Last night at 10:10pm, Mike Lambrix was executed by the State of Florida on behalf of its citizens. It's the second execution since August, when the practice was reinstated after an eighteen month hiatus.
Until this morning, I have never stood in my kitchen readying for the day, listening to an account of a person being murdered, legally, just down the way.
It makes me wonder how this contributes to the shape and sense of identity of those on whose behalf this murder has been committed; how does this transform, again and again and again, the land on which we walk; how does the collective consciousness makes place for this; how does the personal psyche; what are children told at school?
I have never, till now, listened to a news story about state-sanctioned murder. I know there is dissent around this, personal and organized, and probably plenty, but life has still been taken, and we all are now confronted with that fact, and are left with how to live through this day in this place where such things are legislated to happen.
This has diminished me. As a member of this confounding experiment called life on earth, today I'm less of what I aspire to; what I dream is possible is lessened. It will take me a while to recover. This hurts.
I moved to Miami.
is my practice
though I'm here
in the in-between place -
but not landed
but not settled.
It’s early. It’s already poured. She’s on the sand at North Beach, and about to swim. The sun is just now breaking out from behind the yellow and black clouds that have been stacked in the eastern sky since dawn, swollen bruises dissipating into fine pinkening streaks. The air is still thick from the early rain, and now too dissipating in the breeze, that ever-present lift promising something soothing, its soft balm reaching the soul with its merciful cool. So often without cloud cover to temper the heat, something else has to.
Two pelicans are fishing, flying fast against the wind and suddenly diving into the sea for its fruit. There are others here too at this early hour—in fact quite a few: solo swimmers; early-bird lovers walking along the watermark where sand is sea; kids who might have slept the night on the beach and who have just woken to this splendor; a granddad tugging lightly at his line in the water, teaching his grandson about fishing; a jogger running backwards; a man standing alone with his hands clasped behind his back as he watches the low lapping tide. One of the kids has walked into the ocean where there’s a sandbar close to shore, and he looks like he’s walking on water.
Metaphor is everywhere, she thinks—the grand dramas of life at hand and underfoot in most every gesture, if you look closely. She leaves this afternoon, with no idea what comes next.
For now, she’s the solitary woman who sits at the tideline facing the coming day, writing on the dampened pages of her notebook. Six red buoys bob in the surf to her south, and she remembers them from last time; she’s used them in her art, a photo piece about her broken heart and longing. She’s never told anyone how scared she is, probably because the fear is so strange that she can’t find the words. One buoy is much brighter than the others, maybe the oldest and lightened from the sun, or the newest and its colour still fully saturated. They flash against the cyan water, vibrant surprises that reveal themselves as the waves surge and fall.
She gets in the water, and with shallow strokes moves over the sandbar, swimming away from shore toward the horizon where she’s been watching the coming of the day. She rolls onto her back, and with her limbs flung wide, floating, she’s half on top of the world and half beneath its surface. She opens her eyes, and past the tips of her toes she sees the darkening skies in the west, large clouds gathering fast in greys from smoke to ash, and she hears the boom and clap of thunder coming from inside them. She keeps an eye fixed on the west, watching for lightening while the eastern sun warms the top of her head as she floats. She flips over and paddles further. She gets out far, far enough to find herself in deep water; but the wonder she thinks, and that no one can see, is that her feet are still touching ground, her toes tucked into the fine soft sand, the rippled ocean floor slightly shifting shape as the waves roll around her above. Since arriving three weeks ago, this gentle exfoliant has removed the rough parts of her soles, healing other cracks and blemishes that have been part of her for so long too.
As she comes back toward shore, she stands up and walks through the moving tide. She feels something under foot and reaches down for it. In her hand she holds a piece of oolite, a porous fossil-like thing, smooth and primitive at the same time. Made up of such things as minerals and coral and flint and clay. Some call it terrestrial detritus, which offers her some relief in her decision to claim it as her own, feeling like she’s rescuing something rejected, knowing she’ll love it with the tenderness one can have for the idea of home. She closes her fingers around this strange piece of soluble rock, but its misshapen form is slightly bigger than her palm, and so she can only cup it in an loose hold; and there, between her fingers, she notices two little mollusks nestled together inside a large pore that burrows into the center of this strange orb. They're both open.
She comes back to land with the little piece of sand and sea in her hand--a solid imperfect globe, a small and perfect world for two.
There’s a squad of exercisers out this morning, six altogether. I can’t yet tell which one is the trainer. They’re all facing the chain link fence down at the baseball diamond, their fingers bent around the wiring to steady themselves as they each swing their right leg back and forth while standing in place. They break formation to make a circle and they start doing jumping jacks, their shape together like an ensemble of sextants, gliding back and forth in unison as though measuring what might lie ahead on the horizon and charting their path forward.
I still can’t make out who’s leading, some subtle shift in direction must be transpiring between them, just below the surface, in the way tango dancers lead and follow invisibly to those watching on. They do a lap around the track together, four men and two women, jogging at a slow pace counter-clockwise around the park’s perimeter. Most everyone who uses the track goes counter-clockwise, myself included. And when I think back to ice-skating as a child, and later roller-skating as a teen, I realize in all such places most everyone goes round in that same direction too, an unspoken orderliness understood and observed by all.
There’s an empty bucket chair in the centre of the park green; the collapsible kind you see at outdoor music festivals and the beach; the kind with the little mesh well on one armrest where your drink goes. It’s facing the sun, open and upright, so maybe it’s not abandoned forever, and merely set in wait, ready for the occupant’s return to commence their leisure, when they'll position themselves toward the sunny day.
The lush and heady song of dove is intermittent around me, breaking through the choppy whir of a lawnmower over at the daycare centre where parent volunteers are tending the yard this morning; the coo is an intoxicant to me, curative, lifting me and liberating me; carrying me away. Of course, where it takes me is to Miami, to the wide open spaces there where I become expansive, at once settled and free; as my cousin there puts it so perfectly: this place unwinds me. That’s my particular place in the sun.
