Spring in Vancouver

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Cherry blossoms in North Vancouver

Yesterday was the first day of spring. For the first time since I left a month and a half ago, I miss Vancouver. Unlike the rest of Canada where the adage about April showers and May flowers rings true, March brings the first relief from months of rain and fog. I felt most content in spring. The despondency of winter only hit me when the rain fell; the breeze warded off the heavy restlessness of summer.

North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Cherry blossoms on a house in North Vancouver

In spring I set off to beautifully unremarkable places just to remind myself that I could. I went to Greater Mission Squamish Reserve in North Vancouver and took photos from the peripheries. I visited a boy I loved in Victoria and drank until I cried on Douglas Street. I listened to “Townie” by Mitski and felt something that was indistinct and good. (“Drunk Walk Home” reverberates with the weight of July’s heat.) I thought the trees in full bloom turned West 7th to the prettiest street in the world. I checked out CDs from the Vancouver Public Library and listened to them on my apartment’s sagging balcony, looking out onto the stinking alley I loved like it was mine.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Holland Point, Victoria

Now that I’m away from it, preparing for fall in the opposite hemisphere, I remember how spring felt. It was raw with potential and nerves exposed. I was beat by winter and months of pursuing landmark goals: finishing a degree, establishing a career, finding the next love of my life and other such shit. Whereas in winter I was all stress and perspiration by early nightfall, in spring I found stillness in the last light of a day growing steadily longer. I sat in Jonathon Rogers Park and felt a hush.

Fairview, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Flowers in Fairview, Vancouver

Melbourne’s fall comes with rain and fog. To transition from winter to fall – with a few weeks’ Australian summer in between – means I’m missing the time of year that made me feel the most hopeful. I feel like I’m stuck in the endless pursuit of accomplishment. I oscillate between giving no fucks and giving all the fucks in the world, an indeterminate state that feels like the first whispers of resignation. Now I have to find my own relief in a country without the seasonal signifier I knew and the feelings they cyclically evoked. I must find my own contentment and stillness. But after trudging through winter, all I want is the first lightness of spring.

Song of the day: Townie by Mitski

Media Democracy Takes A New Shape

Woodward's Building, Vancouver, British Columbia

“The media landscape we operate in currently in Canada is frightening because of the mass concentration.” Media Democracy Days coordinator Sydney Ball refers to Postmedia Network’s ownership of the majority of the newspapers across Canada. She continues, “[The media landscape] is always getting a little bit more dire but … there certainly is great journalism happening, and there is great media content being produced.”

In its sixteenth year operating out of the School of Communications at SFU, Media Democracy Days continues to broaden the scope of its conversations about media and democracy, and its commitment to supporting the production of non-mainstream media. When I ask Ball for her perspective on media democracy, the concept that is the conference’s focus, she replies, “It really needs to serve the public if it’s going to be a democratic media system. That means to ask questions about who it is producing news, what stories get into news, who’s producing media and what kind of policies shape the media that we’re consuming.”

The concept of democracy is inherent to the structure of Media Democracy Days 2016. Ball says of this year’s program format, “We want inclusivity to be not an afterthought, but actually to become part of how we build the program in the first place.” Much of the programming for Media Democracy Days was shaped and determined by the Co-Lab hosted on September 15. The Co-Lab brought together people involved with different aspects of media activism with the intention of offering opportunities to individuals and groups to collaborate on public programming.

One of Ball’s aims as coordinator is to include those who are interested in media democracy, whose work is outside of the scope of traditional journalism and what is commonly thought to be media. Ball and her team issued prompts for the Co-Lab and based on the topics, they “[received] really creative responses from people that wanted to participate in our program that maybe hadn’t had the opportunities to before.” Of the program structure, Ball says, “Besides the keynote and besides the community radio events at the Inspiration Lab, the rest of our program was shaped by people that showed up to the Co-Lab. [They] either came with ideas of what they wanted to host for Media Democracy Days, or collaborated with other people they met.”

