and I quote

march 2010

click for permalink March 29, 2010

Dr. Sketchy's - January[All photographs by Heather Renney. All drawings by me.]

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine discovered Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, a monthly event that lures the artistically inclined by offering two things you won't get in a conventional art class; the setting — a crowded but serviceable bar on Main Street — and the subjects, who are recruited from Vancouver's apparently thriving alternative burlesque scene.

Dr. Sketchy - January 2010The class takes place on the first Sunday of every month from 7 to 10 pm, but if you don't get there by 6:30 you're not likely to get in — and if you do, you'll probably end up sitting in someone's lap, which will rightfully piss them off, in which case you'll want to take care not to leave your drink unattended for the duration of the evening. The class starts out aerobic workout-style, with a lightning-round of one- and two-minute poses, then builds up to five, ten and 15 minutes and finally culminates in a series of 20-minute poses until the clock strikes ten. In the middle, there's a brief interlude when the performer gets to demonstrate her mad burlesque skilz and shed a few layers of clothing before taking her place on the stage for the "marathon" 20-minute sessions.

Dr. Sketchy's - January 2010The first class we attended was in January and, between the speed and the amount of time that had passed since my last drawing class, it was an unexpectedly rigorous workout. By some miracle of evolutionary design, drawing employs the same muscles and tendons as writing but in a totally different manner; as a result, after three hours of drawing, my hands hadn't even started to tingle, much less go completely numb and useless, as would certainly have been the case if we had been doing 5-to 20-minute writing exercises for the same amount of time. The difference, I soon discovered, is all in the shoulders.

AO - Dr. Sketchy'sBy 10 o'clock, I couldn't wait to bolt out of my chair. Once outside, I relished the chance to stretch my arms without hitting anyone to my left or right and to roll my head back without dipping my hair into someone else's drawing surface. This is no exaggeration; it was so crowded the person sitting in the row behind my friend actually had to rest her sketchpad on the back of his chair — not without asking, of course, but he's British — what's he going to say, no?

Dr. Sketchy - January 2010After the first class was over, I was glad that I had gotten out of the house to participate in something creative but I had some serious reservations about the quantity-over-quality format. Two minutes is a ridiculous amount of time to try to draw anything, and even 20 minutes isn't much when you're used to taking all night to fill up a 30x40 sheet of paper. After three hours, I hadn't drawn anything I actually wanted to show off to anyone (besides my mother and, of course, my grandmother who was after all my first drawing teacher).

My Bloody ValentineEven so, we both agreed on the way home that night that we'd give it another try the following month... but that was before they announced the "theme" for the night, which appealed to my friend about as much as an elective root canal. The invitation to "My Bloody Valentine" screamed: "Artist Advisory! Red crayons may be required," and their Facebook page warned the front row to 'be prepared for splatter." That did it for my friend, who had already prepaid for tickets. He urged me to go anyway, if I could find someone else for whom the threat of a little Karo Syrup and food coloring was not a deterrent.

Much to my surprise and delight, that someone turned out to be Mr. Pink. I reasoned that I'd be covered in charcoal anyway so, if we wore dark colors, we might as well sit up front. When we arrived, with 20 minutes to spare, the place was already packed but one table near the stage at the rear was still covered in place settings from diners who were just getting ready to leave. We hovered vulture-like beside the table as the waitress cleared and wiped it down, then (much to our surprise) ushered away another vulture who attempted to swoop in ahead of us before the last crumbs of food had hit the floor. Scowling at the waitress, then at us, she scooted a few inches over into the space between our table and the next, a handful of drawing supplies hovering half-in and half-out of her backpack. "We can share," Mr. Pink said, eliciting the first hint of a smile from the vulture and smoothing over what had looked like the beginning of an awkward situation.

Dr. Sketchy - Feb 2010We ordered some drinks and situated ourselves on the bench along the wall where there was just enough room for the three of us to sit comfortably. At five minutes to seven, two young guys who looked like art students appeared; they had struggled through the bar to the back of the room and were now standing, arms loaded with coats and bags, at the edge of our table. They looked expectantly at us and one took up a chair in front of the table, directly between us and the stage, while the other squeezed in between myself and the vulture. There was nothing to do but scowl and squeeze over. Mr. Pink got up to grab a chair and I scooted out from under the young man and towards the edge of the bench. It was far from ideal but at least it seemed we would all be equally uncomfortable.

AO - Dr. SketchyMr. Pink had never taken a drawing class before but he jumped right in without a second thought. I was impressed. He even avoided the biggest mistake most untrained artists make when drawing the human body, which is to focus too much attention on the hands and faces, rendering them totally out of proportion to the rest of the body. He didn't do that; even in the lightning-fast 1-2 minute drawings, he instinctively sketched out the whole figure before going into detail on any specific area.