On cue for the season, the two little old Chinese ladies are back out for their daily Tai Chi practice. Their movements land somewhere between nonchalant and haphazard, liberal interpretations of the ancient discipline; though I suspect this tradition is less about fidelity to the form itself than to one’s focus and devotion to it.
The exercisers have returned from their loops around the track, and they’ve run up the hill before me and are now doing squats, with one of them breaking away to do push-ups against the park bench one down from me. Glancing over to watch, I notice Ken is now here, he too squatting – but he stays down, his torso sunk and slightly swaying between his bent and boney knees, his behind dragging back and forth against the ground beneath him. He seems more gaunt, or maybe it’s just that I can see his upper body bared by the mangy racerback tank he’s wearing to suit the new season. His flesh tone is off, sallow, and almost faded-looking, in the way his tattoos have turned that paler shade of navy, all the vibrance of tone drained away over time, their distinct shapes thinning into the surface that surrounds them. He’s smoking a cigarette, taking long hauls on inhalation and never appearing to release the smoke, or to exhale at all. What else does he hold inside that concave trunk of his, I wonder. What does that rib cage attempt to encase? He’s wearing the usual, aside from the racerback: his camouflage combat pants, stretched and torn and dirty, and the shin pads that protrude beyond his knees caps with the elastics cinching the pant legs tightly in bunches against his scrawny calves. As I see him here, rocking, I wonder if he’s ever lain in a hammock strung between two trees under the sun, somewhere where these are the things that make up a day; I wonder if he’s ever been cradled inside the netting and gently swayed as though floating on air.
The last time I saw Ken was a month or so ago, when I began coming out to this bench again, once the weather became more clement to me. That day he was picking up the chunks and shards of a broken 40 of Olde English Malt Liquor, the sharp debris scattered beside the bench where the exercisers are this morning. He was using his bare hands to grab and cart the pieces of broken glass over to the garbage bin that the parks board puts out. He patrolled the length of the pathway where all the park benches are positioned, and he scrutinized the grass and pavement for more trash that needed cleaning away, the waste left behind by the park’s revelers the night before: on that morning it was bits of paper, cigarette butts, a torn pizza box, crushed cans, and all that broken glass; other mornings, it might be different remains, yet really the same thing.
He was wearing his keys around his neck, and the shin pads over those same camo pants, with a grimy sweatshirt stretched out of shape and hanging lopsided off his bony shoulders. His cheeks were sunken, though not as much as now it seems; I realized that day it was because he has no teeth, not because he’s emaciated, though he’s that too. It was the first time I saw the scars all over his skull, little jagged tracks of raised tissue, interruptions in the shorn stubble—if they were brail or tactile hieroglyphs, I remember wondering, what would these ropey ridges tell us about this man? At the time, I thought to myself: Ken. My neighbor. This park’s unlikely caretaker. The man with the unlucky crown.
That was when I was in the midst of emailing with the city’s parks’ department staff, me asking when the track would be resurfaced with springier material than the sodden mess left after a winter’s worth of weather beating all the loft out of tidied trail laid last summer. There are now unseen holes and bits of exposed root, rendering the track dodgy and uneven, and in need of leveling. Soon, they told me. I finished our exchange by telling the staff about Ken, wanting his contribution to the park, if not seen, or commended, at least known. When I thanked him myself that morning for clearing away the broken bottle, he shrugged off my remarks, not wanting the attention.
Suddenly Ken shoots up and walks away, passing through the band of exercisers as they continue to leap vigorously in place together, breathing heavily in their circle and counting out loud as one. Through their huddle, I watch Ken as he heads toward his apartment building; his slow labourious lumber in his ill-fitting protective gear takes him past a foresaken shopping cart, and past another little old Chinese lady, this one having spent the morning collecting empties throughout the park and who is now resting on a shaded bench amidst her stuffed and stretched bags. It doesn’t look like anyone else has seen either of them, or if they have it doesn’t show or seem to register. I watch to the point of staring, seeing more than any of us should—a certain threat to the security of my well-being, I know.
The exercisers finish, and in unison they chant “1, 2, 3, hail”, clapping loudly on hail; then they fall into line as the trainer takes a step back and snaps a picture of the group. Now I know who’s in charge. Behind them, below, ball players fan out across the baseball diamond and take their places; and without moving it, they play, unfazed, around that deserted seat, the game unstoppable.
Inside a soft cardboard photo folder, the kind that people prop open on mantels and sideboards to display their loved ones in pictures that were often taken, or were back then, in the photography studio of big department stores, is set behind the 8 x 10 scalloped edge window a portrait of my mother. It’s the option she must have selected from the others taken during the sitting that day, which she wedged, loose, between the folder’s covers. On the back of the folder, in her distinct and sanguine script she’d written: Betty Sharpe 1930 -
That incomplete assertion is devastating. Her eagerness and expectation is in plain view; and what seems to be her bright view of herself, and of her future, is also equally evident: she has resolve; she’s looking forward, to everything it seems. Now, though, looking back, knowing what only the coroner and I know, I see her openness to what lay ahead far more ominous than optimistic.
What was she thinking, I wonder? Who did she think would fill in the blank after that dash to complete her sentence? Of course, when that time came, when the end of that statement was upon us to record, she wouldn’t. And no one else did it in her stead either, which, today, obviously means me.
I found this folder in a drawer as I went through my mother’s belongings after her death in 1992, when I was 30 and she was 61. I’d never seen the pictures before, I’d never seen the folder open on a mantel in someone’s living room; not in anyone’s, not anywhere, not ever.
The set of pictures was taken in 1951, at Hudson’s Bay in downtown Vancouver, 10 years before I was born, before she knew my father, I think, but don’t know for sure. All those details – her life really – is a mystery to me, a story I piece together from snippets she shared offhandedly, where, I later learned, she was sometimes careful to cloak parts, offering a looser interpretation of her past than the truth on its own would convey; I piece in layers from my own memories, vague and few as they are, and also from conjecture; from what I know about things as a woman myself, now middle-aged, as a mother too, and from the kinds of experiences life delivers to some of us. Our life was lived in a perpetual present; there was no discernible past that was talked about, no family over visiting and telling tales, for they’d all but vanished, though not yet in the absolute as they would after everything, later. At that point, in these pictures, she was still a Sharpe, as she declares in her script. She would later become a Welch, and then I would come along and be one too.