Ball and her main collaborator Stuart Poyntz, Associate Professor in the SFU School of Communications, “got excited about the possibility of having a more collaborative project, of having a lot of space for maybe people that don’t know how to get involved with media activism to get involved … as well as pick up skills.” One of the collaborations set for November 19 is between Access to Media Education Society and Cascadia Deaf Nation.The two organizations have teamed up to facilitate a workshop called “How Do We Leap?” where participants will create a collaborative art piece based on ideas of solidarity around environmental action.

This year’s program will also include workshops from CiTR 101.9FM and Vancouver Co-op Radio (100.5FM) in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library on media making and audio production, titled “Community Radio Takeover at the Inspiration Lab.” Through Media Democracy Days, CiTR and Co-op offer opportunities for those who wish to get involved with media activism, and to learn the practical skills they need to produce radio broadcasts.

Media Democracy Days is designed to include individuals and organizations with non-mainstream perspectives, with the intention of fostering an inclusive and critical media landscape. “We want to act as a platform for media activism and a place for our broad community … [to get] together to really discuss how the media does interact with democracy,” says Ball. This year’s conference includes a broader range of participants, resulting in a group that is more in keeping with Vancouver’s diverse demographic.

Independent media in Canada “is important and in place because corporate media systems don’t generally do their job of challenging power … Non-corporate media allows for other stories to be told,” says Ball. With a diverse national population comes diverse perspectives, many of which are made marginal by mainstream media. By providing communities with the tools they need to share their perspectives and by offering opportunities for interested people to connect with independent media outlets, more content will be created that challenges the corporate media status quo.

Without independent media and media activism, society runs the risk of only hearing a national narrative that places network interests before truth speaking journalism. “If you don’t have a media system that’s representative, if you don’t have a media system that’s going to challenge power, then we’re really at a detriment. People aren’t going to be able to make political choices or make choices in their communities or really understand what Canada looks like,” explains Ball.

When I say that media democracy seems more important now than ever, Ball counters, “It’s always been important. It’s never, not been important.”

Media Democracy Days will be held on November 15-16 at the Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab, and November 19 at SFU Harbour Centre. Ryan McMahon (Red Man Laughing Podcast) will deliver a keynote speech at 12pm on November 19. More information at 2016.mediademocracydays.ca.

Song of the Day: Blood on the Leaves by Kanye West

This article was published in the November 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Show Review: Hick, Darto, Fountain, Tough Customer

Red Gate, Vancouver

The building was labeled with nothing but its street numbers because the venue, I had been told, was underground. The Downtown Eastside studio and stage space was not always legal. I arrived before ten to catch the opening acts for the night’s show. I walked into a darkened room where ten or so other people were clustered in groups on couches. I sat casually on a long wooden bench at the back. The DJ played Eighties style remixes of top 40 songs interspersed with gunshots. Ten minutes later, I walked out.

I returned at ten to catch the opening acts for the night’s show. The room was unchanged. I sat down, stood up, and walked out again. I drank a $4 pint at the Astoria. A man sang karaoke to “Dammit” by Blink-182 to an audience of six, including the bar staff and me. I finished my beer and returned just as the opening act began.

All female band Hick took the stage at twenty after ten as more people wandered in. Their set opened with the soft dissonance of “Travellers” but transitioned to a heavier guitar and bass driven sound over the course of their twenty minutes on stage. Without distinct driving melodies, Hick’s music sounded to me like ambient punk rock; the guitar and bass thrashed to a tune I couldn’t discern. To end the final song, the lead vocalist shrieked what I heard as, “DIE, DIE, DIE.” She concluded with a graceful thank you to the audience.

With the first act finished, I got a PBR from a bar backlit by a table lamp. My attempt to talk to the bartender yielded little conversation so I returned to the long wooden bench. I surveyed the room. Even if I hadn’t made the sartorial missteps that had me looking like Bluto from Animal House, I would have looked out of place in the crowd. I looked like the only person there who had ever been to a Starbucks. I moved towards the stage, leaned against a wobbling table painted with a gigantic eye and waited for the next act to begin.