Dr. Sketchy - Feb 2010For my part, I had gone through our storage locker in preparation for this class to find my charcoal pencils, which made a huge difference over the #2 and #4 pencils I had used the time before. The only problem was that the sharpener I brought was totally unsuitable to that type of pencil, just barely exposing a few millimeters of lead before the dust jammed in the bottom, making it impossible to sharpen it any further. Since there isn't so much as a moment's pause between poses, I didn't have time to take apart the sharpener to see if the problem could be remedied. Even so, the drawings I did that night are in a completely different league from the previous month's.

AO - Dr. SketchyAO - Dr. SketchyAO - Dr. Sketchy

We skipped the class in March, since it was on the same night as the Oscars, but this coming class is scheduled for the Sunday after Easter weekend, and I can't wait. The performer apparently breathes fire but she's so hot that even my friend says he wouldn't dream of missing this one. I'll just be sure to skip the hairspray that evening.


click for permalink March 2, 2010

Well, for all my complaining, the past two and a half weeks have certainly been interesting. At least I know I'm not the only Vancouverite who went into the games with a combination of ambivalence, suspicion, dread and resentment only to find myself grudgingly admitting that it wasn't all bad. Besides, let's not forget how much I love to complain. Now that the Olympics are over, I'll have to go back to my usual repertoire of petty, pedestrian complaints about the latest aggro marketing tactics employed by our mediocre Internet service provider and the wildly imaginative complaints lodged by our downstairs neighbor.

A few days after the Opening Ceremonies, my mother and I were chatting about everything that was happening in Vancouver — the protests, the crowds and all the stuff I've been writing about — when she suddenly asked, "Do I have to feel guilty about enjoying the Olympics now?" What do they call it when you're asked to hold two contradictory points of view at the same time?

Tent City, Vancouver[Tent city, Vancouver. Feb 2010. Photo by Insiya Rasiwala.]

No... Of course not, I told her. But why not, I wondered. Is it because this is all just my little political thing — my way of boycotting the overblown nonsense, of refusing to join in the sports-nerd party atmosphere that's gripped my friends, my workplace and my city all month, making it mildly inconvenient for me to get around for 17 whole days? Well, obviously not. Is it because of the homeless? The environment? The extraordinary expenditure of tax dollars and the infringed civil liberties of a few activists I admire but can't honestly say I know, or even have anything to do with? Okay, yeah.

So... tell me again what any of that has to do with the Olympics?

Last week a blogger named Cathie from Canada made a powerful argument in her response to The Tyee's interview with Chris Shaw about the apparently divided and conquered anti-Olympics movement following the contentious protests that took place opening weekend:

"I saw fractures starting to form again," Shaw said. "My hope was that we'd built a nascent civil/social justice movement that would last beyond the Games... Otherwise we're back to fighting our own lonely little battles."

Cathie from Canada: "This quote inadvertently points out, I think, one of the basic problems in the anti-Olympic protest — was it ever actually about the Olympics? They convinced a lot of good people that the Games themselves were awful... that they were too expensive, too elitist, too corporate, too objectionable. But did the anti-Olympics protest leadership ever attempt to work in good faith with VANOC to improve the Games, to make them more socially and economically responsive? Or was it bad faith from the beginning? Where they actually trying to hi-jack the international visibility of the Games to develop a political or ideological agenda? If so, this was not only wrong, but doomed not to succeed — however laudable these long-term social justice goals are, such bad faith would result in a gaping hole at the core of the anti-Games protest, a hollowness which was bound to be exposed."

At some point during the last 17 days, I had to seriously question myself about the nature of my ambivalence towards this event and the institution behind it.

There is an undeniable legacy of corruption behind the 116-year old International Olympic Committee, from its historical connection to the Nazi party to all the recent bribery scandals; and the organization wields enormous power over the cities on which it bestows its mixed blessing, setting in motion a cascade of economic, political and social changes that inevitably alters those cities in ways that can't be predicted or even reliably quantified.

I wouldn't say the anti-Olympics movement was "acting in bad faith," though — opportunistic, maybe, but I would argue that anyone with a sociopolitical cause to advance has to be opportunistic; that's not bad faith, that's just playing the game — but I will concede that the IOC in particular, and the Games in general, were in retrospect a rather ill-conceived target for demonization.

They're not the WTO. Hell, they're not even Disney.

