Speak Softly But Carry a Big Can of Paint

“Speak Softly But Carry a Big Can of Paint” – Banksy, Wall and Piece

Banksy  is the now-legendary guerilla street artist from Britain who has painted the walls, streets, and bridges of towns and cities throughout the world.  He has smuggled his work  into four of New York City’s major art museums,  “hung” his work at London’s Tate Gallery and covered  Israel’s West Bank barrier with satirical images.  Banksy’s identity remains unknown, but his work is unmistakable with prints selling for as much as $45,000.  Here are a couple of his images, but visit the website if you want to  be amazed.

I’ve had to walk away from this post several times to figure out what I was trying to write.  I woke up this morning thinking about writing a piece around my graffiti pictures, but I knew there was more to it.  It’s taken several redrafts, but I think I have it now.

  1. Writing is therapeutic for me, so I need to keep writing.  But I refuse to have me, or my writing, defined by the events of the last few months.  I don’t want to keep writing about cancer or bad breakups (though if those unsent emails sitting in my drafts ever get accidentally sent . . email nuclear bomb!!).  So I have to remind myself that I have so many other interests and by exercise of discipline remember that they matter to me and then write about them.
  2. About graffiti in particular  – that’s two-fold.  As a blogger, I identify with the need to create, to express myself and I love the freedom to do it whenever and wherever I want.  In many ways blogs are the graffiti of literature.
  3. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram are in many ways another form of graffiti.  A place where people can express themselves freely in a multitude of forms, without any particular training (or skill in a lot of cases!).   It has also occurred to me recently that FB has become the 21st century version of the ubiquitous “little black book” and perhaps in some trashier instances, the old “notches on the bedpost” – but then I’d be digressing into 1. above . . .so back to the discipline of writing about graffiti!

Wherever I go I seek  out graffiti both for the immediate visual gratification and also as a way to understand some of what’s going on at a very fundamental level in that city.   It’s the expression of those who have no other way to express themselves.  It’s bold, raw, often crude, in your face, but never dull.  You never see a vase of flowers sprayed onto a brick wall.    It is, by definition, the illicit defacement of public spaces.   One local municipality has said that the difference between art and graffiti is that art is done on property with the permission of the property owner, it is a creative and productive form of expression and that graffiti is an act of vandalism and a crime.   I think they have it all wrong. Graffiti is the art of the disenfranchised, who don’t have access to art programs, studios, materials more expensive than a can of spray paint.  It is art at its most basic, human and elemental.   Check out the work on FatCap if you are in doubt.

Some cities are setting aside specific walls or alleys for these street artists to display their work, although this goes against the very ethos of what graffiti is.  But it’s a place where the art form can find expression, without the artist fearing retribution or jail.   In Baltimore earlier this year I visited “Graffiti Alley” an ever-changing mural of art.  It was fascinating.

I have no idea how this was created, but that it is on the side of a brick wall was incredible.

There was even graffiti sculpture – welded iron gates made from found /salvaged objects at the entry to the alley.

There are a lot of angry people out there.  I have been schooled in too much civility, but it doesn’t mean there haven’t been times I wish I could do this.

Other cities have made genuine efforts to support and legitimize graffiti, which by its nature remains chaotic,  anonymous, illegitimate.  A well-known New Orleans artist sponsored a one-night graffiti event by convincing a local warehouse owner to donate the use of the walls for one night.  Here is a look at some of the work.  But it was one night.


And sometimes more traditional artists make “real” art out of someone else’s graffiti.  I shot these at a gallery in Chicago.

In my home town of Vancouver, a community policing group organized a program called Restart (restorative justice through art) to find a way to reach youth “offenders” who saw graffiti as a victimless crime, the city walls as a free canvas for their artistic expression.  The program has these young artists meeting with community members, older mentor artists and the police to help everyone involved understand the dynamics.

And we even have our own Graffiti Alley just of East Hastings.

Victimless crime?  Blight on the urban landscape?  Art in its rawest form?  Pure self-expression?  I’m not judging, just appreciating.

Three Days Grace have a new song out that is perfect for this post – Chalk Outline – but its way too emo, even for me!

How about some old school The Cure – Pictures of You.  Because it’s all in the pictures.


Rainy Days and Mondays

It’s rainy and it’s not just a regular Monday, it’s a holiday Monday.   Remembrance Day is one of those strange, “sort of” statutory holidays in Canada.  In British Columbia some people get a day off, but not everyone.  It’s confusing, but I’m just happy that I’m one of the lucky ones.  It meant not only did I get away for a couple of days to Seattle for some early Christmas shopping, but I had time for a night out with friends and a catch up day at home.

