Happy first snowfall

November 21, 2010


Views from my balcony.


Ashes to ashes, dreams to dust (if I could just get around to it)

November 16, 2010

I don’t know about you but I’m a bit sick of hearing that if you just believe and never give up, anything can happen.  

Remember during Obama’s election coverage, bright-eyed African-American kids were regularly interviewed, saying “now I know I can be anything I want to be?”

And let’s not forget how our winter  Olympic athletes, under the stress of their lives, were obliged to analyze their hard work for the cameras by saying things like, “never give up on your dreams; they really can come true.”     

When I was in my money-bags days, I remember telling a group of friends on Monk McQueen’s deck, while sipping champagne, that I had three goals in life: to run a marathon, to net a million dollars one year and to have a romance with then president, Bill Clinton. 

Was I ever that tacky?

Apparently so. And the worst part is—-I didn’t really care about those goals. I guess I thought it sounded deliciously awful.

But, I was young and not particularly bright in the ways of the real world, and was living in a 1990s bubble where wild and crazy dreams did sometimes come true for people whose greatest talent was a recent big win in the stock market (you’re only as good as your last deal, they say).  

An older and wiser market friend of mine warned me of sudden financial bliss, where taxes are often avoided and big-ticket items seem to fly off store shelves. He said, “I once spent 2 years digging my way out of a win.”

So I guess, be careful what you wish for is a pretty good adage, after all.

My more mature dreams are fairly modest. I’ve daydreamed that Oscar would one day transform into a dog who is not the biggest asshole in my building.

This dream has been realized.  And you know how?—–he’s NINE. That means he’s 57 in dog years.

If you’re still as obnoxious at 57 as you were at 16, then something has gone wrong. And there’s probably more to come.

If Malcolm Gladwell is right, then it takes around 10,000 hours of practice at something before you become a master, or an outlier.

When I ask my students to guess at the greatest contributing factor to the success of Bill Gates and NHL hockey players,  they almost always shout out determination, endurance,  perseverance, or genius.

Then I tell them the answer is first, the month and year of their birth, and second, the circumstances that allowed them access to approximately 10,000 hours of computer and hockey practice.

It gets them every time.

This morning’s National Post ran a piece by English professor and author, Harrison Solow, who gave a student a O on a paper.  The student had blatantly lifted paragraphs from the Internet.

Instead of being backed by faculty, the professor was instructed to grant the student marks for the non-plagiarized parts.

We wouldn’t want to crush Kaytelyn or Jaysen’s dream of a degree, would we (not to mention that they are paying customers)?


Whether it’s the middle-class dream that keeps us feeling inadequate, or that Leave it to Beaver dream that keeps our parents perpetually flawed, or the literally dehumanizing one of meeting Mr. or Ms. right—-dreams can be toxic!

I wonder if mythology guru Joseph Campbell had something different in mind when he told us to follow our bliss. His target audience had already lucked out historically, mind you, by having the leisure time to dream about self-actualized bliss.

Dreams of fulfillment and happiness seem the stuff of a wealthy and idle world. The poor man’s dreams are much more concrete. Happiness?–fawgettaboudit—I’ll take the cash, please.

Whatever your dream, there’s got to be a difference between doing what excites you and believing that, if you just try hard enough, you can beat those Kenyans in marathons or become Simon Cowell’s next prodigy?

The still great Woody Allen said that “80% of success is showing up.” He also said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.” A simple dream, when you think about it.

One of my modest dreams this week is to finish painting a bookcase. The primer coat is done and my dream is to have two coats of black paint on the damn thing by tomorrow. 

Annie’s big November 15th dream

Am I dreaming too small? Have I given up all hope of becoming a somebody? Am I on the way to becoming an under-achieving, rationalizing old person?


In the meantime, my bookcase awaits. I have shrimp fried rice to whip up; and as a napstafarian (my word, Lord—not yours) by faith, I have at least one more nap to fit in before bedtime.

So don’t be afraid to dream small.

After 10,000 hours of practice, you might be surprised by what you accomplish.

Trench Gallery Stories: November 10, 2010

November 13, 2010

Stories were everywhere Wednesday night at the Trench Gallery’s inaugural show, Ouroboros. 

