The Culture Crawl: Hungry for inspiration

This blog post has been percolating in my brain ever since the East Side Culture Crawl a week ago. This year I revisited 1000 Parker Street and the Mergatroid Building, both excellent choices if you want to catch lots of studios in a short time. Also, it turns out, excellent choices if you want to enjoy delicious mini-donuts and peppermint hot chocolate, provided by friendly vendors outside. How long have they been there? I don’t remember them from the last time I was at 1000 Parker…

Anyway, I did more than enjoy a lot of artwork. See, in the last few weeks, I’ve taken up drawing again. That’s been an on-and-off hobby of mine; I have absolutely no natural talent for it, but I enjoy taking up a pencil and doodling whatever my hand wants to doodle. And I realise I want to practice this more regularly, see where it takes me. So I think part of me was looking for inspiration at the Crawl, some clue to help me figure out what would work for me. Maybe that’s the wrong approach—I need to find my own way, especially if I’m just starting out, or I’d just be aping other people. And it’s hard to avoid comparing myself to these excellent artists—just as I do with my web development career (the thing that pays the bills) I have to balance having something to strive for and being intimidated by superior talents.

Still, it was instructive. Some artwork resonated more with me, and this may be a clue as to what my own art will become. My favourite artist this year was Arleigh Wood. I love her subject matter, mostly quiet beachscapes it seems, but it’s her signature style that I find most attractive. There’s just something about the muted colours and rich textures, contrasted with startling touches of gold leaf… It’s something to chew on, at least. I know the answers will come.

International Day Against Homophobia

Today was the International Day Against Homophobia. One way we celebrate it here in Vancouver is with the IDAH breakfast, organised by Qmunity. This event brings together local VIPs, politicians, business owners, as well as ordinary folks who can afford the ticket for a couple hours of eating, schmoozing and inspirational talks. The theme this year was: Homophobia and transphobia in sports. It was my first IDAH breakfast, and I was there with several other members of the VGVA board.

All the talks were wonderful and inspiring. Anita Braha, of the Vancity board of directors, spoke about Vancity’s commitment to inclusion and a healthy sustainable communities. Apparently, it was only in the 70’s that husbandless women could sign for a mortgage in their own name (sorry i dont remember the exact date); Braha and her partner were the first lesbian couple to get a mortgage from Vancity.

Next up was Louise Cowin, Vice-president of Students at UBC. Among other things, she is responsible for student athletics. She spoke of the continuing stigma against queer, trans and gender-variant players, even in places of higher education where you would think the only thing that matters is achievement. And, she shared some anecdotes from her own adolescence in the 70’s, where she was forced to undergo a test to determine is she was really female. Such tests were only discontinued in 1999, and even today female athletes (whatever their sexual orientation) have to go out of their way to “prove” they really are properly female. We still have a long way to go.

But maybe not a very long way, as proved by the next speaker: Olympic gold medalist Ben Rutledge. He started out delivering what felt like nice cliches about when you’re training for the Olympics your teammates’ sexuality doesn’t matter, it’s what you can do together. But then (and I’m sorry I don’t remember in greater detail) he said something about not always making the best decisions about choosing your teammates, and then something about “being on the wrong side”… and choked up. Whoah. That was unexpected! I don’t know what mistakes he made in the past but clearly he still feels terrible about them. Someone handed him a kleenex and I think that was the end of his speech because the next thing I remember was a standing ovation.

And it just goes to show: people mess up. And that’s okay, as long as they learn from their mistakes and their hearts are in the right place. That’s what allies do.

The last speakers were Cory Oskam, a 16-year-old trans hockey player and his mother. She’s absolutely the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet, 100% supportive of Cory. She spoke of his early challenges, not really fitting in with girls or boys (until he proved his athletic talent, and then the boys totally accepted him!), refusing to wear any underwear except Superman boys’ briefs, and a few cutely embarrassing anecdotes which, as the mother of a teenager, she’s contractually required to share.

Cory is amazingly bright and articulate. I was stunned at his determination to make the world a better place for others, and his impressed by his decision to not choose a gender just yet. He said his gender is fluid, though he’s closer to the male end of the scale. But picking a gender is like picking a name, it’s something you have to put some thought into.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my mind is blown by kids today, how much smarter and freer of prejudice they can be compared to my generation. There’s still a lot of work to do, yes. But the future belongs to young people like Cory.

