next time I say to myself knowing that I'm lying.  The only thing I'm truly ready for is one of those reality TV shows where your friends bust you and the next thing you know two gay boys are rifling through your closet giving you the stink eye as they remove each item from it and you're blinded by the lights from the camera crew. Surprise!

I'm humming one of the tunes in the car on the way to the concert. It will be stuck in my head from now until October when we crank it up again. Goodbye Prince of Denmark. Farewell River Kwaii. I've come to love you Rock Island Blues. I'll miss you Cliche Blues now that I've finally realized what that cryptic signage -repeat the previous two bars - truly means, and on the very last evening I play the correct A flat as a result of my sudden enlightenment.

Thank God for those trombone players, first year students at Cap College's music program back on island for the summer. They take us to the next level. It's a bit like cheating - stacking the band - but sometimes it's just an imperative. It's still a hit and miss for the high C and, well, there is the audience to consider.

June 01, 2010

Mental Illness and the Employment Graveyard

He comes in almost every day and I've noticed lately that he seems to be getting more and more frustrated.  Even though his usual conversation is pretty much stream of consciousness, I know from his more lucid moments, that he's a really smart guy.

Over the past week I've noticed that he is dirtier than in comparison to the past six months. His clothes - blue sweat pants, red jacket, work boots -  are dirtier. The hair on his face, which has mostly been relatively clean-shaven, is now growing down his neck over his adam's apple.  There's a solid black line of grime under his fingernails. He's talking to himself and it's hard to make out what he's saying but I think today I heard him say something about feeling desperate. I've never heard him say that before.

And, I feel desperate knowing that I can't do anything for him, again. He leaves me speechless. I feel like I have no responses for him that make sense or would be useful. I have no where to refer him to that would work for him.

He really, really  wants to work. Yes, he's on disability but he wants to get off it. He's want to be productive. I can practically feel the yearning in his whole body for something to do to escape the endless searching for solutions that make up his waking hours. Where would he work? Where would he fit? Where would it be okay, (except in the spaces of kindness from someone who has come to know him), for him to be engaged in a non-stop stream of consciousness dialogue at work?If I could think of where, I'd be on the phone to find a way.

Occasionally, he does get an odd job from a good samaritan in the community who always helps out people by giving them work and sometimes a place to live.
He sometimes calls unsuspecting employers off our job board and leaves them messages that would only break his cover, alerting them to the fact that the person on the end of the line is not someone they'd probably want to hire even though, if it was labour, he'd do a great job.

I feel that he must just look at me and think what the hell use are you and what are you doing for me and why are you here and why can't I ever get work from coming in here? I try to give him feedback on his resume. It's perfect. It's okay. Doesn't want help. There's nothing wrong with it even though, much like his way of speaking, it's a run-on paragraph of never ending words that stretches half-way down the page.

When he leaves he's in full blown conversation with himself. He picks up the two bags of food he got from the food bank and I'm always struck by the fact that he never fails to say thank you and in response I use his name and say goodbye to him and I feel like shit and there is a silence of knowing and collective wistfulness and regret in the other people in the room as well.

He leaves and I feel deflated and useless and angry that there is almost no real help to enable people with schizophrenia or other barriers to find employment that would work for them - short hours - and for them to be supported in that work in a structured manner. There's nothing to encourage business  owners to employ those with significant barriers to gain employment and a sense of worth and I know, I know, it's hard enough for those without barriers to find their places.

Forget the H.S.T., why aren't we signing petitions so that people who are solely dependent on the kindness of others to give them hope can feel more hope.

I feel like he's losing hope. It's heartbreaking and frustrating and demoralizing and it's just another day where I work on Salt Spring where American and Canadian flags flap in the breeze off the bows of shiney, long yachts which are undoubtedly mere specks in the view from the telescopes positioned in the living rooms of empty million dollar houses awaiting the next short visit by their off island owners.