Posts Tagged ‘Byfield’

When I wandered into the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria on a day off, I really wasn’t planning to buy another piece of art. My official excuse was to see the gallery’s “More Than Meets the Eye” show, which included a recent piece by John Wilson, and a twenty-five year old piece by Ron Telek. But when I saw an artist’s proof of Wayne Young’s “Wolf Clan,” a purchase was more or less inevitable.

For one thing, Wayne Young is an artist on my short list. Having learned his craft under Dempsey Bob and his uncles Robert and Norman Tait, like his cousin Ron Telek, Young displays in his work all the characteristics you would expect – imagination, a strong sense of line, and careful attention to finishing – while still managing to display a distinctive style of his own. One of his prints at the Alcheringa Gallery was one of the few renditions of Dogfish Woman that didn’t descend from Charles Edenshaw’s sketch via Bill Reid. Another print that I saw at the same time showed Raven and the First People without being dependent on Bill Reid’s monumental work; in fact, unless I miss my guess, it shows a mussel or a chiton rather than a clam shell.

Just as importantly, something that always fascinates me about Northwest Coast art is how the design is rearranged and constrained by the surface it is on. A flat design can be wrapped around the handle of a ladle, for instance, or rearranged to fit into a round panel. The challenge to the eye is to pick out the details of the design and identify it while enjoying the intricacy.

In the case of “Wolf Clan,” the shape of the design is reminiscent of an argillite pipe. The compressed space contains three wolves, two full sized and one small one, perhaps a cub. Of the small one, only the head can be identified for sure, although perhaps its body and legs are to the right of it or to the left across the two central S-curves. Possibly, it is a killer whale, representing a clan related to the wolves. The wolves on the end show few clear signs of their bodies, with most of the space given to their heads and tails, and, on the left, a single paw.

What is mildly unusual for Northwest Coast art is that it is asymmetrical, with all three heads both facing the same way, and the right side of the share by two of the heads. The two S-shaped areas in the middle – at least one of which is a tail, and possibly both – also create the optical illusion that one side is shorter than the other. However, which one seems shorter depends on which S-shaped area you focus on, and measurement proves that the two halves are about the same length.

Notice, too, the variation of repeated elements, such as the eyes and pupils of the heads, and the secondary elements that surround the head and eye. Even the teeth vary, with the wolf on the left sporting an incisor and the one on the right none. The small head, by contrast, actually seems to have incisors that curl up In much the same way, the stripes on the tail vary as well. Since contemporary design is asymmetrical, the overall impression is of a modern sensibility, even though all the elements, taken one at a time, are traditional.

Even more unusual is the extraordinary variation in the thickness of the formline, ranging from the thick lines of the wolf snouts and heads to the pen-thickness of the outline of the tail in the middle, and the extreme tapering of some of the secondary elements where they join another line. This variation gives “Wolf Clan” a certain angularity, despite the roundness and the sweeping curves throughout the design. The variety also makes a sense of constrained motion in the design, moving the eye along one line until it catches the next one.

“Wolf Clan” is a small piece but it shows all the strengths of Wayne Young’s work. I have noticed recently that we have a disproportionate amount of Nisga’a works among our purchases, probably because of the bold simplicity that features in that nation’s traditional designs. To that tradition, “Wolf Clan” adds an intricacy that I’m sure will intrigue me for years to come.


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Hospitals are not my favorite places at the best of times. They are such concentrations of pain, stress and raw emotion that I barely need twenty minutes before I start feeling emotionally overloaded in them. But, after last week, I have reason to like them even less.

Thanks to the overcrowding that has become the norm, Trish had to share a semi-private ward with a man having psychotic episodes. This circumstance is not (I say with understatement) recommended for someone who has just had major surgery.

At first, he seemed normal enough. Possibly, I thought on my visits, he was a little simple, not being able to distinguish his current hospital stay with past ones or give his doctors and nurses much information about himself, but I could hardly blame him for that. Even when he insisted on giving a half-incoherent, half-rambling reply to every comment made in the room, I dismissed his behavior as annoying but harmless.

Then, last Friday night, he went off like a bomb, trying to tear out his IV and catheter and other connections and struggling to get out of bed (which, fortunately, he was unable to manage). At first, he seemed to think he was in a war movie – and, before long, the movie became real. He seemed to believe that the Chinese had landed troops in British Columbia, and that he was on a boat that was shelling their positions. A little later, after nurses and security swarmed around him and tied him to his gurney, he seemed to believe that he was in a town called Dawson, where he had been taken prisoner and was being tortured for information.