The shopping trip to Seattle was a huge success – well if you can call buying five (!!) new pairs of boots successful.  Spent a couple of hours at Designer Shoe Warehouse and for about a quarter of what I would pay in Canada I’m all set for the winter, well maybe a couple of winters!    These little beauties are my new favourites, I figure I am going to wear them every day in New Orleans.

Met up with a friend for dinner, drinks and eventually some music last night.  One of my new favourite places is a tiny tapas bar in Gastown, The Sardine Can.  Including the bar, maybe 25 seats.  Really excellent wine selection and fantastic tapas.  A bottle of Tempranillo chased away the cold, along with my favourite, Sardines on Toast.  Made with fresh, house smoked sardines it bears no resemblance to those nasty, oily things you get in cans.  But the very best, not to be missed, is the Chocolate Terrine with olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground chili.   With an Amontillado sherry – well in some cases chocolate just might be better than sex!

Feeling much revived we headed off to Pourhouse for some live jazz, New Orleans style.   I’ve wanted to try Pourhouse for some time, isn’t it fantastic when somewhere is better than you expect!   A chocolate Porter seemed like just the thing as we lounged in the luxe art deco chairs and enjoyed the intimate, cozy atmosphere and great music.  And a rarity these days – not a TV in site.  Not a bad Sunday night at all!

So today I’m doing all those things you do when you are really just wasting time, but want to pretend you are being productive.   Waste time on Facebook – done.  Clean up my emails – done.   Write my blog – done, but definitely not a waste of time, this writing is hard work.   Making my final bookings for New Orleans for Christmas and New Years – time-consuming but not a waste of time at all!   Historic apartment in the French Quarter for two weeks, Old Town Inn in Marigny for the last week, flights booked on points (that one took about an hour all by itself) but heck when it’s free, I can invest some time.  Done and done!  I’m out of here mid-December, not coming back till it’s 2013.

I’ve got a great project ongoing that is maybe the best “doing nothing but being productive” project ever.  Bought myself a photo scanner and I’m scanning in, one by one, ALL of my old family photos.   I have taken a lot of pictures over the years and although a few made it into actual albums (remember those?) most are stuffed in boxes in a closet upstairs that no-one ever looks in.   So digitize, save in a couple of different places and out go the shoe boxes.  Here is today’s favourite scan, because, you know, everyone should take a look back at their weddings pictures from time to time.   Check me out as a blushing bride!  Truly priceless.

And my very favourite time waster – checking out new and somewhat obscure music.  NPR’s All Songs Considered is a great place to spend time hanging out listening to the newest stuff out there, and I love the Tiny Desk concerts.   Today’s treasure is a new song from Wanda Jackson singing with Justin Townes Earle.   It’s called “Am I Even a Memory” and it’s the sort of twangy, honky-tonk revival, Patsy Cline tear jerker made for rainy days in front of the fire.


Ms. Jackson is a 75-year-old rockabilly pioneer who toured with Elvis in the ’50’s and is still going strong.   Last year Jack White produced her record, “The Party Ain’t Over”.   Here she is covering Shakin All Over on Letterman with Jack sitting in on guitar.  Damn girl, when I’m 75 I want to be you!!

And if you need to waste a bit more time, check out Robert Cray’s Tiny Desk Concert.   Blues as it should be sung.

Well I have to go back to something really productive now, I’m prepping for my NOLA trip by re-reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck

There are times when life just seems to get away from you.  When the bad days outnumber the good, when you really, truly wonder – WHY?   Why me, why this, why now?   It takes discipline to step back, top living in the past, give thanks for all the blessings in your life and start looking to the future instead.  A LOT of discipline.   And it’s not a straight line, a lot of the time it’s two steps forward and one step back, but so long as you keep taking those steps forward it will, eventually, get better.

The last couple of months have definitely been of the “what the f#&% did I do to deserve this” variety.  I had been riding a wave of happiness about 10 miles high for most of the last year.   Deeply in love, career hitting on all cylinders, having more fun than anyone should.  Then it all came to a crashing end in late July.  I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma and instead of an idyllic holiday, I was in hospital having major surgery.  There was a lot to deal with and a lot of plans to undo on 3 days notice.  The good news was a completely successful surgical outcome, although I have will have significant scars forever.  And there have been more than a few days when it was hard to appreciate that outcome as the relationship I had thought was real and long-term imploded as a web of lies and deception came  to light in the aftermath.  And I have no idea why – you can’t make someone talk to you if they choose not to, so the why remains a complete mystery.   At least Carrie Bradshaw got a Post-It note, all I got was a wall of silence and an endless stream of photos of him with other women of Facebook.  From that I was left to surmise that our relationship was over.    It was like having my life thrown into a blender, everything came whirling out the other end and I’ve been picking up the pieces ever since, not always successfully.  There have been some very low days.