It’s made me think about VGVA, and the context in which it exists. After 30+ years, it’s an established part of the Vancouver cityscape; but in its early days, it and other queer sports leagues must have been incredibly revolutionary. The idea that gays can play sports? Now that’s just crazy talk!

But to some people, yes, its still crazy. And queers shouldn’t have to choose between their sexual / gender identity and their love of sports, as many still do if they’re surrounded with homophobic players. So there’s still a special role for groups like VGVA, and I need to remember that.

And maybe the timing’s a coincidence, but just this Monday the Vancouver Park Board passed a motion to create a working group to make parks, community centres, etc… inclusive and friendly to trans and gender-variant people. It’s a historic first step, and it couldn’t have happened without (a) activists spearheading the effort and (b) the support of straight and cis allies. I was there at the meeting, and though the list of speakers seemed interminable (it adjourned past 1PM!) I was deeply moved at everyone who came out and suported the motion and shared their stories.

The motion passed unanimously. It wasn’t a happy ending, it was a happy beginning. And on a different note, the whole evening was an interesting look at local politics, which I’ve never paid much attention to. But hey, who knows? This is another way I could make a difference…

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

There I was in Chapters the other day, not looking for any particular book, and ended up walking out with: volume 2 of The Unwritten, Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel Are You My Mother, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’d never read any of his books before, though I’ve been a huge fan of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course for months.

There I was in Chapters the other day, not looking for any particular book, and ended up walking out with volume 2 of The Unwritten, Alison Bechdel’s latest graphic novel Are You My Mother?, and John Green‘s The Fault in Our Stars. I’d never read any of his books before, though I’ve been a huge fan of Vlogbrothers and Crash Course for months.

And I told myself I couldn’t start on any of these until I finished Contes du lundi (currently reading) and Faitheist (next on my list). But of course I couldn’t resist. I went through my new acquisitions right away, saving TFiOS for last.

At first it wasn’t the magnificent opus I was expecting. Engaging, moving, brutally honest? Definitely. Hilarious and nerdy? No doubt. Smart and thought-provoking while still totally unpretentious? Oh yeah. Through all of it, I could hear John Green’s voice in the narration. Hard not to, really, I’ve been listening to that voice on my computer for the better part of a year—silly and bouncy when he talks about the Dead Baby Orphanage or whatever, low and quiet and thoughtful during his Thoughts From Places. Every side of him is in Stars, and they manage to mesh together perfectly.

But still, except for a few passages, the first ten chapters didn’t really touch me. That all changed when Gus and Hazel arrived in Amsterdam. I don’t know if John (is it okay if I call him John?) wrote the Amsterdam parts in Amsterdam and the Indianapolis parts in Indianapolis, and if that explains why the Amsterdam parts felt more alive and magical; and now I’m thinking that was deliberate, that that whole trip was magical because it was a granted wish in a world that is not a wish-granting factory. And now I’m thinking maybe I’m overanalysing this. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Regardless, I started to perk up here:

“Are these houses very old?” asked my mom.
“Many of the canal houses date from the Golden Age, the seventeenth century,” he said. “Our city has a rich history, even though many tourists are only wanting to see the Red Light District.” He paused. “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”

I don’t know why that last sentence intrigued me so much. It kind of sounded like something John might say, except he’s never talked about sin in his videos…

But I kind of lost it a few pages later:

There were elm trees everywhere along the canals, and these seeds were blowing out of them. But they didn’t look like seeds. They looked for all the world like miniaturized rose petals drained of their color. These pale petals were gathering in the wind like flocking birds—thousands of them, like a spring snowstorm.
The old man who’d given up his seat saw us noticing and said, in English, “Amsterdam’s spring snow. The iepen throw confetti to greet the spring.”

I don’t know what elm tree seeds look like, so in my mind all I saw were Vancouver’s cherry blossoms, all shades of pink, brightening up the city just a couple weeks ago. A symbol of renewal and hope but also of the impermanence of all things and if that’s not the perfect accompaniment for two dying teenagers on the trip of a lifetime, I don’t know what is. In my head I was with Hazel and Gus, looking up at the elm tree snow, and I felt so sad for them but also happy because they were having an amazing time and now I wish so badly to visit Amsterdam myself, and I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry so I settled for both.