I prefer one of the proofs of her taken that day, and that’s what I now have on my desk in a frame that's too large for the picture. I love seeing the word proof written in wax pencil across her blouse, and the loose markings drawn around her face so long ago, tentatively seeking out the border that would compose this official portrayal of her, the tracings a kind of divining rod—I like seeing all that extra of her: her hands with their long fingers held delicately, and just so, the slopes of her shoulders, the light line of her pearls barely apparent, details about her not extraneous to me as I want to see more.
Knowing her, she probably wouldn’t like my selection from the set, nor that I put the messy proof in an outsized frame on display. Yet, I also know that she would understand why I like it, and she would understand what I’m doing—and she’d be flattered, and pleased, and she’d approve anyway, despite her own opposition. She was generous that way, with a largesse of mind that made room for difference, probably because she knew from experience how much it mattered to give others room to live as they are; probably because she was given so little room herself, or, worse, sometimes finding herself locked inside a few. And I know her face, that placid, flat expanse of pretty features, would shift from feigned consternation into a relaxed form, yielding a slight nod and slighter grin, telling me it’s ok, telling me, in fact, that she likes the transgression. Subtle, yet seen, this look is something we shared between us.
I think she always understood what I was doing. And I know she always approved. Though some boundaries were loose, and amorphous, and something that couldn’t always be observed, or enforced, or even noticed from the outside, there were other boundaries, inside, ones more important and enduring, that defined the particular territory we inhabited. It was sometimes random and sometimes raw, and it was sometimes rich in the ways that only those with less seem to know; ours was a singular life of mother and child, she weathered and me wild; it was an entirely original world, one I didn’t really see as unusual, and it’s one that’s lasted.
So, after all, after everything, she is now on someone’s mantel. Proof. And I’m not filling in the blank after that dash. I’m keeping her life part of the present, still. I know she’d approve.
Saturday January 23, 2016
Burrard Arts Foundation / PuSh Festival
He doesn’t know it yet, but Harold Budd composed the music for my 1987 Super-8 film, “Call”, an experimental piece, running time all of 5 minutes or so. I’m going to tell him today, almost 30 years later. Budd is in conversation with Alex Varty at *BAF this afternoon, as part of the PuSh Festival.
I arrive early, so pick what seems to me like the best seat in the house, a bearing beam at my back that I can lean into, and an unfettered view of the two empty chairs positioned under the soft gallery lighting and amidst the even softer colours of Ed Spence’s paintings currently on exhibit. I’m excited, to understate things.
They arrive and take their seats. Harold Budd is a dapper man, diminutive in size, august in dress, elegant in manner. Alex Varty is nervous, or seems so; maybe that’s just his way. Budd is relaxed and offers simple responses to Varty’s questions—he’s not being rude, he’s just modest, with a well-hewn sense of himself. When asked about a particular collaboration, if it was the other’s technique that Budd enjoyed, he said of his collaborator: it was his attitude; that he came at his work, like me, with the view to be alert to what you adapt as real into your own material being.
This seems key – Budd’s leitmotif, for living as much as for working; it seems to be about finding what produces harmony in space, both in the one he inhabits within himself and in the one that surrounds him. He seeks out beauty. Long ago, he said, when his son was born, he moved his piano out of the living room, and filled in the space with a Navajo rug where they lay and played. He said he found the piano really ugly, and found the rug very beautiful. By way of further explanation, he said it’s part of his avoidance of confrontation—he’s had too much of it in his life, and so seeks out beauty. I’m a man who loves flowers, he said of himself, in sum.
To me, he’s a fluid man. He doesn’t attach to much, but he’s not aloof either, just loose: he doesn’t get attached to things or ideas, nor does he probe much for meaning. He’s ready to be content with what is, though making sure that circumstances are opportune for contentment.
Budd started out long ago, he told us, feeling his way towards his own interests through intuition and inspiration. In 1956, he saw a Rothko painting in a book, and in it he saw a way of living, and a way of making a living; he saw where he wanted to be, and then he got himself there. He’s ever since followed his intuition, and says he works on hunches. Today, if a hunch doesn’t pan out, he diverts route. With “too many loose ends in my brain”, he says, he doesn’t try to analyze what he’s doing, he just tries things out; if it’s not good, he moves on to the next thing.
Varty’s last question to Budd surprised me: he asked about the pink-tinted glasses Budd wears, who then explained: I don’t see well anymore, and I live in the desert where it’s really sunny. The rose tint reduces a large amount of glare, while protecting my eyes from bright sunlight, and they also provide sharper contrasts between objects so that I can see better. I know from glass artists that pink glass is the most expensive because pure gold is used to produce the pink hues; I also know from an anthropology major that the pink glass that was used in old cathedral stained glass windows was considered the highest spiritually, likely because of the cost to produce it, and so, used sparingly, it was tied to the most significant elements, often used to represent Mary.
It occurs to me that Harold Budd sees the world, as the saying goes, through rose-coloured glasses. I think it perfectly applies to him, in every way—call it a hunch.
PS: After the talk, I introduced myself to Harold and told him the story about my film. He was gracious to me, and amused by the story, and he kindly autographed the S-8 cover. He held my hand the whole time we talked. He's 79.
I guess one thing I can say for sure is this: I’m still surprised and interested in my life and in what comes my way, in how I cope and understand things, and in what I do. I’ve been bored, but not often. There was that temp job I had in the summer of 81 or 82, at that insurance company on Broadway at Maple, but even then I made the best of it, locking myself off in the corner bathroom stall and writing. An employee there, a woman I intuitively knew I liked, said to me one day, approvingly yet laconic, you’re different. It hurt me, but only because I knew she was saying that we wouldn’t be friends.