Trench Gallery, formerly the Helen Pitt

Of course, the big story was the late artist himself, Ron Stonier, who not only left behind hundreds of paintings and drawings, but also left an enduring creative mark on numerous students and peers.

Jim Breukelman's photo of Stonier from the event's invitation

Another story is gallery owner Craig Sibley. 

Everyone's pal, Craig Sibley

Craig, an artist himself, has some of the qualities of a great salesman; he moves effortlessly among people and is passionate about what he is selling. 

In an interview with the Vancouver Courier, Sibley spoke of Stonier’s legacy: 

“I never had the good fortune of knowing Ron,” Sibley says. “Strangely enough I have some art friends who certainly were taught by him. What I’ve learned is that he was an absolutely incredible instructor who left a huge legacy of influence. The effect that art instructors have on young artists is profound. Ron’s was quite substantial and he certainly influenced a lot of people in the way they paint, the way they think more than anything and how they approach the practice of being an artist.”
Read more: http://www.vancourier.com/travel/Vancouver+scene+comes+full+circle+Trench+gallery

I suspect I was one of the most artistically unwashed of the guests Wednesday night, but the layout of Sibley’s gallery made it  impossible to avoid conversation.  And the conversation was electric.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb!

Another story that set the rooms a-buzzing was the one about two women, Sheila Cano and Suzanne Cole, who each spent 20 odd years with him.

The "two women" and me standing in front of Stonier's target series.

Sheila Cano and Craig Sibley at first seemed an odd pair. But by the end of the evening, I sensed that Cano’s work ethic and Zen-like demeanor and Sibley’s vivacious approach to art and business were a fine mix.      

At times, it felt like a 1960’s Vancouver art scene reunion. Suzanne was stopped every second step by someone wanting to reminisce or catch up. I listened more than I’m usually comfortable with; and I learned. 

Suzanne explained that Cezanne was an enormous influence on Stonier. She remembers countless discussions with him  concerning  Cezanne’s revolutionary use of colour.    

Stonier used colour and space as a sensual language.

Photographer and former VSA colleague of Stonier's, Jim Breukelman

For years,  Suzanne has talked in such terms.  And Wednesday night, I was amazed by how much more information I could absorb in one evening. The intimidating art scene at Sibley’s gallery was not so intimidating after all.   

Fellow foodie Hartley and his sculptor wife, Suzy Birstein, whose work was featured in the 2008 Academy Awards gift baskets. Hartley and I made conversational art about food.

Suzanne’s current artistic love is photography. Here are some more of her pics from the event. 

Eyes are everywhere---here, looking at one of Stonier's drawings


Art dealer Paul Kyle playing camera-shy. Does this guy ever age?


My favourite pic of the night!. Former student of Stonier’s, Dan Goorevitch, with the sharp hat and the camera and “mystery man” against the white wall.

We’ll be revisiting the exhibition before it closes on November 27th. If anyone wants to join, give us a post.

Once again, I’m surprised by life. 

With all the weighty conversations Suzanne and I have had over the years, many of them end with unlikely optimism. “You can’t ever give up,” she is fond of saying, “because you just never know what’s going to happen next!”