Talk of champagne as bottled stars (‘Come quickly, I am tasting the stars.’; “We have bottled all the stars this evening, my young friends.”) made me think of Esther Earl, and I know Hazel is not Esther, but how can you not make the connection?

I’m not a fan of champagne and it never tasted like stars to me, but it’s such a beautiful image that next time I drink champagne I’ll think of stars—and, for what it’s worth, I’ll make a wish.

Perspectives on golden fog

Thursday January 3rd, my second day back at work. The weather was cold but clear, with low fog that burned out by mid-morning. But as I walked along Bute to Georgia, I enjoyed the unusual feel, the romance of the fog… and then, Georgia Street.

Thursday January 3rd, my second day back at work. The weather was cold but clear, with low fog that burned out by mid-morning. But as I walked along Bute to Georgia, I enjoyed the unusual feel, the romance of the fog… and then, Georgia Street.

I’d already noticed that, depending on the time of day, the morning sun shines straight up Georgia like downtown was Stonehenge or something. A cool effect usually, but with the fog… it was beyond gorgeous. I took a couple pictures with my handy new Android phone (almost better than I’d take with my Canon G10, and light-years ahead of my pokey old iPhone 3GS. But I digress).

Here’s the picture I took:

Later, I cropped it and set it as my Twitter and Facebook header, like so:

You’ll notice I tried a little clumsily to remove the traffic lights at the far right. The pedestrian walk signal wasn’t too hard, but the traffic signal just wouldn’t go away. I guess there was enough fog in the air, and the light was strong and/or omnidirectional enough that there was a bit of haze around it. I didn’t even notice this when I photoshopped it, and then it really bothered me for a while. It looked out of place in that composition, the only red patch in a sea of gold and black, but I couldn’t find any way to cleanly take it out, or tone down the colour. So, oh well, I guess it stays.

And then, a few days later, I started playing around with that picture again, trying for different compositions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. Here’s what I came up with. First, a bit of cropping, and different aspect ratio. Still centred on the sun.

I like this one. The proportions of the buildings are more pleasing. Not exactly sure why; maybe it’s just because the crane is gone. Or, maybe it’s because the picture is more symmetrical. I think I would have preferred it to be completely symmetrical, with the sun shining exactly up Georgia… But hey, maybe complete symmetry would be boring! I don’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter. You work with what you’ve got, am I right?

While we’re wishing, I would also have preferred not to have those overhanging traffic lights in the shot. Oh well. Next time I’ll wait for the light to be just right, or at least move to the east crosswalk so the traffic lights aren’t a problem.

Now here’s another composition, focusing on the dark buildings.

Basically I just wanted to follow the Rule of Thirds, with the sunrise being an obvious focus point. What was not obvious was that the building in the center would end up neatly dividing the picture vertically in thirds as well. Cool.

Letting my eyes do the thinking for me, I’m much more drawn to the line of cars still in the shade. This photo is much darker, which brings out their headlights. I kind of want to see movement, the cars emerging from the sun… maybe it needs different composition to really bring it out? If so, I just need to keep practicing.

And here’s a slightly different look, even more postcard-worthy, I think. This time I’ve eliminated the problem of traffic lights by cropping them out entirely.

But the moral of the story is: every photo has a story to tell, and the best part is that it’s a different story every time. And step by step I’m learning how to bring out these stories out of the places and things I see.

Northern Voice 2012, Part 2: In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night

Part 2 of my NV12 recaps: productivity, voice, and comics

Mike Vardy‘s talk on Saturday dealt with Better Blogging Productivity. He offered some commonsense tips such as:

  • Be realistic (or in his words, “get real!”): get clear about what you can and can’t do in the windows of time available to you. If you only have a little bit of time, do simple things like catch up on email or collect ideas. Save the really creative work for when you can focus on it
  • Build a schedule. In Mike’s words, blog proficiently not prolifically. Start small, get used to a blogging routine, and build up from there.
  • Avoid distractions (as opposed to disruptions). Distractions are messages, email notifications, anything nonurgent and avoidable.

Commonsense, sure, but this is stuff I definitely need to work on. I don’t have a blogging routine, and as often as not I’ll check my email when that little red circle appears over the icon. Hey, at least I turned off the sound notifications!

Then Mike offered a number of tools to help with this productivity: tasks managers like 30/30, email filters like AwayFind, forced discipline apps like Freedom (on the Mac).