But I am done trying to figure out that unspeakable mess.  I came to realize that there is no figuring it out and finally, one day, I reached the point where I was just wanted all that craziness out of my life.   Gone, buried, forgotten.  Fortunately there have been some really great things going on in the rest of my life, so time to mentally clean house and put the focus on those.    I’ve been working on a long, complex project at work for the last 6 weeks.  12 hour days plus nights and weekends.  Burying yourself in work is a great anodyne.  I’ve been working with a great team, but we were all pushed to the limit.   Then we  got the news that the proposal was accepted in it’s entirely, as presented.   The next 5 years have the potential to be the most exciting, interesting, hard-working and rewarding of my professional career.  I thought that amazing news was enough, but there were a few more surprises waiting for me.

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”   Andre Gide

It’s just possible that I have the best boss in the world.   He wanted to recognize the “beyond the call of duty” effort put in by the team  and thought that since I had been working 24/7 and had not been out to the East Coast for a while, he would send me there for a long weekend.  A wonderful thought, but . . . no longer an option.   However, in a truly liberating gesture he asked me, “well, where would you like to go?”  Really?  Wow!  I got to spend an all expenses weekend in Chicago, revisiting some old haunts and realizing that I would, eventually be OK again.  But more importantly I remembered that I used to travel on my own all the time and that this would also be OK again.   I had been grieving not only the loss of a relationship, but the lifestyle that went with it, and the life I had thought I would be living.   One of the things I realized that weekend is that the two are not synonymous, that the loss of one did not have to mean the loss of the other.  I could still do the same things, it would just look a little different, I just needed the courage to step out on my own again.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”  Anais Nin

When I got home, this was in the mail.

Back when I had to cancel my vacation I wrote to American Airlines and explained the medical reasons.  I never really expected to hear from them, but I received a travel voucher for the full amount of my fare, good for a year.  Amazing!  In the aftermath of the last few weeks one thing I simply could not bear was the thought of Christmas this year – it fell into the “what should have been but was no more” category.  I also have a whole lot of unused vacation, so courage bolstered after my Chicago trip I rented myself a little apartment in my favourite city in the world – New Orleans.  I will be a resident of the French Quarter for almost three weeks over Christmas and New Year.  It will be a great place to rest, recuperate and heal in body and heart and in a wonderful piece of karmic destiny, my cancelled summer plans will pay for my flight there.  I think that has a certain elegant balance.

I saved the best for last.  I came home from work one night recently and found this from my kind, loving, wonderful daughter.

And I am so touched that she went to the trouble of finding such a unique gift.  We have both developed a love of really good craft beers:  over Labour Day weekend we went to Portland and had an amazing night at Deschutes Brewery and I recently did my best to explain to her the provenance of Trappist beers.  I have no idea where or how she found these, but her thoughtfulness amazed me.

And so it is finally, after the shock and grief of the last few weeks, starting to feel like that light at the end of the tunnel is not another train coming down the tracks.   There are so many good things going on in my life, I need to appreciate those and stop looking backwards.  I took a big risk with my heart and this time I lost, but I’m determined not to lose the lesson as well.  And it’s not a lesson of bitterness, but rather about the value of real, true friends, family and my own personal sense of self-worth.  And that maybe not getting what you want, most passionately, is a wonderful stroke of luck.  Or as someone else put it, perhaps less elegantly but no less succinctly “dodged a bullet there”!   Amen to that.  My horoscope today said “Protect your heart, your belongings and your reputation”.  Damn, sure wish someone had tattooed THAT on my forehead a year ago!

I haven’t been able to listen to the music I love so much for some time.  Too many memories.  However a sure sign for me that I am starting to put the pieces back together is that I am listening to it again.  And if it’s not exactly great yet, well it’s at least ok.  I’m adjusting.  And although I’m trying really hard to avoid those bitter break-up songs, a friend posted this video recently and it made me spit my coffee I laughed so hard – thanks Mark!  I know EXACTLY what Kathleen was thinking!