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May 30, 2011

Rage Against the Plague of Conformity

A long time ago now, I was involved with a man who lived on a floating home on a river.  He and his neighbours were real characters. One of them was the well-known maven of Wreck Beach, Judy Williams.  When he was still alive, his neighbours used to be annoyed by the fact that he lived in such a run-down floating home without the means or motivation to fix it up. Between his place and The Cricket Lady's place, oh my, what eyesores the neighbours were assaulted by daily. Or so they thought. 

Then, he died and his place was drydocked and perhaps sold. I actually never learned what happened to the little floathome.  When that happened, I have no doubt that his neighbours (who are lovely people) missed the little two storey float home in the way you might think back and miss that crazy boy (usually a boy) in elementary school who did the stupidest, most outrageous things or the poet who glued those plastic magnet letters all over her Volkswagon Beetle (was it Susan Musgrave?) or anyone you've ever met who is just a little different or outrageous, yet lovable.
Where four retail shops used to be: Acoustic Planet Music, Windflower Moon, Admiral's Specialty Foods and Salt Spring Soap Works were housed in small shops here. Soap works will relocate into the new space. Marks Work Wearhouse is expanding slightly and taking over the space which displeased some people. The most fascinating thing with the excavation was the discovery of 6 skeletal remains which meant under the Heritage Conservation Act  that all digging had to cease immediately so that the RCMP, the architect, three archeologists from Millenia Research in Victoria, 12 First Nations' Bands, (one bone reader?) and the property owner could negotiate the proper relocation and burial ceremony. That took a month which, considering the number of stakeholders, seems pretty good to me.
 The Shell Station now closed, allegedly put out of business by a new Co-op Gas undercutting their gas prices, but really, the most awkward place for a gas station to exist so any future development has to be an improvement but I liked the funky old design. It was just in the wrong spot.  You can still get your car fixed by them and I was always pleased with the service. They relocated the shop to Alders Road.

As I stand at the Saturday Market, with my back (thankfully) to the eyesore of two empty lots on the main Fulford-Ganges road surrounded by wire fencing,  I can't help but think of the reasons that drew me and so many others here, first as tourists, then as residents. It was of course, first and foremost,the natural beauty but it was also the charm and uniqueness of the small shops selling crystals and patchouli and music or whatever. It was a way of life that enough people romanticized enough to want to grab a piece of,  if just for a weekend excursion to a Gulf Island.  And, it still exists at The Saturday Market to a certain degree.

But, I can't help but wonder,  if I was to set foot on Salt Spring for the first time experiencing it now in terms of the overall look and the shops that currently exist, would I come back? Would it be appealing enough to be the kind of place that left a lasting memory the way it did for me some 20 years ago?

I have no problem with redevelopment if it's done with a big picture vision and sensitivity  to what makes a place unique and desirable in the first place, but when I look around Ganges, I just don't get it. The opportunity to create something beautiful and imaginative and a little out there exists doesn't it?

We need only turn to Chemainus and its murals to see how an immersion in local history can be the fuel for an economy. Think of Anne of Green Gables on PEI and in a completely different way, Steveston or Vancouver's Coal Harbour, a model of  community planning that has led to an enviable (albeit exhorbitantly expensive) yet non car dependent lifestyle with accessibility to all local amenities and to nature.  I lived within 5 minutes of Coal Harbour as a renter in the West End and I have to say, it was a pretty darn sweet place to live.

It's hard to fathom why a community as creative as Salt Spring has been stuck with architecture that is so run of the mill, common-place, ordinary in most of its retail spaces.

May 23, 2011

It's Possible to Find Reel Youth at Any Age

I spent this May long weekend in Vancouver at a two-day video production course facilitated by ReelYouth on behalf of the United Way of the Lower Mainland. 

The United Way holds an annual Care to Change video contest. Usually, ReelYouth, a non profit, run by two people - Mark Vonesch and Erica Køhn -  is focused on working with, you guessed it, youth, but every once in a while, adults come together to produce a two-minute film on some aspect of social justice. Mark and Erica are supported by a whole host of youth facilitators- especially when they put on summer camps - as they are doing on Cortes Island this summer in July. There are still 9 spots left. Visit the ReelYouth website.  

Imagine the amount of negotiation and interaction that's required (or not) of putting 20 strangers in a room, having them negotiate which topic of provided choices they'd like to work on, have people vote for which group they want to be in based on topic, take a blind vote about that choice, meet your group,  figure out the message, brainstorm a metaphor, discover where the tension of the piece is, find stats to support the message, achieve a resolution, choose a location, get a crash intro to a video camera, set up a tripod, figure out sound, and in our case, direct a member of our group - Nahani -  who is not a professional actor (but who did an amazing job), to be a mime pretending to be trapped inside an invisible box representing poverty.   And, oh yeah - do it in two days - not even full days - but from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm with one Friday night intro of 3 hours.
 As someone in one of the group's said, it renews her faith in bringing a bunch of minds and personalities together and having their perspectives bounce off each other to produce an end product and to value the process as much as the finished product, (not more, not less).
My group by sheer chance ended up consisting of four women, all very different, but incredibly respectful and easy to work with. Instead of frustration, we had fun and that's really almost more about personalities and luck as much about the way members of a group communicate with each other.  We also had the smallest group with the other two groups having six in each so that made things a little easier it seemed to us.