The unsung talent of a not-so-common friend

November 9, 2010
When I was a child, I liked organizing the willing neighbourhood kids into groups to perform plays and musicals.
I also fancied myself as an inventor; after creating a sweet treat called The Butter Bar (frozen butter and sugar filling covered in chocolate), I daydreamed that representatives of Cadbury would find their way to our house and catapult me to fame. 
In other words, in my deliciously naive child-mind, talent and great ideas would rise effortlessly to the top of society’s cream jar; and dammit, it was going to happen to me.  
Putting away childish things is never an easy task. However, I have managed to retain a fascination with talent and great ideas; when they come in the form of a tried and treasured friend, I do the obvious red-blooded thing.
I hold on tight and remember to be grateful. 
Suzanne and I have been devoted friends for a dozen years. We are both, at times, ferociously rational but always in the name of something sweeter. 
In many ways, she is a child of the 60’s but, as with most children of the counter-culture, the 1950’s can never be too far behind. I hear echoes of that decade in the voice of my friend; they whisper values of neatness, decorum and middle-class pride.
Today, she chuckles at those echoes and accepts all that is good in them. 
Suzanne has a strong, masculine voice. Her feminine voice surfaces when she talks about art, magic, synchronicity and when crouched on the floor playing like a four-year-old child with dogs.
The one and only time I’ve witnessed Suzanne in heaving, unrestrained sobs was when her beloved Bearded Collie, Ginger, died.
It was as if decades of grief and loneliness poured from her well-fortified soul. 
Last year, her Tibetan Terrier, Hayshee, went missing for the better part of a week. We mobilized immediately, distributing posters and asking questions of anyone who would stop long enough to listen. 
These were agonizing days. I’d return home to hug Oscar tight and marvel how this woman could keep going.
But you see, Suzanne is a student of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War; and we all know that a true warrior has no time for navel-gazing during battle. Rules must be followed; tears fall only after defeat. 
Hayshee returned home. Suzanne then removed her combat boots, put on a fresh coat of red lipstick and moved on to learn other things.  
Unlike me, Suzanne trained herself early in the art of self-protection. For her, beauty and meaning were everywhere, particularly in the colours, textures and contrasts of her surroundings. 
But alas, such qualities do not a compelling resume make!
We’ve both fought the good fight to understand ourselves and each other and to carve ourselves a place in a world where such quests often leave dishes unwashed and jobs un-kept.
As with many great friendships, we are vastly different yet exactly the same. No prickly problem, however trivial, is uninteresting or unworthy of discussion. 
I can now say with more than a hint of pride that we’ve each learned to love ourselves through the kindness and trust of friendship. 
Getting Suzanne to agree to this post was not as difficult as I’d imagined it would be. 
This is her time, now—not necessarily to soar in any conventional sense, but to bask in the profound memories of a 23-year relationship that formed her as an artist and as a woman. 
Ron Stonier was Suzanne’s art teacher at Emily Carr in the 1960’s. They fell in love and lived together for over two decades.   
As part of a group of Vancouver painters who were on the edge of the intermedia art revolution of the time, Ron Stonier was content (or driven) to focus on the art and not on public recognition.  
I’ve come to know this same reticence in Suzanne as I’ve pushed her to make something “commercial” of her talent. Sometimes she agrees, sometimes she shrugs and sometimes she just tells me the truth: that it doesn’t matter anyway and that she has no real regrets. 
This Wednesday evening, Suzanne will attend the opening of an art show featuring some of the 300 paintings left to Ron’s widow, Sheila, a dear friend of Suzanne’s. 
I’ll be by her side as she remembers, as she watches others appreciate and honour the talent of this unsung Vancouver artist.    
Every so often, Suzanne will casually mention (usually in the context of look where it got me!) that she was considered beautiful. 
In her dark-brown days, she was mistaken for Natalie Wood; today, she brought over this photo of her red-haired self, standing by her teacher, her man, Ron Stonier.  

Suzanne and Ron circa 1980

Now, Suzanne dons short, spiky, salt-and-pepper hair and large tattoos on both her arms. She still wears vintage, second-hand clothing, much like Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

To me, she will always be the epitome of survival and style.

I sometimes wonder (as I am prone to do) why she’s nurtured and stuck by me for so long. 

But I gently remind myself that maybe it wasn’t so hard after all. Maybe that’s what great friendship is—-patient, present, exhilarating, selflessly supportive, and always forgiving.    

Here’s an article from today’s Vancouver Sun on Wednesday’s event touting Ron Stonier’s “monumental oeuvre” as the exciting missing link in Vancouver’s art scene. 


Once again, friends, ain’t life grand?

Yeah…uh…good luck with that

November 3, 2010

Man, I need a smoke!

Democrats have been fairly and unfairly accused of not being tough enough–not being united enough against a particularly dangerous opposition.

Well, duh! Of course they’re not united! It’s hell out there and thinking people don’t always agree on what to do about hell. 

But the feeling people?  They know for sure.

Of course I’m no political expert (though I do play one on my blog) but the kind of sentimental drivel that comes out of some of these political mouths would be laughed right out of a first year Poli-Sci course–by 18 year olds!