In the 1995 movie Georgia, with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s slow-burn performance as Sadie Flood, the brother-in-law observes to his wife, Sadie's sister, clearly seeing who Flood is as she fights to stay afloat in her life, she’s the bravest person I know. The name Sadie Flood stayed with me, its ring as true as its weight, and when it came time, some years later, to give a name to a company I was starting I considered Sadie Wade, spiking the original inspiration with an optimistic twist. I eventually went with ad lib, wanting to give a good nod to those who’ve so deeply helped me throughout my life, and who call me Lib.
Today, I have a new company called zoetrope, a nod to my family on my father’s side, the only one I have now and where my name Zoe comes down to me from. The word zoe is the Greek root word meaning life, and trope, the Greek root word meaning turning—and this is largely what I’m up to with zoetrope.
Like I said, I’m rarely bored. And when I am, it’s not long that I find a corner where I can make things.
Maybe the next company will be Sadie Wades. Who knows. For now, zoetrope works—me working with life turning.
(I finally went to Nordstrom, and it went like this.)
My encounter with Nordstrom begins outside its doors, as I arrive on bicycle to discover the absence of bike racks along the store’s smooth façade. I cross the street to lock up on the racks that the now defunct and shuttered bookstore had provided for its visitors, today an inadvertent legacy left to the commons.
Back before the store, I cross the threshold into a blast of light and glass displays. The fevered guile is communicable, self-consciousness surrendered, consumption here unchained, and acceptable. Quickly and suddenly terms come, unbidden, to my mind: compulsive, desperate, hoodwinked, bulimia.
The sycophant swarm of ground level is cloying and close, so I ride the escalator to a slightly quieter place one level above. There I find the marvels of realized imaginations—pieces by Alexander McQueen, Marni, Jean Paul Gaultier, and comme des garçons, to name a few. I own none of these masters, but understand perfectly what exacts such work from mind to matter, and these accomplishments have deservedly earned my awe. Toward the darker back of the floor lays lesser goods: the swag of proclamations that make me embarrassed for the bearer: Lazy Sun Day; I don’t like Monday; Lover (the letter L a faded remnant of the colour of the letters spelling o-v-e-r); a checklist itemizing three options: single, taken, and hungry, with the box for the last option ticked: hungry.
As I touch merchandise, I engage in the base act of looking for a price tag, as though the tawdry concern for cost has any bearing—sure proof of my shiftlessness. My greater transgression, however, is the need to know the price of things at all, a practice left to those of lesser means. Becoming broke has released me, though, from shopping and its allure, and now I wander the aisles a bit like that woman Ann I met in the woods once, who had a natural immunity to mosquitoes and was being studied by scientists wanting to understand her chemical make-up. While I walked that day in the woods with Ann, me ravaged, raw and bleeding from my scratched bites admist the roots and brush, she walked in perfect tact. Today, like Ann in the wild, I walk among the money and malls shielded—my class a tincture and a foil.
Circling back toward the centre of the store, I come across the lounge, a low slung affaire for rest and resourcing. I like it. Any shop with a bar makes sense to me, and I’m ready to lay down a few bucks to sit with a drink and watch from the middle of the fray. But the menu’s price list is in step with its trappings, so I return to the escalator and, quite à propos I note, descend.
As I’m leaving Nordstrom I notice that the doorman, a boy really, is simply standing there, not quite completely upright in his ill-fitting suit; his regard is vacant and he’s not opening the doors for anyone, his passive stance shunning the roles of both sentinel and serf.
Back on the sidewalk beside the store’s wall, I encounter a granny rooting through the garbage to retrieve whatever cast-offs might lessen the strife of her day in the debris. Her dirndl skirt is so perfectly appointed in detail and design that its vintage is hard to fix. So blurred are the lines now between the authentic, the counterfeit, and the clone that what was once genuine and collectible has merged into one amorphous stream of trends, where everything is at once eternal and outmoded, in perpetuity the basic outlines of style on repeat, and craft, quality and care notional artifacts of the obsolete.
I retrieve my bike, hopping on to ride away, and on the first turn of the wheel, a piece of litter caught in the spokes and trilling in the wind, I think: be careful what you wish for--America is here.
(In French le coin means the neighbourhood, or the friendly and shortened the hood. In the context of Mount Pleasant and what's happening here, I couldn't think of a more apt play on words - especially since today is the St Jean, a big celebratory holiday in Quebec, where I lived in French for many years.)
I live in Mount Pleasant, Vancouver. Technically, I'm on the eastern-most edge of the neighbourhood--an important distinction when talking about place in real estate terms, something Vancouver is all sexed up about. This is an edge area, one that's developing, to use the same neutered vernacular laid over other places such as Fuzhou, Chittagong, Dar es Salaam, Logos, and even Kabul, though likely here the term flows with less bite and more verve than for those on the ground in those places. Ah, but not here.
The lived experience here is a mixed bag of ambivalence and profit, all depending on which bag you hold onto.
Like everywhere and everything these days it seems, the Mount Pleasant that matters - ie: the one that counts, literally - is a consensus in the throes of unharnessed transformation, giddy about the promise of change like that offered by plastic surgery, smoothing the surface and sucking out the substance.
So, here's a bit of what I notice as I peddle myself around the hood. And by peddle, I mean spinning the wheels of my bike with the muscles in my body.
I live here and so do a whole bunch of other people ...
... people who make it the place that it is - unique, non-corporate, fun - for all of us living here ...
... not the place that some see as a place to rip apart and to sell ...
I'm excited. No, I'm ecstatic.
I'm in Montreal this summer, where another of my most favourite public art pieces is out again.
21 Balançoires (<-totally click on that), by Montreal-based design house Daily tous les jours, is an interactive musical installation that plays best when people join to play on it together. It's a sensorial wonder, evoking memories, connections, and tenderness where words don't reach - oh, it also makes music.
I missed it last time I was in la belle ville, but it's annual spring appearance is being carried over into the summer this year I hear (<- click to listen to the April 29 show at 8:29 minute mark).