But the kicker to me was when he said, “discipline is not enough. You need willpower.” Mike told the audience that he wears a Green Lantern ring when blogging as a physical focus. Green Lanterns, as everyone knows, are powered by will. And who is Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis, he asked? “Sinestro,” I replied from the front row. And what does Sinestro run on? “Fear,” I replied again, thus outing myself as a big nerd. Bottom line, then: fear impedes willpower.

And you know what? I totally get it. My take on the discipline vs. willpower dichotomy is that the former is going through the motions, tools and habits that you need to internalise until they’re second nature. Willpower, on the other hand, is the clarity of hearing that little voice pushing you to create and excel. Fears, doubts and insecurities definitely get in the way of hearing that voice.

(Incidentally, Mike and I chatted over lunch for a bit, and I learned about the Green Lantern animated series. I watched the entire first season the day after the conference, and I’m here to tell you it’s awesome. I didn’t think I’d be crazy about the CGI animation, but the technology’s come a long way, and the story, characters and action are all fantastic. Any series that stars Atrocitus, Mogo and Saint Walker is tops in my book.)

After lunch, Shane Birley‘s keynote The Evolution of the Blogger’s Voice took us on a whirlwind sci-fi trip through his blogging history. There was no real plot, just a collection of vignettes from 1998 to the present day: his time in Victoria, meeting Allyson, getting laid off from Cayenta, starting Left Right Minds, and the million other projects he’s currently got going.

Some of his posts (especially the early ones) were about looking for vindication, feeling grumpy, feeling tied down, and looking for his voice. And then his voice came, though sometimes it didn’t feel that way. The moral is: you already have a voice, you just have to find it. It may not be through plain text blogs. Try podcasts, vlogs? Keep digging, and you’ll find it.

And here’s what I’m taking from this talk. I’m not sure if this was really Shane’s point, but here goes, my interpretation:

The thing is, discipline will keep your world ordered, and willpower will keep you putting one foot in front of the other, but you need to see where you’re going, or at least hope that the tied-down-ness and the grumpiness will pass, and you will find your voice one day. All will be well.

My personal view is that Fear has many opposites, not just Willpower. Another is Hope. That’s in the comics too, by the way. Blue Lanterns (powered by hope) by themselves are apparently the weakest of the emotional spectrum (I guess reflecting the fact that hope alone is passive and kind of useless). But team them up with a Green Lantern and they boost each other’s power so as to be nigh-unstoppable. Hope and Willpower together are the greatest force in the universe.

Northern Voice 2012, Part 1: The Future And How To Get There

Northern Voice, the blogging and social media conference which I’ve been attending for two years running, happened again. This time in June instead of May, and at SFU Woodward’s instead of UBC. It’s a great venue, and suited me better, commute-wise.

I had an amazing time again this year, and of course I’m going to recap the hell out of it. Some of the talks complemented each other nicely, so I’ve decided to cover them together. Let’s start with the two morning keynotes:

Reilly Yeo of Open Media kicked the conference off on Friday with her keynote Using the Internet to Save the Internet. From Slacktivism to Interactivism. Open Media has led a number of campaigns, including, fighting the push by telecom companies to implement metered net use. That petition got over 500,000 signatures, made national news, and the decision-makers responded. More recently, their campaign to stop Bill C-30, the online spying bill made more national news, exposed yet again the raving paranoia of the Harper government in general and Safety Minister Vic Toews in particular. Again, the government blinked.

The moral of these stories? Online petitions do work! Online activism can make a difference! The term “slacktivism” is easy to throw around; and signing online petitions is just about the least you can do to call yourself an activist, but there’s a lot more going on than that. First, half a million “slacktivists” can’t be dismissed so easily.

Second, don’t knock petitions. Darren Barefoot said so way back in Northern Voice 2010: there are many ways to do good online, simple and complex, and it’s important to have a low barrier of entry to do-gooding.

Third, they (well, some, at least) are not just putting in a token ten seconds of effort, they’re getting informed, getting connected with like-minded people, and coming up with hilarious memes. The decision-making process is suddenly a little more human, a little closer to home. Netizens move away from passive consumption of lolcats and Justin Bieber, and towards responsible, mindful involvement.

Not that there’s anything wrong with lolcats, of course. Lolcats are awesome. But lols mixed with politics? Well, that’s best of all.