Darto’s set was the night’s most cohesive. The Seattle-based group played an atmospheric mix of rock instrumentation and synth. Even when Darto alternated between their male and female vocal leads, their set was stylistically consistent. Their ambient sound was reinforced by a series of dream-like images projected and distorted behind them. Of all the sets I heard that night, theirs moved me the most. When it ended, it was like a spell was broken. The audience dispersed to corners and sidewalks for cigarettes and canned beers. Again, I left the venue.

Upon my return, I encountered a photographer to whom I had previously introduced myself. We talked a bit about the bands and the venues, and about our professional aspirations as writer and photographer, respectively. We agreed that it is hard to find paid work when anyone with a camera can fancy herself a photographer. In the case of photojournalism, the best photos come from those who are most proximate to the event rather than from the most skilled photographers. “I nearly quit my job when I heard about Fort McMurray,” he said. I expected a story about his connection to the area. Instead he continued, “I would have if I hadn’t found out two days too late. By that point, the city was already closed to journalists.” He explained his desire to buy a plane ticket to a country where a conflict is brewing so he would be there when the conflict hits its boiling point. Then he would be guaranteed better photos than “everyone with their shitty iPhone cameras.” I nodded and looked to the full moon. We went back inside as the next band began.

Fountain’s set was characterized by its tandem vocals and off-kilter post-punk sound. Their up-tempo set was the most fun of the night, their performance of “Emerald Dripping Flat” especially. Robert Coslett and Evan Jeffery chanted together the song’s chorus: “Sugar, water, cream, water.” The midnight energy in the room peaked as a few members of the audience danced to Fountain’s guitar-driven set.

By the time Tough Customer’s set began at one in the morning, the crowd had grown smaller. I realized that much of the audience was composed of members of the bands that had played and their friends. Tough Customer’s set was performed for those who knew the band intimately. Vocal duties were shared among with band’s four members, with vocalists often following different melodies simultaneously. The result was disharmony across the set. A standout track was the cowbell heavy “Farm of Tom,” even though the drummer’s repetition of “COW!” made me feel like I was on the outside of an inside joke. The set concluded after minutes. I left the discord of the music for the late night streets of the Downtown Eastside with the chant, “Cow, cow, cow” in my head. Through all of the noise, I felt like there was something I had missed.

Song of the Day: In a Drawer by Band of Horses

A condensed version of this review was published in the July/August 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Conversation on a Nighttime Bus

Alexander Street, Vancouver

I was sitting on a crowded bus at quarter to ten at night, my backpack on my lap and my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow open in front of me. I was endeavouring to read but was struggling against the noise of the guy sitting across from me who was freestyle rapping to his friend.  I kept mouthing the words of Gravity’s Rainbow, trying to make sense of the placeless setting they created. believing in the primacy of the ‘conscious’ self and its memories, regarding “Miss?” regarding all the rest as abnormal or trivial, and so he is “Miss?” troubled, deeply…

“Yes?” I replied, looking up at the man beside me. He was scruffily bearded, wearing a light jacket, dirty sneakers and a blue sheet around his waist.

“Do you have to  move your lips when you read?” He laughed. I laughed.

“No,” I said, “but I do it when the bus is loud so I can better concentrate on the words.”

“Is it a complicated book?” he asked.

“Yes, very. It’s about war, and that’s all I can say about the plot right now.”

“I’m not much of a reader. I like cartoons and Sudoku.”

“Those are both good things,” I replied, and I focused on the page. She has a few marks with her, Franz has his toy rockets to the moon.

“Do you know when the liquor store closes?”

I put my finger on the end of the sentence. “No, I can’t say I do.”

“It might close at ten, but I’m hoping it closes at eleven.”

I thought about it. “Yes, I think it closes at eleven.” I looked again at the page. It is really over.