So no, I’m not going to claim I have the answers because I don’t. 

What I do believe is that the more power that goes to the nutties, for now—the better.

I’m still pulling for the hope and change stuff; but I’ve stopped listening to ANYONE who thinks they know someone who would have done better.

Oh sigh.

The verdict is in: comedians have the biggest….

October 31, 2010

I’ve often said that comedians are now (maybe always?) the most courageous activists.

And they get to hide behind their activism by calling it comedy.

Watch this segment from Bill Maher’s show that aired last night.

I was blown away!


Obama and Stewart: a couple of really good men

October 29, 2010

With all the insanity that is American politics, it’s no wonder that even yours truly has tired of the nonsense of late. I’ve even found myself feeling sorry for the so-called conservatives whose values have been hijacked by the bat-shit bonkers. 

The rise of the Christian beauty-queen cum political soccer mom as a new symbol of power is particularly nasty and even an avid TV watcher must sometimes do the right thing and switch channels.

But this is a sad and serious time for our southern neighbours; I’m scared for them—and for the rest of us.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s duelling rallies to be held this Saturday in Washington are surely political and hugely important.

Moderation and reason is considered by many Americans to be a sign of weakness; ideology is much more fun and, as ever, distracts us all from the god-awful process of getting anything done with such disingenuous opposition (found in both parties, it would appear).

Obama is now a wimp. Hell, millions of his initial followers began sniping and accusing shortly after his election.

Comments like “he sold out, he’s no different from Bush’s league, he needs to grow a pair, man-up, fight back dirty,” filled the liberal blogosphere. 

And I became so tired, and so angry and so sad.

I’ve never fully bought the idea that the PEOPLE are always getting screwed by the big, bad politicians (remember Hitler’s statement that leaders are so fortunate that the people don’t think?). In fact, I sort of like the idea that the people get the politicians they deserve. 

It is a choice to be reasonable; it might be boring and it certainly takes some work (in the form of READING mostly) but that is what adults do. They put away childish things like mud-slinging and absurd labels like communist, socialist, fascist (were we ever that young?) and ask themselves which guys are actually trying to improve things for the most people.

Last night, I sat semi-mesmerized watching two of my favourite politicos, Barack Obama and Jon Stewart, engage in a real conversation.

I must admit, at one point, I was about to scream at the TV if I heard Obama use the word “folks” one more time. Maybe he’s always used it but I lost count after the first five minutes. What next? Will we have to endure his dropping all his g’s as a way of reachin’ out to the folks! Yuck.

But when Stewart accused him, particularly on health care, of timidity, the great one dropped the folksy talk and defended himself in his real voice. I couldn’t help thinking that if Obama were to really let loose on Stewart, he’d say something like this:

Who the hell are you to call me timid? Do you have any idea what it takes to get anything done in this corrupt, divided country? You do great work, Jon; but it’s not the same as my job. I’d love to have your job!

But alas, he simply defended the hard work of his team and translated it into real life change for real life people. 

Defending Tim Geithner, Obama claimed that he’s done a “heckava’ job,” reminding us of Bush’s defense of the head of FEMA, Brownie, after Hurricane Katrina!

Realizing (with the help of Stewart) what he’d said, he looked at the audience and said “pun intended.” I wanted to reach into the set and hold his hand and say, “Please don’t talk like Bush–no matter what they try to make you do.”

I’ve suspected for some time that America wasn’t really ready for the likes of Obama. 

Instead of bringing the country together in common purpose, Obama’s election has shown the world just how racist and nasty America can be. 

But I still dare to hope. 

After watching the interview for the second time, I came away with this: Stewart and Obama are two immensely intelligent, well-meaning men. For me, they each represent what’s good about the US. 

Stewart claims his rally is not necessarily political. But no one’s really buying that.

Here’s hoping that The Rally to Restore Sanity and its ironic sister- rally to Keep Fear Alive will put some fire back into the movement to drag the US into the conversations of the 21st century.

I’m seriously rooting for them—in spite of that niggling inner voice that keeps working its way through the hope, whispering, be afraid, be very afraid.  


Thanksgiving gravy: there’s nothing quite like it

October 12, 2010

Thank-you has pretty well been my only prayer, uttered to no one or nothing in particular.  