Second moral, BTW: the Harper government, for all its majority, isn’t quite the juggernaut it would like to be.

So maybe, Yeo argues, “slacktivism” isn’t the right term after all. She suggests “interactivism”: a new kind of activism, highly connected and savvy, with massive potential, and open to anyone.

But what is interactivism saving the internet for, though? Let’s ask Blaine Cook. In his Saturday keynote, The Wild Future (not to be confused with The Future is Wild, which I have on DVD and is totally awesome), Cook argues for the preservation of a “wild” internet, a net free to evolve organically, where difference is a good thing, multiple cultures can arise, coexist and enrich each other.

Let’s talk about Babel for a moment. Cook introduced it as a metaphor for the frustration we feel that we can’t accomplish the things we want, because we can’t work on things together. That’s one interpretation I’ve never heard before! And it’s true, we get more done when we work together. But when we work as one, we get the same things done, over and over. We put up the same towers, over and over. But one size does not fit all.

Case in point: UBC’s Buchanan Building is a fine example of Brutalist architecture, apparently modeled on a building in San Diego. The windows in that building relied on being set deep enough that direct sunlight wasn’t a problem. Problem is, they transplanted the exact same design 2,000 km north, where the sun is much lower in the sky, and apparently the building is an oven.

Brutalism’s been around for a long time. Many cities have a few examples, as office buildings or low-income housing, like the UK housing estates. Some worked, some became slums and got torn down. The lesson is: attempting to design urban utopias with a single, narrow vision leads to monocultures. “Machines for living in” don’t inspire community or organic cultural growth.

Seguing into the online world, Blaine drew a parallel between, on one hand, Brutalist architecture and on the other, the iPhone and social networks like Facebook. The iPhone, you say? (or at least, I said) This pretty, pretty thing with all the wonderful software, how is it anything like those giant ugly-ass buildings? Well, it’s controlled from the top down by a single corporation, and has built-in pesticides to limit the diversity of its software ecosystem. By contrast, the Android system is a much wilder place. Facebook likewise is pretty bland, omnipresent, and controlled by a corporation who calls the shots on your privacy.

Mind you, Facebook did have Cow Clicker, so it wasn’t all bad.

And let’s face it, sometimes you want the bland and the safe. It’s a push-and-pull thing, I guess. Humans settle, we make the wild places not-wild. For comfort, for support, for community. That’s not a bad thing. Not everybody can be a pioneer. But we need to be able to fork cultures, we need the space to create new spaces and ways to express ourselves, and this is something the Web enables like nothing else. As long as it’s not bled dry by big telecoms, strangled or spied on by a paranoid government, censored by churches, or turned into bland consumer networks by greedy corporations.

That is our wild future. The future of collaborative writing using Git, of open source software like Drupal, Firefox and Linux, of a hundred phone OS’s and Pinterest clones, of freely shared knowledge thanks to Wikipedia and others.

The world is so malleable, and we get to find the answers together by building them.

WordCamp: Developers

Yesterday was a very, very good day. Why? Because I went to WordCamp: Developers, that’s why! A whole day of knowledge, hot geeks, and interesting people. Though I’ve been tinkering with WordPress for a few years now, I’ve been starting on larger projects for other people (both volunteer and paid). It’s exciting and a little scary.

Yesterday was a very, very good day. Why? Because I went to WordCamp: Developers, that’s why! A whole day of knowledge, hot geeks, and interesting people. Though I’ve been tinkering with WordPress for a few years now, I’ve been starting on larger projects for other people (both volunteer and paid). It’s exciting and a little scary.


The keynote consisted of Lorelle Van Fossen interviewing Andrew Nacin. Okay, kinda different, but I totally didn’t mind. First impressions: even with that playoffs beard, Nacin is hot. And used to be a fireman. Seriously. Second impression: he loves what he does, and inspired the same kind of love in the audience. “Innovation is the key to WP’s success,” he said. Things like menus, internal linking, even the current design, started out as pieces of code in various themes and plugins. Who knows where our little ideas will lead us?

Also, “Never trust the user.” But that’s a bit less inspirational.

HTML5 & CSS3 Integration For WordPress

Ray Villalobos took us on a whirlwind tour of these new technologies’ features. I was already familiar with some of them (border radius, semantic tags, transparencies) but at the end of the hour, my brain felt more than full. And I still had five more talks to go!