[Photo: Vancouver Observer]
Robson st, Feb 28, 2010

The Sunday morning before the games, my espresso machine broke down and I had to venture out to the nearest Starbucks to stave off a debilitating withdrawal headache. I stopped at 7-11 on my way home and I was still clutching my travel mug of Americano when I came out, cheerfully greeting the lady who held the door open for me. She's here most of the time, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, smiling up at passers-by or leaping to her feet to open the door for customers as they come and go. She has a friendly, energetic quality about her and I always make a point of giving her something when I see her. She settled back down in her spot on the sidewalk and I dropped two dollars into her paper cup; she thanked me and I asked how she was doing.

"I'm great," she said. "How are you doing?" Well, I grinned, I'm much better now that I have my coffee! She grinned back. "Yes, we all have our addictions, don't we?" I laughed. Yes, we sure do. Then, reading my mind, she asked me if the Olympics were going to be effecting me at all. They'll probably inconvenience me, I replied, rolling my eyes, but how about you? I felt a bit silly standing there looming over her so I sort of crouched down to talk to her at eye level. "You know, I'm excited about the Olympics," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing all these people from other places. I think it'll be really cool. I figure there's too much negativity in the world already. Why would I want to add to it?"

That's a very good point, I said, shifting my weight and suddenly realizing that I wouldn't be able to maintain this crouching position. I moved to sit cross-legged like she was and she immediately leaned over and handed me a stack of newspapers from the pile she was sitting on. "Here — you don't want to sit on the sidewalk. It gets cold really fast." Thanks — good idea. I sat down and we introduced ourselves — it turns out her name is Lisa — then we continued talking about the Olympics and the various pro- and anti- camps. I said I found it hard to overlook the absolutely obscene amount of money being spent on something that's essentially a party for a wealthy few; she agreed but said she sometimes feels the same way about the activists, the types that always seem to go hand in hand with these big events. "It's like that's their full time job," she said. "Must be nice!" I had to laugh. She had a point there.

She asked me what I do for a living and I told her about my job; she told me that she used to work in the "corporate world" too, managing a small office. She asked me if I was married and if I had any kids (nooooo!), and she seemed genuinely surprised when I told her I was 36. "Well, you don't look it," she said. She told me she was 46 and that she has a daughter who goes to UBC. I couldn't bring myself to ask her if they are still in touch — or if her daughter knows what she does for a living.

While we were talking, she would periodically leap up to hold the door for people coming in and out of 7-11, but the entire time I was there, not one of them gave her any money — and worse, not one of them said an audible thank you. A young mother who fumbled awkwardly with a baby carriage on her way in and out of the store didn't even make momentary eye contact as Lisa held the door wide open for her, standing gallantly off to the side. I stared after the woman in disbelief but stopped short of speaking a word of the rant that was bubbling up inside my head. Lisa just smiled indulgently and shook her head as if to say, "yeah, but why would I want to add to all that negativity?"

She told me that she has a room nearby that she shares with a friend, which I was very relieved to hear. It may be "unseasonably warm" but this is no place to have to sleep outside. "No, it's not," she agreed and asked if I had heard about the homeless woman who died last year when her makeshift shelter caught fire just across the street; she was a friend of Lisa's. It happened in December 2008, by far the worst winter I've seen in Vancouver. Outreach workers and police had apparently tried several times to get the woman into a shelter earlier that night but when firefighters responded to reports of an overturned shopping cart engulfed in flames around 4:30 in the morning, they arrived too late to save her.

[Photo: CBC News. Davie & Hornby, Dec 2008.]
Davie & Hornby street

"She was stubborn," Lisa said of her friend. "It was way too cold to be sleeping outside. She could have gone to a shelter — she should have — but she was too stubborn. And it was stupid of her to light a candle in there... I don't mind saying it. I don't know what she was thinking but I guess that's just how it goes."

At one point, a pair of kids in their late teens or early twenties dressed in lots of layers probably made of hemp stopped in front of us. They reached into one of their backpacks and offered Lisa something to eat, asking if she was allergic to peanuts before handing her a sandwich wrapped in plastic. They offered me one too but I politely declined. (They probably didn't really think I was homeless, but that just goes to show you how very polite we Canadians are.)

They offered Lisa a drink too but she declined. "I'll get some water in there," she said, indicating the 7-11. "Those guys are always good to me." She rose to her feet, big plastic Big Gulp cup in hand. I stood up too. I'd better go and let you enjoy your lunch. "It was great talking to you," she said, and we both reached out at the same time to give each other a hug. She told me to have a great week, I told her to enjoy the Olympics and then I headed home, trying half-heartedly to wipe the ridiculous smile off my face.