Between swearing and shouting abuse, he made his plans out loud. He would pretend compliance, he said, so he could escape. He would even eat the food provided – although it was undoubtedly poisoned – but just enough to stay alive.

And Trish? In her room mate’s delusion, she was pretending to be his mother to trick him. She came in for a share of the swearing and abuse. She managed to get some sleep after the nurses brought her some ear plugs, but trying to sleep less than two meters from such events is not exactly restful.

Nor could she help thinking what might happen if her room mate got loose – he may have been too weak to walk far, but he still might get as far as her.

The next day, the hospital found a nurse to sit with the man, and Trish finally managed to get a few hours’ sleep. She also spent as much time as she could manage outside the room. Her room mate was mostly sedated, but he was still rude and angry when awake.

By the time Trish came home on Monday, she was more than a little tense. We weren’t sure she was healed enough to go home, but she wanted out of that room badly.

I don’t blame the nurses for what happened. They do the best job they can in trying circumstances, and, anyway, surgical nurses aren’t experienced in dealing with psychiatric patients. I’ve often thought that the medical system would be more equitable if doctors’ pay was halved and nurses’ pay was doubled. They do a job that I would flee screaming after half a shift.

But I do blame the organization and budget cuts to the medical system that such a patient was put in with another one who could only be traumatized by his behavior. The next time someone claims that the British Columbia health system is fine, I’m going to reply with this anecdote. It’s one that would be compelling as a Stephen King short story – but even King would have trouble convincing readers that such a real-life incident could happen in fiction.

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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, in all its official and unofficial forms, is one of the most popular personality tests in the world today. It is widely used in by human resource managers, student counselors, and by just about any other kind of person who needs to assess others. Indirectly, it frequently determines whether people are hired or promoted, or get the break for which they have been waiting. Yet, for all its widespread use, I remain deeply skeptical of the basic concepts behind Myers-Briggs testing. Not only does it seem too simplistic and scientifically unsound, but, if my results are any indications, it fails to give a consistent enough picture of personality to make it reliable.

As you may know, Myers-Briggs testing is based on four axes: Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I); Sensing (S) and Intuition (N); Thinking (T) and Feeling (F), and Judging (J) and Perception (P). The poles you are closest to can be put into a four-letter abbreviation that summarizes your general tendencies, such as INFJ.

But why these four scales, I have to wonder? Does anything in the study of psychology suggest these four dichotomies over any others? Why, is there not a fifth category, such as visual versus written learning methods? Or physical versus mental activity, or types of organization?

While some additional implications are added to the four axes in the less superficial versions of Meyers-Briggs, the basic structure seems largely arbitrary. The categories are clearly not based on anything impartial. If I show people four blue circles and two red squares, those who are not color-blind or altogether sightless will agree on what they are seeing, but I doubt that people unaquainted with Meyers-Briggs will naturally divide personality into four types, or that, if they do, their four types will correspond to Meyers-Briggs. That’s why, for all the popularity of Meyers-Briggs, many psychologists do not give it much credence.

Similarly, when I notice that Meyers-Briggs gives sixteen basic types of personality, my first reaction is that at least that’s four better than horoscopes manage. The comment is unfair, since people can be anywhere along these four scales, which provides for more variety, but the impression of over-simplicity remains. What, I always wonder, is not being measured by Meyers-Briggs? And what is distorted because it registers on the tests but the tests are unable to diagnose it successfully?

As for the either/or questions that make up many forms of Myers-Briggs testing, don’t get me started. For many people, these are false oppositions. Albert Einstein, for example, preferred solitude for work, but could be extremely gregarious when his work was done. I suspect that most people do not think in terms of either/or on many questions of preference, either – I certainly don’t.

Another point that is deeply misleading is the common contention that Myers-Briggs testing is based on the work of Carl Gustav Jung. Being one of the few people I know who has ever read Jung, I strongly suspect that this claim stands only because almost no one is acquainted with Jung.

In fact, the main precursors to Myers-Briggs that you find in Jung are some simple diagrams with two axes (Intuition / Sensation and Feeling / Thinking), and a separate discussion of extraverts and introverts. The addition of Judging/Perception is the work of Myers and Briggs, and so is the codification – Jung was throwing out conceptual ideas rather than ones that could be observed and given a score. These conceptual ideas can be useful – which is why “extrovert” and “introvert” became part of everyday English – but Jung shows no signs of seeing his axes as something that can or should be directly analyzed. In many ways, Myers and Briggs have gone so far beyond anything that Jung intended that the insistence that their work is in any way Jungian seems nothing more than a rather desperate attempt to evoke the name of one of psychology’s great names to bolster a rather dubious theory. In other words, it’s a marketing ploy — and, personally, I tend to mistrust anything with misleading advertising.