It was so worth the experience and now all I need is a video camera, a Mac and some Final Cut Pro Express (that's all) and I can set to work making that award-winning documentary.

May 18, 2011

Joy Kogawa Speaks of Mercy on Salt Spring

There's a crack, a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in - Leonard Cohen

The poet and writer Joy Kogawa was on Salt Spring, Saturday night, on behalf of The Land Conservancy of BC and the Salt Spring Conservancy. She`s a petite and youthful woman in her 70s who divides her time between Ontario and BC. She says, now is the best time of her life. Just wait, she says 

The Land Conservancy of BC helped ensure her family home in Marpole wasn`t ripped down by raising enough money to purchase it as a significant historical marker which now acts as a writers in residence retreat. They are attempting to renovate it further to make it even more comfortable for the writers who will live there and for when events are held.

She got up to speak and paused for a moment. She says she no longer thinks ahead of time about what to say and learned instead to trust herself, to have faith that what comes in the moment is what needs to be said. She spoke of having remained silent for so long until the pressure built to a point that she could no longer remain silent. The result was Obasan, her novel from 1981. Although she is grateful for the opportunities the book has afforded her, it was actually a later book - The Rain Ascends; a book that didn't get nearly the recognition that she calls her most important book.

She spoke about learning to befriend the enemy, purposely choosing to look at those who are or who have caused you problems and choosing to be open to befriending them. She did this with the grandaughters of the man, Howard Green, a Conservative MP for Vancouver South who advocated the Japanese (BC Citizens) be interned and long after the war was over, suggested they not be allowed to return to the BC Coast.

Kogawa had met Green's grandaughters. She spoke of mercy and how the act of mercy (which she says there is way too little of in the world) is what would save us. She was speaking from her heart and the room was silent with attentiveness the way a room is when someone captivates it.

The whole time she was speaking I began to think about the friend I'd had since I was about 5 years old until a few years ago when I felt we'd grown apart to such a degree that the friendship just didn't seem to work anymore. It would have been impossible not to think about her. Everything we shared, or had to share, was historical. We had not resided in the same city for at least 20 years and there seemed, to me, nothing to hold on to in a way that could fuel the connection and for other reasons, it didn't feel like it worked. It felt shallow.

Some people might be aghast that I could let such a friendship go; a friendship that had spanned 45 years.  I don't know if it was right or wrong but, as in a marriage, it seems to me, people either grow in the same direction and can continue to relate coming from a place of authenticity in their relationships or they can't, and the connection falls away as quickly and silently as petals falling off a flower. That's how it felt to me. The will was not there to continue.

My friend's mother had been interned at New Denver as a young woman. When I was in university, I interviewed  her for an English paper I was writing. I spoke with her at a dining room table in a house on West 30th in Vancouver, and the ghosts were in the room. The entire time I'd grown up, and she truly had been like a second mother, I'd never heard her speak of that time. I got an A+ on the paper but more importantly, I got just a hint of the anguish, just a hint because she was not someone to show emotion, behind a historical event that impacted people who had been like family to me.

I thought of my friend when Kogawa said she would have given anything, when she was younger, not to be Japanese, but to be like everyone else. I remembered these big picnics every summer in Stanley Park that I'd be invited to with my friend. I loved them. There were lots of people, amazing home-made Japanese food, and games. It was really fun. For me. Years later I learned that my friend hated those picnics. She hated being in the middle of a park, with a large group of people gathering and announcing a shared difference.  As a Caucasian person, think about the pain, behind that thought; think about what it would mean to feel shame every time you gathered with more than a few people with white skin?

I wonder, as I get older, if I will feel I've made a mistake or if letting go of a long term friendship is just a form of non attachment; lessons in having to let go of everything of all those things that no longer serve our growth?

Have you ever had to let go of something that had been so much a part of your life and yet you knew, the choice was almost not even in your hands, the choice had been made a long time ago and your actions simply needed to catch up to represent the reality that you were already experiencing?

May 08, 2011

What's Your Definition of Poverty?

 Living on Salt Spring Island has given me some minor insight into how it might feel to live in a developing country, always being judged or being felt sorry for by citizens of financially wealthier countries.

We feel sorry for them, peering in as outsiders and yet, perhaps, their lives are rich with family connections we've long ago lost and gratitude in simplicity that so many can’t find.

I'm not saying that being financially poor is all that desirable, but we so often forget how many other forms of poverty exist when our metering stick is only related to bank accounts.