One quibble, though: As informative as it was, Ray’s talk didn’t really have anything to do with WordPress per se. I understand that a good WP developer has to know these things, but they apply to any Web development work. So… should they have been in a WordCamp event? I’m still undecided.

Developing a Control Panel for Multiple Sites Using the Same WordPress Theme

O HAI. Toby McKes works at Cheezburger Networks, the people responsible for bringing you lolcats (and Fails, and Squee, and Graphs) each and every day. I know, I couldn’t believe our humble city could be so honoured.

But bringing laffs to the world takes a lot of hard work. In the early days, all their blogs were running on different hacked themes, they all looked at least a bit different, and maintaining them was a huge headache. The solution was a unified theme, with dozens and dozens of theme options, controlled via a custom admin panel. This made installations a breeze, since they were all running on the exact same code. They even have a tool for importing and exporting options, too!

This really resonated with me, because one current project involves implementing a site with lots of custom options. I don’t need a full-blown admin panel for multiple installations… but it’s good to know others are dealing with similar issues.

Unconference: Finding Work as WordPress Consultants

I decided to skip the WordPress e-commerce talk (though I heard later it was very informative) and headed over to the Unconference track for a little discussion with Lloyd Budd on making money with WordPress. I’m honestly not sure if I have enough experience to really make a go at it just yet, but I want to know what options (and obstacles) lie ahead. We discussed CodePoet and other consultant-finding sites, and shared personal insights. No insights from me right now, but maybe next year…

Tackling JavaScript for WordPress

Again, lots of information, great if you want to get into fancy web development, but not directly related to WordPress. (Almost as an afterthought, he did mention wp_enqueue_script()). But I have to say, I loved how enthusiastic, yet low-key Allen Pike is about JavaScript. The way he says “Mind-blowingly awesome code you’ll learn a lot from” in an adorkably deadpan voice is just awesome.

Challenging Traditional WordPress Design

So you’ve got your traditional blog design with all this extra navigation in the sidebar: categories, tag clouds, recent posts, etc… Is it useful? Do people read them, or do they just tune them out? Catherine Winters looks at various site designs and relevant studies and concludes that, no, they’re not that useful. That a lot of these frills are in fact making pages harder to read, and that today’s web designers are ignoring lessons learned over centuries of print design.

Catherine’s delivery could have used some polish, but her ideas were right on the money. In my last blog redesign I deliberately cut out all the sidebar bits she mentioned. My inspiration, in part, came from, whose blog was even more radical in its minimalist design. And worked beautifully.

Possibly the Strangest WordPress Project You’ve Ever Seen in Your Life

That’s really what the schedule said. And holy shit did it deliver. Mark Reale led us through the design and implementation process of, a site he did for artist John Oswald. It’s a trippy thing, loaded with crazy JavaScript animation, but it really does run on WordPress!

Oh, and I won a book at the end of this talk, too. Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience. Go me!

Final Thoughts

So, that was WordCampDev. The organisers did a fantastic job, and I love these events because there’s so much to learn and absorb, and I come home so inspired! Looking forward to Northern Voice next week!

Culture Crawl 2010: Why Art?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. On Saturday I went a-crawling, deciding to roam around Strathcona again. There are still many studios I haven’t seen yet, way out past Clark and near the Waterfront, but I enjoyed Strathcona so much! the pretty heritage houses, the rich history, the feel of community similar to what I feel in the queer West End, though with a different flavour, of course.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Last weekend I went a-crawling, deciding to roam around Strathcona again. There are still many studios I haven’t seen yet, way out past Clark and near the Waterfront, but I enjoyed Strathcona so much! the pretty heritage houses, the rich history, the feel of community similar to what I feel in the queer West End, though with a different flavour, of course.

I’d like to think this poster was an omen, when I saw on the way to my first studio:

Why Free Art?

Okay, as far as omens go, it doesn’t say much about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, because the people organising this Free Art event probably timed it to go along with the Crawl. And though I don’t agree with everything this poster has to say (especially in the fine print), it got me thinking. Hence this stream-of-consciousness blog post.

Why free art?
Or, Why art?
Or, What is it that I’m getting out of the Crawl?