This is place-making at its most breathtaking. I can't wait.
I'm a life-long swinger*. I swing when I'm happy. I swing when I'm sad. In the summer, I swing almost every day, and sometimes late on a warm night too. I never tire of it, and am constantly surprised at how much joy I experience gliding back and forth through the air, flying and diving at the same time.
Can't wait to share this. À bientôt les 21 balançoires! Here's a little snippet ...
* I mourn the loss of some of the older words - swinging, thongs, kangaroo jacket, for example - now needing to explain myself when I use them. I'm very attached to these words, or perhaps it's to the era when they were actively used, so innocently it now seems.
Maybe it's that loss of innocence, that gentler time, that I yearn for. When I ran around with thongs on my feet, sometimes stubbing my toe because the flimsy rubber sole folded under itself; the kangaroo jacket, that handy muff (another word) pocket in front where anything shoved in there could be readily accessed by either side, and a hood for warmth at night by the fire; and my beloved swinging, an activity whose word for it conveys the unfettered freedom and fun of this spectacular experience, now plunged into the murky underworld of fringier experiences that have laid claim to that once perfect word.
So, I finally got to myself to The Happy Show! Terry and I went yesterday. Like freeform cheeseballs, we listened to Pharrell's Happy on my itouch as we danced our way into the exhibit. Why not?!
I've been very excited about the show, having streamed all I can find on-line in the way of interviews and talks with Sagmeister. For over a decade, he's been researching and experimenting with what makes happiness, and his own in particular, and the show synthesizes some of what he's discovered.
Here's a slide from a TED talk he gave - it really grabbed me, so I screen-grabbed it, and then changed the colours. It's an outline of what he's discovered "works" for him, a concept I'm now fleshing out for myself (I'll share my list when it's done).
Here's his list. Some of the maxim's show up in the exhibit.
And here's a bit of The Happy Show, as experienced by me and Terry yesterday.
A very awesome interactive piece, expressing the maxim: being not truthful works against me.
This is me and Terry discovering it - then we started dancing in front of it, and running back and forth.
Yes, we were the loud ones at the show.
Our answers to the question: what is your symbol of happiness.
Trying to look good limits my life. Good maxim.
When I read this, first at home and then again at the show, each time I thought it referred to the concern with how we look in terms of our appearance: as in how we're dressed, our hair cut, and so on. Surface. (Maybe it's the clothing designer in me.)
Terry read it as meaning a concern for how we appear to others in terms of our behaviour, our choices, our way of living, our gestures, and so on. Substance.
Either way, the concern for looking good is limiting, restricting our spontaneous expressions of self, arguably (maybe) censoring those most authentic manifestations of who we are.
Grooming vs/ hygiene, and finding the limiting line. Authenticity vs/ obnoxiousness, and the location of that line.
Perhaps, the boundaries to watch out for are the ones that maintain balance.
I've long believed in the social function of beauty, what some call looking good, my take on it extending from surface to substance. It's good to be reminded of this.
I'm struggling with very big decisions right now, and finding myself ricocheting around a triangle whose points of contact are faith, fear and flakiness.
I love Sagmeister's take on flexibility and how it interacts with flakiness, so I'm working it into my mind model as I make this big decision.
His piece is in black; the coloured stuff is mine.
His work plan for a sabbatical.
I took notes (well, a photo) to inspire my own scheduling
of the impending vastness of time before me,
the vastness I'm stepping up to.
Another maxim: assuming is stifling.
What I like about this is its activeness.
Unlike that other one,
assuming makes an ass of you and me,
Sagmeister's angle tells us
something useful to consider
in terms of
and most interestingly (to me)
in the ways we live
with what's around us.
This is a shot of an old installation I put up in my place a few years back.
Leaving the Happy Show yesterday, I thought of it as my response to the experience I had there.
As Terry and I watched the 12 minute clip from Sagmeister's The Happy Film,
I commented on a sense of melancholy I feel coming off the man and his work;
Terry called it longing, which is a good word for it too.
Sagmeister rates his own level of happiness quite high,
and there's tangible euphoria in what he makes,
Maybe Terry and I are off the mark,
I now wonder about the possibility of being happy and wistful at the same time.
I think it's possible.
I think it's common.
I think it's human.
I think it's ok.
I'm pretty excited. The Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in on, and a nearby billboard again becomes my favourite, proving one can have such a thing.
Last year, as now, I happened upon the site by accident, as I biked along a weird back route to get to Our Social Fabric (another highlight in town).
There's nothing like being dazzled by surprise. An unexpected encounter of the non-commercial on a commercial surface; art for all. So, head on over to on E. 2nd, just slightly west of Clark Drive.
from his BAU Series, by Takashi Suzuki, May 2015
Tonto Pray for You, by Dana Claxton, May 2014
Friends have commented on the element of the creepy, or ugly, in this piece - something I tend to skirt in my aesthetics. But sometimes - ehem - the truth isn't pretty.
This is about the making of ugly, about the mounting of monsters; and about their final fate: the erasure of the monster. It's a meditation on the designing of narratives necessary to the paring away of someone's humanity; on the background consensus and constructs needed to revoke another's selfhood and place within kin and community. For how else can the unkind, the cruel, and even the unscrupulous, be perpetrated? Take away context, and place, and person, and what's left is the object, where in the space of all that's removed there remains, purportedly, objectivity, the slippery illusion at the crux of any monster-making story for those making it.
It's an odd experience to be on the inside of this dynamic and to be aware of it, from its inception to its conclusion, at once subject and witness. But it's a perspective that remains on the outside - which is the point of the monster enterprise from the outset; be it about me, or whoever is next.
There's a great new piece of public art in Vancouver, thanks to the brilliant Vancouver Biennale. I completely love this piece - Trans Am Totem. The location is provocative, as are its elements. The piece sparks a fast stream of ideas in me, leaping together in free association. Here's what that stream produced: I call it Trans Am Totem ToMe, and it's also running on the Vancouver Public Space Network blog. (A great Vancouver organization, by the way, that works to champion the importance of public space and to the overall liveability of the city - all on volunteer steam.)