[Photo: Vancouver Observer]
Fireworks, Feb 28, 2010

I was getting ready to leave the office on Wednesday night when this guy I work with passed by the elevator. I stuck my hand out and held the door for him but he waved at me to go ahead. "Six two," he said suddenly, as if we had been in the middle of a conversation. I looked back at him blankly for a second before I saw that he was on the phone, so I smiled and waved back silently. Then he held the phone away from his face and looked straight at me, saying it a little louder; "six two." Panicking only slightly, I looked back at him in utter confusion. Just as the doors started to close it finally hit me. Six-two. Men's hockey — Canada vs. Russia. OH!! Thank you, I blurted out and flashed a thumbs-up just seconds before the doors lumbered shut. I slumped against the back of the elevator with relief. I may not be a big sports fan but the last thing I want to do is give some sweet man — who's just gone out of his way to update me on the score — the impression that, not only do I not care, but I'm actually being rude about it.

Granville StreetThere were more than a few moments like that in the last couple of weeks. Take Friday night after work; a friend and I ducked into a nice hotel bar for a drink and were chatting over margaritas when the Canada vs. Slovakia game started. We weren't sitting near either of the two TVs mounted on the walls but that was just fine with us, and the patrons were subdued enough that we could still hear each other talk — until the home team scored a goal. Then the place erupted in several minutes of thunderous applause, like it was the Stanley Cup finals and we were in the only sports bar in the Yukon. When the bartender came towards our end of the bar, we waved to get his attention; in response, he reported the score of the game and would have turned right back around if we hadn't started frantically doing the universal sign for "can we have our check?"

By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I had come to terms with the fact that I would be watching the final game between Canada and the US at home with Mr. Pink, who is unequivocally a hockey fan. We struggled with the streaming video on CTV-via-Silverlight, plugging the main computer straight into the modem and turning the Mac off completely. It still managed to crash the browser twice and freeze up every few minutes, only resuming when we finally got fed up and hit Control-Alt-Delete — then we'd see the browser window come to life in the background, quickly hit Cancel and hope for the best.

Granville Street, Feb 28, 2010[Photo: Feb 28, Toronto Star]

We were just two minutes into the unbelievably tense 3rd period when we heard a collective cheer go up outside our window. We looked at each other and back to the screen; the two teams were skating around and circling each other, passing and blocking, nothing to cheer about. Then the sound of multiple cars honking in the street grew louder and the cheers steadily increased from crazy to absolutely fucking bananas. We stepped out onto the balcony to be greeted by half the building across the street, also out on their balconies and screaming, hugging, jumping around, waving at cars, waving to each other and waving Canadian flags, which apparently everyone in the city now owns.

We eventually came back inside and glanced over at the players on the screen who were still skating around madly like it wasn't all over, like they hadn't already won. I was just muting the sound on our not-so-streaming video of the game when the phone rang. "Can you hear people screaming right now?" I stepped back out onto the balcony to let my friend in New York hear them for himself. Can you hear the helicopters? I asked. He started screaming. "I'm assuming you watched the game?" I told him yes, of course we had. He cackled. "Oh my god, I love it — Canada so deserves it — I'm so happy for you!" Yeah, okay. Me too.

Granville, March 1[Photo: Mar 1, Vancouver Sun]

Monday afternoon, I walked up Granville street for the first time since its rebirth 17 days ago as magnetic north of Vancouver's Olympic party central. It was eerily quiet and I noticed for the first time that a number of improvements had been made to the street which had been hidden beneath a blanket of drunken revelers during the games. There were several new storefronts, some open for business and others bustling with construction workers, their windows papered over with colorful, anticipatory signage. A new restaurant had been installed at the bottom of a landmark hotel which was once badly neglected but now appeared to have undergone its own process of rejuvenation. At the corner of Robson and Howe, crews of uniformed men were moving masses of random equipment into industrial-looking vehicles, stacking giant speakers and coiling heavy-gauge cables into huge piles on the ground; legions of roadies were hard at work disassembling the party and moving on down the road.

I continued down Howe street all the way home, breathing in the strange, subdued calm that had descended so quickly after so many months of noisy preparation. As I approached the entrance to my apartment from the back alley, I spotted a young man crouched against the brick wall of the loading dock preparing to shoot up. I ascended the stairs swiftly and closed the gate behind me, averting my eyes as I walked through the courtyard from which there is a clear view of the loading dock (I'm telling you, we really are that polite). Inside the lobby, I checked my mail and waited for the elevator. Okay, I thought. Now everything is officially back to normal.