Good questions. It’s true that “Art is food” and “Art soothes pain,” as the poster says, but the Crawl is about a lot more than that. It lets us see not just finished art pieces, we get a peek at the creative process. A lot of the studios had tools, paintbrushes, or what have you, out in the open and obviously well used. Artists are not magicians, they are not some refined elite conjuring beautiful things out of nowhere. Art takes talent, yes—and some say that’s overrated—but also work and dedication and passion.

And art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Around every artist is a whole community to inspire or be inspired by their work. Art and culture don’t (necessarily) belong in galleries, and they’re not disconnected from everyday life. You can find art in paintings and sculptures, but also furniture, clothing, even custom-made panties. No fooling, one of the studios was selling them, but I forgot to get her card. And hey, even painting can brighten up whole communities: about a dozen large public murals were on display in the Downtown Eastside. I only photographed one, the closest to Strathcona, the others being too far out of my way.


I don’t agree with the Free Art people: art, for better or for worse, is not disconnected from money. It’s a business, and one that I’m a little more sensitive to, having taken the plunge into the freelance world. I hope my work will be as rewarding as these artists’.

Streets of Strathcona

Parade of Lost Souls 2010: Ghosts, Fears and Magic

I’ve got to admit, my attendance at the Parade of Lost Souls has been pretty spotty. I’ve only gone a handful of times since I moved to Vancouver, and I didn’t even know it had been canceled last year. I went this year, though. Because it’s a wonderful tradition that’s worth following, and because Public Dreams needs the support.

I’ve got to admit, my attendance at the Parade of Lost Souls has been pretty spotty. I’ve only gone a handful of times since I moved to Vancouver, and I didn’t even know it had been canceled last year. I went this year, though. Because it’s a wonderful tradition that’s worth following, and because Public Dreams needs the support.

How much support, I didn’t even realise until I read this West Ender article on how provincial cuts are hurting the arts and communities. Yet even scaled down the Parade (or I should say, the Ghost Walk), is keeping the magic alive. From the crazy costumes to keep us in the mood, to neighbourhood musicians keeping us entertained… to the (dare I use the word) more spiritual offerings, like Queen Victoria’s booth, where Walk participants can give away their fears in exchange for a feather. I remember that one from years past; wait, maybe for that one we wrote down wishes, not fears. Or maybe there were two booths, I forget.

And I lost the feather the next day. Oh well, it did its job.

I love the Parade of Lost Souls, for the way it brings together a whole community, and for the way it lets me suspend my skepticism for just one night. I hope it gets back on its feet, more people need to experience it.

So here they are, a month late, some photos of the Ghost Walk. And tomorrow’s the Culture Crawl!

The Walk Begins

A Band



Scarecrow Grave

Vancouver International Film Festival Review: The 4th Revolution: Energy Autonomy

The 4th Revolution is a showcase of the future: the technologies, the vision, and the visionaries that will take us away from a reliance on fossil fuels, and towards clean renewable energy for everyone.

Guess I should finally blog about the last movie I saw in the VIFF, and by far the most uplifting.

The 4th Revolution is a showcase of the future: the technologies, the vision, and the visionaries that will take us away from a reliance on fossil fuels, and towards clean renewable energy for everyone.

It’s possible. There are so many bright, dedicated people all over the world, from Germany to China to Mali to Bangladesh, working tirelessly in ways big or small to change lives or change minds: designers making electric cars look sexy, neighbours cooperating to upgrade an apartment building with solar generators, the economist who pioneered microlending, the people installing small solar panels in rural Africa.

Energy autonomy is more than just saving a few bucks on your electric bill. First, it’s about saving a lot of bucks on the electric bill. Solar panels on individual buildings or houses, combined with other upgrades to cut down on, e.g., unnecessary air conditioning, can cut external power consumption drastically. But it also means economic autonomy. The Mali Folke Centre is a case in point: by promoting the use of solar energy in regions where electricity is extremely rare and expensive, they allow people to regularly work after dark. Not a big deal? But as programme coordinator Ibrahim Togola explains, it opens the door for people to create new enterprises, and move Mali away from a purely resource-exporting base for its economy.

The stakes are enormous, and so are the obstacles: lack of political will in many countries, not least being the USA; entrenched interests in the coal/gas/oil industry, and the simple fact that reworking out energy infrastructure will be a difficult process. But the general consensus is that the transition is indeed possible, and so the movie ends with a positive note.