“I was down at Wreck Beach today.” I nodded at my book. “We had a ceremony for a friend who died, one of the regulars down there.” I looked up at him. He looked far away. “We built a campfire. We took the box they gave us with his ashes and had a ceremony.”

“That’s a nice place to have it,” I said quietly.

“When I go, I hope they do the same for me.” He paused. “I scattered my parents’ ashes in the Fraser River.”

“All of my family is in Ontario.”

He turned his head to me. “Are any of them in the ground there?”

“Yes, all of my grandparents.”

We both fell silent. After a minute he said, “I’m going to go to the front of the bus so I can see if the liquor store is open before I get off.”

“I hope it’s open until eleven,” I said with a smile.

“I hope so too,” he replied. “If I don’t see you again, have a good life.”

“Thank you. Same to you.” I watched him walk to the front of the bus, the blue sheet draping towards the floor. I read a few more pages and went a stop further than I usually do before I walked out into the cold November air. I thought of his words, I hope they do the same for me, and I felt cold.

Song of the Day: Strange Hellos by Torres

One Year in Vancouver

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver
Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver

One year ago today, I boarded a dawn flight to Vancouver feeling slightly hungover and completely terrified. I was neither willing nor ready to leave home, a terrible combination when you’re preparing for a one-way flight. I arrived in the city with three suitcases, thirty books, and a dim idea that people in Vancouver spend all of their time eating sushi and doing yoga in front of mountains. The first and only time I had been to British Columbia I was fifteen and spent the majority of my time in arenas in Chilliwack. Still, I decided that British Columbia was the province I was meant to live in and Vancouver was the city I was destined to move to. Seven years later, I applied to graduate school in Vancouver on the strength of this conviction. I accepted the program’s offer with some trepidation but I mainly felt confident that I was following a well-crafted plan I had made for myself years prior. Somewhere between the completion of my clusterfuck of an undergraduate thesis and my fourth month sitting in a grey walled cubicle in Toronto’s Financial District, I began to have some doubts. I debated staying in Ontario but I realized that doing so would result in two things: run-ins with friends and peers who would wonder why the hell I wasn’t in BC and in a fifth month copying and pasting into Excel spreadsheets. I wanted nothing more than to avoid both of those things so I decided once and for all that I was moving and there wasn’t a damn thing that was going to stop me.

After one month in Vancouver, I wrote a post about my realization that this was the right time for me to leave Ontario, to push myself to the edge of my world to see what I would discover there. I finished writing, saw a spider the size of a coaster and cried for two hours; my writing was never shared. I exaggerate but the feelings are true all the same. I was afraid of everything the city had to offer: its streets, its dogs, its dirty cafes and its people. Its people most of all, even though I was desperate to make friends with them. My loneliness had me searching cafes with bewildered eyes and making jokes to baristas that always fell flat. I spent time with my peers but I was afraid of them too because the only things they seemed to talk about were David Foster Wallace and SSHRC funding. I decided I would finish my Master’s degree as quickly as possible because if I didn’t, I would die of loneliness if the rain didn’t try to drown me first. I took too many courses at once, marked two-dozen engineering papers to mitigate the cost of living in Kitsilano, saw an army’s worth of spiders, moved out of Kitsilano and moved into the Fairview apartment that I’m writing from today. Okay, it wasn’t all bad. I was already getting acquainted with what the city had to offer and my Monday night trivia team kept winning free beer. However, the latter made my Tuesday morning Victorian Literature seminars difficult and only added to the apathy I felt for George Eliot and phrenology.