I was part of a super fun neighbourhood poetry crawl over the weekend, and I wrote about it for the Vancouver Public Space Network (my current volunteer gig).
The Vancouver Poetry Crawl 2015 was organized by Vancouver poet Kevin Spenst, and began at my neighbours Terry and Owen's place with a pot-luck breakfast; from there, the crawl ventured into neighbourhood art galleries, connecting ten venues where eighteen poets read their work.
You can read the whole story about the crawl on the VPSN blog, and below you can find the visual recap of this out-of-the-box poetry extravaganza; if you click on the photos you'll see captions to offer a bit of info on what you're looking at.
I’m in Miami again, where all my family on my father’s side lives. Every time I’m here I love it, the pull of memory and family ties strong and calling. Now I’m thinking about moving, with my dual citizenship making it a real possibility. But I’m deeply Canadian, in some indescribable way, and this is a very American city. What does it all mean? Is there room for me? Room for how I live? For how I live in Vancouver? For those parts of how I live that I can’t give up? And just what is it that I can’t give up?
Doesn’t that look like a great bike lock-up?
It’s beside MOCA; beside palm trees, under the sun.
But here’s what it looks like curbside, a mere spin of the peddles away ....
This is what bike-riding involves here—notice the sharrows symbol painted on the pavement in the traffic lane meant for sharing? Not so reassuring, let alone inviting, with that move accident vehicles from travel lanes signage right beside the sharrows symbol. And that bike you see on the sidewalk? The person riding it arrived there by sidewalk, not via the sharrow. Unlike Vancouver, there aren’t any bike paths running alongside traffic lanes anywhere that I've seen, and there are no designated bike routes nearby as alternates to busy thoroughfares either.
Metro Miami, 6,000 square miles of land hugging the Atlantic coast with about 250 days of sunshine per year, an average temperature of 25ºC, and whose mean elevation is 6 ft above sea level—a bike-rider’s paradise, right? (Climate crisis/rising sea level issues, not glibly, set aside here.) A paradise for bike-riding someday perhaps, but the city and its car culture has a long way to go before being safe for riding in. So, hauling on raingear for Vancouver’s 168 days of rain per year isn’t looking quite as bad, with biking so central to the city’s commuting culture, and made so thanks to great bike routes and a growing consciousness among automobilists to share the road properly.
I love riding busses and taking in the scenery, especially in a new place where all is to discover; they’re also great for people-watching and a bit of a cultural soak, as well as, obviously, great for getting somewhere.
Beautiful scenery, cool nods to important history, even the hopeful gesture of a bus bike-rack (being used!). So, a great place to ride the bus, right?
But then there’s this ….
Service every 60 minutes Monday – Friday.
NO service Saturday & Sunday.
What, qué, sa?!
This is a commuter route! This 15 km line (about the distance of YVR to downtown) runs north/south through many neighbourhoods on its way to downtown, intersecting with a dozen connecting routes running perpendicular. (Not the only line with really restricted hours.)
This bus route is beside my aunt’s house and I use it when I’m visiting and have the leisure to plan things out around this strange schedule, but what if I lived here and needed to rely on this bus as part of my daily life?
250 days of tropical sunshine, in a flat land. Walking just makes sense, and beckons. What’s there not to like?
But then there’s this: no sidewalks .....
There are plenty of neighbourhoods without sidewalks, and there must be plenty with them too (not where I walked, but there must be.) What about people in wheelchairs, and with strollers?
Driving, Driving, Driving
Last year, I rode my cousin’s bike (only for little neighbourhood jaunts on side streets) and took the bus everywhere. This year the bike’s broken, and I have my aunt’s car. (I don’t own a car in Vancouver so driving is always novel for me.) With public transit servicing only around 8% of the population, here’s what getting around in a car looks like. You get my drift.
I see this a lot too—people walking between canyons of stopped cars, fund-raising for school, selling and advertising things. This man’s t-shirt says:
accident, crash, slip or falls 1-800-need-help.
I close my eyes, alone in an idling car.
What does it mean? For me?
The combination of no sidewalks, bad transit, and terrifying biking, forces people into cars—the antithesis of community. So, when out on foot navigating scrappy boulevards under heavenly canopies of sun and palm and birdsong, I’m the only one out walking. And because I’m the only one out on foot, when another walker once appeared, here’s what happened to me: a sense of wariness crept in. Instead of feeling any connection to this fellow pedestrian, instead of readying to nod and say hello, I froze, noticing how alone I was on a street that suddenly felt deserted and secluded—the antithesis of community.
So, Vancouver, despite your average of 197 days of rain per year, you make getting around easy. Whether I want to walk, take transit or ride my bike, I can get to where I’m going, feeling invited and considered, and connected.
Community-making requires not just the desire to be a part of something, it requires the supports that bring people together. The best place to start is where we live, right outside our front doors, in our neighbourhoods (neighborhoods), with the roads and transportation systems available and ready for us to jump on so we can all jump in.
Miami—try it, you’ll like it. Till then, I think I’m staying where it’s easier to live the way I do—in motion in community, in Vancouver.
I've started volunteering with the awesome
Vancouver Public Space Network, writing blogs.
Here's my first one .... (also on the VPSN website).
NB: Not included in the VPSN blog piece is this:
It's really hard for me to declare any kind of allegiance to Vancouver over Miami,
even in the face of the challenges I face getting around there on my own steam.
So, while everything I say here about Miami is true, it's also true that Vancouver isn't for me.
It's a good reminder to us all about the performative in the declarative.
It's also a good reminder about the irrational nature of love.