I've been thinking about living here lately and not having much money and how that leads, by sheer necessity, to living a more environmentally-conscious existence.

You can't afford to buy new clothes so you shop at thrift stores and in that way you're recycling perfectly good items/clothing anyway. Your wardrobe can be small here so you need fewer items. Thrift stores have cool stuff.

Aware of how much gas is costing, I try to limit my visits to town re-arranging my visits to coincide with other activities or ensuring I do everything I need to do at once, as much as possible 

The market on Saturday's provides immense opportunities for socializing with other islanders and with visitors.

Creative pursuits require a turning inward and my mind is alive with the content and possibilities.

It's so easy to get to where I need to go not having to worry about traffic, parking, getting on the freeway to get downtown and therefore, I partake in as many, if not more, activities.

It’s true, I won’t be jetting off to Hawaii or Mexico or Tahita (because I can’t afford a plane ticket) but I won’t be contributing to global warming in that way either.

I can go to the library for books and videos or when I drop off my recycling, I can pop into the little hut where everyone drops off books and magazines and get some for free.

This week I spent a lot of time writing queries, completing two articles for a magazine and because I get up so early, usually around 6:30 am, and I’m almost always at my computer by 7:00 am, by 2:00 pm, I’ve put in a 7 hour day. If there’s work that needs to be done, I can usually focus on it.

In the afternoon on two of those days, I went for a walk and spotted four eagles on the beach at low tide and watched them in awe for quite a while. I lucked out and managed to get a decent shot of the one above as it flew off the tree right above me. While there, I had an enlightening conversation with a man I’d never met, also an islander, named John. We talked about the election and what’s been going on in the U.S. and there was no ranting to be heard.  On a second afternoon, I went to a favourite barn and ran into a friend, also taking photographs and managed to get into the zone, that place where you’re not longer getting in your own way and immersed in the moment. 

I was invited to dinner by two different friends. I took in a jazz concert at ArtSpring, sold some photographs at the Saturday Market and now will get to hear Alexandra Morton speak about salmon in a talk she's giving tonight at Fulford Hall.

If I had a garden, I’m not sure where that would fit into my dailiness.  If I really want a garden, it’s possible to have one. Other islanders offer their land in an exchange for some labour.

It’s true, my financial resources are extremely limited, and yet, I am busy and engaged and like most people on the island that I know, can barely keep up with everything they are working on.
Is that poverty? I don’t think so.

May 02, 2011

Beautiful Spirits Always Attract Good Karma

One of the best things about having a stall at the Salt Spring Saturday Market, (although such things aren't a weekly occurrence or anything), is the opportunity to meet people that you would have no way of coming in contact with under your day-to-day circumstances.

Meet Thorsten. I did. A wonderful guy originally from Germany who decided to take a detour to Salt Spring in between flying back from Germany to live in New Zealand on a working Visa after previously residing in Australia for four years. He's travelled quite extensively, even living in Arkansas, when he was younger on some sort of exchange for skilled workers. He's a mechanic who trained at Mercedes Benz with a university-level education in Economics.

He stopped at my Salt Spring Saturday Market table to look at my photographs and he had a huge knapsack on his back. It's definitely not the kind of thing you need on your back while trying to enjoy yourself.  So, I asked him if he'd like to store it behind my table. (Yes, I must admit, he was cute and I noticed that too!)  He has that quality of smiling not just with his mouth but with his eyes. You can see it in the photo above. 

I ended up learning quite a bit about him because he and I got along really well, so I told him if he needed a place to camp that he could camp in my backyard. He ended up staying with me and we took in Ruckle Park Days on Sunday and I showed him Ruckle, my very favourite place on the island. He thought it was spectacular as well.

Later as we hiked back towards the car, we met up with Isela from Colombia and her new friend Fany from Mexico both working as au pairs on the island.
 This afternoon I met with him again, after he camped somewhere else the previous night. Being trained at Mercedes Benz he was really adamant that he could fix the way my car's exhaust pipe moved by simply getting two clamps and putting them on. So, after a brief visit to Mouats, clamps purchased, he got down on his back in the parking lot on the wet pavement and got out the extremely mini version of his regular tool kit proclaiming, "I feel naked".  In 10 minutes he fixed the problem which, to tell you the truth, I barely noticed.

Gotta love German-trained mechanics. He's the perfect man, 20 years too young.

We had lunch together at The Seaside Kitchen while he was on his way to Tofino via the Crofton ferry.  As we were discussing logistics about the bus to Tofino from Nanaimo, the guy at the next table said, "I live in Port Alberni. I'll drive you there and you can grab a bus from Port Alberni to Tofino." Simple. Done. Problem solved.

That's the way it is when you travel and your eyes are smiling. Everything works out as it should and without effort.

We hugged goodbye and he insisted I take one of the buttons he'd bought at the market.

It read, "Dinosaurs against Extinction!"   I could totally relate to that sentiment.