Pier 57, Seattle, Washington
Pier 57, Seattle, Washington

Following a holiday with the Heffs in Seattle and a visit from Kelly in Vancouver, I started the next term with as many courses and more engineering papers than before. My roommate Stephen and my temporary roommate Ivan witnessed my struggles with Affect Theory and Ulysses. I sat in seminars drawing cats in the margins of my notebooks, speaking only to describe my affective response to whatever theorist we were reading that week. I walked the Cambie Bridge almost daily in a quest to make it to my Bean Around the World of choice. After seven months I realized I could get there a lot faster by SkyTrain. A misguided attempt at high scholarship had me trolling through collections of Samuel Beckett’s early works while I listened to Beastie Boys CDs I picked up from the Vancouver Public Library. Looking back on it now, that almost sounds like fun. It was around this time that I started sitting on my apartment’s balcony and engaging my neighbours in casual conversation. I could dedicate an entire blog post to my neighbours Trevor and Tyler who have since moved away, but it will suffice to say conversations with them got me through a seminar paper on Friedrich Kittler and Gravity’s Rainbow and made me realize there is more to life than feigning interest in literary theory. It was also around this time that the weather started to improve. I discovered Jonathan Rogers Park, found the greatest old school Canucks jacket in time for their playoff elimination, and realized I didn’t hate Vancouver as much as I though. At the end of eight months – eight and a half, if you count the extension I got on my Mediated Literacies essay – I had finished all of the coursework required for my degree. I took a trip home to visit some of the people I love and returned to Vancouver on an afternoon flight, in good physical health and feeling hardly any terror.

Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver

In the last four months, I have been lucky enough to meet great people in Vancouver. Some of them I met when Stephen’s friends came to stay with us. Others I met when I joined the English department softball team, The Prose, and have since had great times with sharing post-game (and mid-game) beers. I have been to games nights at Kristan’s, where I always make new friends and try fine tequila. I have spent enough time in Jonathan Rogers Park to meet the Australian football team that practices there, the West Coast Saints. Even though he has since moved away, I’ll remember Kerron for being a charming little shit with a propensity for sneaking up on me and for using Aussie slang so I wouldn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Also, for introducing me to the greatest radio station ever, triple j. Stephen, Michael and I made a truly bizarre Sunday night trip to The Libra Room on Commercial Drive; Stephen and I ended up in possession of one Pape and three Reba McEntire albums as a result. Emily came to visit me and after deciding that it wasn’t enough to eat and drink our way through Vancouver, we made a trip to Portland. (Stories of our bus trip, coming to a blog near you.) With Emily, Stephen and Doug, I celebrated my ‘nobody likes you when you’re 23’ birthday. I have since tried to convince everyone I know to come to The Cobalt with me so I can use their photo booth. The best laugh of my summer was either when Michael opened up his pantry and revealed almost a dozen jars of Bick’s sauerkraut, or when Stephen, Amanda and I reflected on the night we went to The Fox and ended up at the now infamous 24 hour pho restaurant. My peers have become my friends though the frequency with which the word plebs occurs in their conversations continues to alarm me. Just kidding, all of you keep my life interesting.

As for my progress on my Master’s degree, I’m hard at work on my thesis on Kendrick Lamar. I’m still trying to finish this degree as quickly as possible because I have realized I’m not meant to stay in academia. While I love the topic of my thesis, working on it in the initial stages has been more frustrating than rewarding. On bad days, this frustration is intensified by the fact that even with all the great people I have met here, I don’t have the support system in Vancouver I have at home. On good days, I remember that I will finish my thesis eventually and in the mean time I should probably join Stephen and Ivan on their quest for the best chicken and waffles in Vancouver. (They eat the chicken, I eat the vegetarian option.) The thought of spending four more months on a project I had hoped to finish by the end of August is daunting. To finish my thesis by the end of December would be to finish the degree eight months earlier than the university expects me to. The odds are against me but it will be worth it to finish sooner so I can wrap up and get on with the next phase of my life. What that phase will be, I’ll figure out when I write my Master’s thesis.

Portside Park, Vancouver
Portside Park, Vancouver

Now you know what I’ve been doing for the past year. Thank you for a hell of a year, Vancouver, and thank you to everyone who made the worst days bearable and the best days worth writing home about. Given the length of this post, this should suffice for personal updates for the next year. Until then, I’ll keep on trying to be the good kid, Van City.

Song of the Day: Pretty Pimpin by Kurt Vile