February 26, 2010

death of a voice

Somebody I once knew briefly and minimally took his own life this week or last in Stanley Park. I took a class about improv and acting from him when he was perhaps too young to be guiding other people, but he was kind, and sweet, and encouraging.

In keeping with a theme that kept occurring in my life at that time, he said that one had to write and write and write and create and create and create, whether or not the stuff was good, whether or not it made sense.  To put an hour in daily of just spewing the words out on paper, whether or not the words were gibberish.

I once saw Chuck Jones give a talk at the end of a Looney Tunes meets the VSO at the Orpheum.  He was probably ninety-two or something at the time.  He said he was in an art class, when he was about 17 years old, and that it was his first art class.  He was really sucking at school at the time, maybe he had dropped out, I can't remember.

I believe he said he felt unsure of himself, maybe everybody else was older or something.  But he was surrounded by crumpled up papers, piling up all around his desk.  He would start a drawing, become discouraged, crumple it up and throw it with great, and I'm sure youthful, abandon.

At some point the teacher walked up to his desk and said:  Listen.  You have 100,000 bad drawings inside of you.  And in between those drawings you have the occasional masterpiece.  If you censor yourself, and stop a drawing that you have started, you risk one of two things -- you won't get one of your worst drawings out and you might toss something that would become one of your masterpieces.  (Of course, for Chuck Jones fans or descendants, I'm sure I have this story completely skewed.  Please feel free to correct this story.)

Fast forward one year.  I was on my solo honeymoon in rural Japan (don't ask!) taking a one-day pottery class.  All I could think as I sat at my desk, rubbing my clay with great purpose ... or, um, anxiety, was that I was taking a pottery class!  In Japan!  With some pottery god teacher!  How was I going to live up to this?  I had a potter's block!!!

The teacher was wandering up and down the aisle.  I dreaded him coming to where I was sitting, with nuttin.  He finally arrived.  He picked up a small amount of my clay, fiddled with it in his hands, plopped it onto my desk and pushed his finger into it twice.  Chopstick holder, he said, and he walked away.

At that point I got something that so many people had been telling me in so many ways.  I try too hard.  I always try too hard, and it doesn't really work that well.  What this teacher was telling me was that creating could be easy.  Wow.  What a revelation.

I knew that man who killed himself so briefly, but I can only imagine from the little I experienced of him how much he was loved.  Depression is such a horrible horrible condition, disease, place.  There is no place to go, now way to make things work, when you are in that pit.  If you can't see the upswing, or have faith that it is going to come (especially if the last upswing was a long, long time ago), what gets you through?

Me?  My high school guidance counsellor had me pegged.  She told my mom that I am a survivor.  And I am.  The one time I thought I was sinking too far into the muck, I quit walking across bridges.  It was too tempting.  But I was blessed with the full understanding that there is always an upswing, no matter how dark it seems, and one just has to ride things out, and continue to figure things out.

Tonight there are people across North America who grieve you and are horribly sad that you have gone.  Some knew you well, others just through the work you've produced, the show you were in, the classes you taught.

I pledge to keep a bit of your memory alive by showing more courage, a courage you had, to get my work out there.  To spit my words out and get them down.  I am committed to writing unedited, to just write, and write and write and write and write.  For me, because I am here.  For you, because you were a person that was hurting, but you were also a person who touched people with your kindness, your offerings.

I hope that whatever happens next for you, whether it is a new life, a heavenly home, or mere decomposition, that your soul will rest and that you have found peace.

February 24, 2010

sea of red and white. really?

I just returned from watching the pyrotechnics at Robson Square.  There was somebody waving a Canadian flag as a part of the show and there were lots of red and whites in the crowd.  At first, I thought it was charming.  But then ...

Wait a second!  This is the Olympics.

Aren't there, like, a gazillion different countries represented at these games?

It seems to me that we are on a weird bend that I simply don't recognise.  And I don't think I like it.

Take the "Own the Podium" campaign.  I am sorry.  I am totally embarrassed by this.  It isn't that I don't think we should support our athletes and cheer for them (I do).  It's not that I think we should not "go for the gold".  We should.

It's this:  We are the host nation.  "Owning" the podium not only seems unattainable, so we look like idiots who are in for some serious hubris, it is also poor hosting manners.  So I kind of wish that the campaign, with the same financing and push for excellence, was maybe worded a bit more tastefully.

Instead, hosting these games has allowed our government, or VANOC, or someone with some power, the right to give or limit the time non-Canadian athletes get to practice in the venues.  Given that (a) the ice is soft at the rinks because we are at sea level as opposed to hard at higher altitudes and (b) the degree of difficulty, not to mention danger, of the sliding, skiing and snowboarding tracks has given us not so much the "home team advantage" as a leg up.

Um, how can you claim to be the "best", deserving of medals, if you have these kinds of advantages, especially on the tracks that are more dangerous than average?  I know.  Unfair advantages include other elements, like access to nutrition, the best gear, money for training, etc.  But really?  Really?  I have a much harder time celebrating our wins on those harder tracks just knowing that our athletes had the advantage of so much more time to practice and master the curves and drops.

Forgive me (or not) but this seems a bit like cheating to me.  I don't get the sporting spirit in this.  Is it about winning at any cost?

What would the sporting events look like if we cheered all of the winners, and indeed, all of the participants?  What would speedskating look like if certain teams weren't knocking over any other team to go for Gold?  What would Luge look like without an openning day death?

I don't dislike winning.  I don't think the program called "Own the Podium" is a failure.  I am in support of my taxes being used to fully support sports, the arts, and the CBC.  These are the things that truly unite a country.  I definitely want our products to be the best in the world.  But I want to achieve that goal on merit, hard work and integrity.

If this "win at any cost" attitude is what the Olympic spirit is about, I can't say I love it.  I find it disconcerting.  I wonder how we can "celebrate" the coming together of athletes to compete at an elite level without losing our manners and forgetting what makes us, Canadians, unique and proud.