I'm now about as far way from Vancouver as I can get and still be on the North American continent - I'm in Miami. Here, a final section of a current project will come to join what is currently "in progress". This series is part of a large, on-going meta-series (if you will), entitled seamlessness, and it joins with another meta-series, iamMIA; and another, pilgrimage. It starts with two photo works of mine that I then had printed on silk crepe de chine; with these fabrics I made a dress and a top. Both photos include layers of me in Miami and me in Vancouver. Here in Miami, I'll wear these pieces in the water as the next part in the series. The work is about belonging, about finding home and fully landing there - body, mind, soul, and spirit together in one place.
Here's where it is now, and I've order the pix here chronologically:
a documentary directed by Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo
about São Paulo’s street art and artists, particularly Os Gêmeos, Nunca and Nina
a piece I've written for Pull Focus, a cool Vancouver organization that happens to be founded and run by a friend of mine.
Art is communication, art is connection, art is even war. In the case of São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling grey city, and in the case of the documentary Grey City about some of São Paulo’s artists, the terrain for this art is the street, more precisely the walls in the street.
In the 1980s, São Paulo took the world stage as the epicenter for urban visual street art known as pixo — graffiti and tagging. Its antecedents, Pixação, “wall writings", originated in São Paulo in the 1940s and 50s when citizens painted political statements in tar on walls in response to political slogans painted by political parties. Pixo’s evolution through to today has maintained that spirit of dialogue and defiance—a kind of urban calligraphy where some of São Paulo’s most marginalized endeavour to tag as high as they can, in as many public places as possible, incontrovertibly asserting their existence as a form of challenge to the city’s privileged who consider pixo ugly, ignorant, and illegal, much in the way they view the pichadores (the pixo makers) themselves.
The 80s re-emergence of pixo was an organic extension of other street art forms like hip hop and break-dancing. Such was the route for Os Gêmeos, the twin brother graffiti team featured in Grey City. With the same nimbleness of their breakdancing, identical brothers Otavio and Gustavo moved toward paint, starting first with pixo and then expanding their work into more pictoral murals. Today, their early pixo style can still be found within their murals, and the impetus to connect and converse with their city is at its heart.
Os Gemêos is out to communicate, to engage, and to contribute something positive for the public good—these are their guides. Producing their work during the day is critical to the process and to their pieces: how else will they know what’s going on, what they need to say, and to whom? How else will they connect directly with people and engage in real time? That’s how they see it. And what they encounter speaks back to them through the smiles and joy returned by passersby—this enthusiastic feedback loop affirming for them that they’ve honoured their vocation and their destiny.
Graffiti, however, also operates within the framework of the city’s regulatory, mercantile and political interests. So the war this artform engages in is often with the clean up crews contracted by City Hall to paint over the murals not deemed to be “artistic”—so, armed with grey paint, a subjective and anonymous army disappears the art, randomly and arbitrarily. However, in a metropolis of almost 20M people that sprawls across almost 8,000 square kilometres (the largest city of the Americas), the effectiveness of the clean up efforts doesn’t really keep pace with the artists, and so a kind of dialogue reverberates between leagues of creative resistance and the amorphous apparatus mobilized to squelch it.
This is where the graffiti movement truly embodies its role as a public art. No one possesses it, directly challenging the fundamentals of capitalism, and no one really controls it either, though many try and wish they could. In the case of Os Gemêos, their rigorous code of conduct keeps their work “clean”, in the sense that their concern with public good means shunning any form of negative messaging, and their tireless commitment to producing such work, in proliferation, eventually attracted international attention, rendering their colourful contribution to the city’s walls more and more challenging to object to.
Os Gemêos’ progressive rise to worldwide acclaim has ironically jettisoned their work to the reaches of national sanction too: they were commissioned to tag the plane of Brazil’s national football team competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps, though, this is a most apt illustration of remaining true to the artists’ animating values—speaking truth to power—in this case attaining lift off with jet engines; though, told not to paint the jet’s engines covers, they did it anyway, ever true to another animating force of the grafiteiro, tagging where authorities don’t want you to. Perhaps not quite biting the hand that feeds them, we could fairly say that Os Gemêos is willing to paint it.
Here in our own grey city, Vancouver is now home to the latest Os Gemêos piece, Giants, thanks to Vancouver Biennale and their partnership with Ocean Cement on Granville Island.
Giants is an ongoing Os Gemêos project, adding Canada to the Giants growing international family of Greece, USA, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and England.
As Os Gemêos believes, “Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people”, so Vancouver now has art, in the middle of the city, and this art happens to be a kind of people in its own right—Giants—an excellent symbol of art’s enduring heart, which is 3 dimensional, multiple, central, colourful, and gigantic.
Here's the film trailer .....
Today is my father's birthday.
Martin Thomas Welch was born September 12, 1926.
He would have been 88 years old today.
At home in the US, he was known as Marty; when living in Canada he was known as Tom because he lived in Vancouver's Chinatown where people had trouble pronouncing Marty.
In the unusual configuration that composes my family, as a child I sometimes referred to him as Papa Tom to distinguish between him and my foster father. In person, though, I always called him Daddy, even in adulthood.
I often wondered why I continued with the childlike term Daddy - then, when returning to Miami last winter on a family pilgrimage I realized that everyone in my family refers to their father as Daddy - even my 92 year-old aunt.
So, today, in honour of my father, I'm going out for donuts. Daddy loved going to Krispy Kreme on NE 167th St. in North Miami; there he made friends, paid for others though he was poor himself, and once brought a homeless woman to my Grammy's house to help the woman out.
There's no Krispy Kreme in Vancouver so I'm going to a Tim Horton's. I think Daddy would approve.
RIP Daddy. I miss you so much, and love your more.
(PS: This photo was part of a piece I had published in the excellent photography magazine, Ciel Variable, automne 1991, a few months after Daddy's death; the image was accompanied by a poem I wrote entitled "mon père".)
One thing ends, another begins.
I'm closing my business down, the one I've focussed on for the past 3 years. ad lib has been my clothing design company, a project full of interest to me. I've loved it.
And now I'm leaving it.
I start something new tomorrow, income-earning-wise that is.
When my store closed a year ago today, I was already into the next thing in my personal practice - this right here: zoetrope.me
I'll always make things. It's in my blood and my brain to do so. I'm born this way.