Mostly, it’s a feeling—a sense that, in spite of all heavy bruising my heart endures, I’ve been blessed. 

This weekend, I’m thankful for much:

Friends—the really good kind that don’t require much from you but when you manage to get together, there’s never enough time. These kinds of friendships can be rare; I think I have just enough of them to open a pie shop. 


Sisters. I have 3 of them. The four of us have fought and stumbled our way into adulthood only to find ourselves softer and more supportive than ever.



Kindness. Lately, I’ve been finding it everywhere. Sometimes, you do have to look for it; but it’s out there, every day, in so many strange forms.   

This weekend, I’m especially grateful for the people who care about me—for those who are consistently able to forgive me for being me, and even more so for those who’ve never had to. 

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

I wish you gratitude and forgiveness, the dynamic duo of peace. 

But always remember to forgive yourself first.

And the rest is gravy.

On Coincidence and Crows

October 6, 2010

I’ve become obsessed with the beauty of crows.

Well, maybe it’s not beauty in the conventional sense but there’s something about those damn black birds that intrigues us.

In a store on Main Street, there were two wooden crow carvings that I admired for some time, hoping that the price would come down.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the store and, sure enough, there was one left—and it was on sale. The owner told me that the crow is the most despised bird and yet people love them.

Today I was in a store on Main Street admiring some black crows painted on a box that you hang on your wall. Too expensive for me but not if I make them myself, right?

I confessed to the shop girl that I’d become obsessed with crows and she said, “are you East Van?”

I said, “I guess I am now.”

She said, “it’s an East Van girl thing.”


I’ve been wanting to find artwork with crows for my walls. After a bit of research on “how to make those painted boxes myself,” I came across the only storefront in Vancouver that specifically deals with wall tattoos; and sure enough, it’s 8 blocks away from me.

We’ve all had really eerie coincidences occur. And no one I know truly believes that there are NO coincidences. That’s just spiritual pabulum. But sometimes, you have to wonder, no?

I dated Mike for a short while in the 80s. I daydreamed that I told him my father’s name was Michael, only to be told his mother’s name was Anne. Sure enough, at Bino’s Restaurant, after midnight, we had that very conversation.

When I first met a particularly fabulous neighbour at our other life condo, I was telling her about an ex-boyfriend of mine whose 5-year-old daughter was killed on an ATV driven by his friend.

She said “that friend is my brother- in- law.”  

Not long ago, I agreed to drive an American neighbour to her new doctor; she was squeezed in through a strong plea from a friend (increasingly common these days in the search for a family doctor).

I asked her where we were going and she gave me the address. It was my doctor. 

Trying to creatively furnish this apartment has been an education, for sure. With little money left in my budget, I can now only afford a bamboo blind that will serve as the back of my wardrobe that is now a wall in my study.

It’s $15 and apparently, the guy lives nearby.

Now, all I have still to do is to go to the old condo and pick up some mail from our beloved former caretakers, Berend (an artist from Germany whose work will be featured on my wall) and Tim (an American who fled here  in search of a more tolerant society).

Ah, so tired! Still a little bit sad!—but only two more stops to make and then I can relax!

I contacted the guy who is selling the blind through Craigslist. 


It’s Tim!


Ain’t life grand?

And the dog people roll their eyes…

October 1, 2010

Nine years ago, a woman looked at me carrying the Sausage and she said, “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.”

Mind you,  I was carrying him in a  sort of doggie knapsack on my chest, complete with four holes for his little legs to hang through.

But still, it hurt; and, what’s more—she was wrong. 

Stop ignoring me! I have feelings, you know.

OKAY, okay—everybody on the planet knows that an animal is not a child. You’d have to be severely retarded not to know this.

So when people say that you shouldn’t anthropomorphize animals, I say try owning a dog first–especially one with a great personality and then advise us. Maybe even do some light reading on a fellow called Darwin.

But seriously. What you’re really doing when you tell someone to stop anthropomorphizing a dog is looking down your nose at, what for some is, an intense, loving connection.  

And in my book, that’s just rude! 

Here’s an interesting blurb from the New York Times on the personalities of gelada monkeys.

Which one are you?