My ultimate motivator is beauty - making beauty, making what I imagine beauty to be in a broad sense: as part of living well, in gesture and endeavour, expressed through all the ways in which we engage the world around us day by day—beauty writ large.
I understand clothing on this grander scale, as more than how we cover ourselves: it's about how we carry ourselves, and how we conduct ourselves, culminating, most importantly, in how we concern ourselves with the world around us and how we care for it--it’s being conscious and conscientious.
I will now transpose this concern for beauty into other concrete forms of work that I pursue. In this external one, this new income-earning thing I start tomorrow; and in all my creative work making things.
Most importantly though, I'll continue to bring my concern for beauty into how I behave. Towards others. Towards myself. Towards the space I occupy, large and small.
And so it goes.
my thoughts on boyhood (the film) by Richard Linklater
Making anything takes time—making something with your hands, making a decision, an observation, a change—it takes time to do, and it also takes time away to reflect. The leisure of allowing time’s force to bear itself upon one’s work is seldom afforded, especially in the case of film. Michael Apted’s Up series is based in the passage of time, but sequentially, across 8 discreet segments that express the 49 years it so far encompasses. Boyhood gives us 12 years, but all within one piece.
So, what we see, Boyhood’s narrative conceit at first reading, is 12 years in the life of a boy, Mason, from 6 to 18, following with him through his own becoming. And it’s true, we do see this. What we also see though, when the screen drops dark and we walk away, is the work of an artist bringing to bear the inimitable insights that only time grants, when invited to.
Boyhood is infused with love and tenderness, cutting us all some slack about what’s imperfect and misguided in the shambolic jumble that is being alive and living a life. In Boyhood, people restrain themselves, without withholding; not settling for too little, yet accepting each other’s limitations because each seems to be aware that they too have their own.
Everything is mundane and anodyne, yet it’s all, also, potent and consequential. Like the fado singer who wails into words the deepest mysteries of what it means to live, Linklater, the mercifully milder balladeer, reminds us about the bittersweet truth that all is finite, and yet, splendidly, as Mason begins to comprehend, all we ever have is now. So use it well.
Linklater does—he uses time to tell this story, longitudinally checking in with now, twelve times. It’s across the passage of time, and through Mason’s growing, that we understand the ripening of self-knowledge and world wisdom; that, in the process of maturation and becoming, there’s no short cut. Time is a constant, and while we’re a part of it, the only way forward is through. So, what’s gained while we witness Mason feeling his way into his life and into his own becoming, is really our own. Witnessing the wilderness of Mason’s intimacies, we know our own; but we’re not on our own, alone, Linklater seems to say. Somehow, we’re all with Linklater, the film’s ultimate witness, a man who seems to have deliberately structured this work to document his own growth, looking back while casting forward from here, and what he sees and learns seems to lay perfectly over, or become embedded within, the gaze of a growing boy. The parallel lives of these two separate people are shared, and the continuity between them reaches across time and the screen to join with all of us.
In Boyhood, Linklater captures and conveys his own maturation as a man, exploring his own understanding of (his) life, and his own maturation as an artist, sorting, still, through his creative cosmos for what matters. And what he seems to be discovering is that these two things cohere: the artist and the man are one; the boy and the man are one; the maker and the witness are one—there is seamlessness between who we are and what we do, or there should be, or can be. And that’s what we can hope for, reach for, and make for ourselves.
We may all be just winging it, as Mason’s father confirms to his son, but what we do matters, and it matters most, Linklater is saying, to ourselves as much in our solitude as in our connections. At some point you’re no longer growing up, you’re aging, but no one can pinpoint that moment exactly, so take care, pay attention, notice the flow of the minutiae, cut a little slack, know that it matters, and take the time to make it so.
It’s the 2nd super moon of the summer; this one—the middle of three—is the fullest of them in the sky, and the closest to us down here.
Saturday night at dusk I went to the park next door to pay my respects, and stayed till full night fell. There were only a few of us out. Four guys on the next bench over were drinking beer from cans, playing guitar and singing together; they had the lyrics to “Lying Eyes” shining before them on an iphone. Their voices weren’t great, but who cares. They asked me to join them, and when I lay down later on the grass to take pictures of the sky, noticing me there, one asked if I was ok.
I was playing with a camera I have on loan till Wednesday, one passed along to me so I can decide if I like it enough to buy. With a few technical things figured out, I then played with the moon.
Out again in reverence Sunday night, the air much warmer and soft on bare skin, the park’s slope was fuller. People were out to look up at the sky. There were small groups, some on blankets, others solitary, like me.
No camera this time, I listened to music: Benediction. (click the link to listen)
A plane passed overhead again, to the north of the moon, following the same flight path as the night before, at the same time.
A shade of cerulean hovered at the edges of the moon, bracketing it—I could see it especially when I looked from my peripheral vision.
Resting on the dry grass of the hill, with the warm air all around, and neighbours out and near, the mottled moon on its slow rise in the sky above all of us out gathered willingly below, we watched its passage through our lives tonight.
I remembered what being in love feels like, feeling myself there falling in love again with everything, anew.
It’s love made of unconditional willingness to be a part of it all, coming after forgiveness, or acceptance, of everything that’s come before, even if that everything’s not all understood, or, in fact, not understood at all.
It all comes surrender me to absolute mystery, where relinquishing of needing anything, even for a moment, busts me open to knowing about my own freedom.
A few days later, when the 2nd one appeared, I wanted a different outcome; so I kept reading, and it rested at my headboard through the night. In the morning, it was still there and I wondered if it was dead. But when I checked on it after my tea, I saw it was gone.
Next, I found a wasp nest in my loft. Still small, it had been abandoned before completion, and never inhabited.
A wasp nest is made of paper. Wasps chew wood and plant fibres to produce the material they use to make their nest. It's a remarkable feat of ingenuity, creativity, and beauty.
So the wasps, creators of paper, makers of delicate and clever homes, eschewed nesting here. I think they have a point.