However, the real reason I distrust Myers-Briggs testing is that my results can vary widely, not only from test to test, but also from day to day. Looking at the first four online tests I found when searching under “Myers-Briggs,” I received four results when I took them one after the other: ENFJ, ENFP, ESTJ, and INFJ. Similarly, taking the first one on two separate days, my results were ENFJ and INFJ. For the second test, on subsequent days I registered as an ENFP, INFJ, and INFP.

These results do show some general patterns. For example, I definitely register as relying on Intuition more than Sensing, Feeling more than Thinking, and Judging more than Perception. However, Sensing, Thinking, and Perception do show up, depending on the test I take and the day I took it. As for the extravert/introvert distinction, I seem evenly divided, even when other aspects stay the same.

Possibly, I am more mercurial than most people, or my personality is close to being balanced on the four axes. However, the fact that different variants of Myers-Briggs produced only broadly similar results, and none of them could produce consistent results from day to day makes me incline me to suspect that the problem lies either in the tests or their theoretical framework. If Myers-Briggs was an accurate indicator of personality, then surely it would have some way to register people whose temperament varied. Furthermore, if the results corresponded closely to any objective reality, then more consistency should be present.

Of course, none of these tests were the official Myers-Briggs ones, but online ones whose thoroughness and reliability are questionable. However, I have taken Myers-Brigg tests in the past under more formal conditions, and their reliability was no better. So, again, I suspect the tests are the problem.

At any rate, common sense and direct experience both cause me to be highly skeptical of all forms of Myers-Brigg testing. Like I.Q. tests, Myers-Brigg tests seem to be dubiously conceived, and far more influential than their equally dubious results would warrant.

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Apart from gender, few things are as central to a person as their name. Someone choosing a pseudonym is likely to choose a new name as close to the original one as possible, or at least keep the same initial. So is a transsexual. Still others go through different versions of their names, adopting diminutives or alternate versions of their names to suit different stages in their lives. Even when changing identities, apparently, people have a hard time severing all connections with their original name. But it’s a connection that leaves me bemused, because I mostly don’t share it.

Oh, in my teen years, I used to sign poems and stories as “B. Allan Byfield,” thinking it more euphonious than plain “Bruce Byfield.” I also toyed with changing my name to “Brian,” a much more common name for my generation, which I often got called anyway.

At times, too, I’ve lamented the lack of variations possible in my first name. If you’re called something like “James,” then you have no end of possible variations: Jamie, Jem, Jemmie, Jim, Jimmy, even Hamish, if you’re of a Gaelic turn of mind. But “Bruce”? Not much can be done with that, except adding a boyish “ie” at the end. And one or two people have tried to call me “Bru,” but it’s never caught on.

However, I can’t say that I’ve spent much time worrying about such matters. After a couple of years, I decided that “B. Allan Byfield” sounded pretentious, and I’ve never cared enough to change my name or find some variation that I like.

Really, the only thing I have against the plain monosyllable is that the only association it gave me as I was growing up was the Scottish king Robert the Bruce sitting in a cave taking lessons in perseverance from a web-spinning spider. It’s not a bad story, and persistence is one of my characteristics, so perhaps I learned from it, but I would have liked a few other Bruces for role-models as well.

On the plus side, I appreciate that my name is unusual. Since the rise of the Internet, I have noticed a few Googlegangers, including a real estate salesman and a minister, but, in every day interactions, my name is unique.

Moreover, if I encounter someone with the same surname, I can be reasonably sure that a connection exists somewhere, even if I don’t know what it is. Chances are, I am related in some way to Ted and Link Byfield of Alberta Report fame, although the fact that we are all journalists is a coincidence, and I deplore their politics. Similarly, Jamaican Byfields exist, but whether an ancestor was a slave owner or married a transported African, I don’t know. But I do like to think that the Richard Byfield who was vicar in Stratford-on-Avon in the 1590s was an ancestor, and that he might have preached to Shakespeare, or even taken his Sunday sermon down the road to have the playwright criticize his rhetoric.

Such fleeting thoughts aside, I’ve always sympathized with the poet and novelist Robert Graves, who in “My Name and I” asserted that he and his name were independent entities who were only distantly connected.

More recently, since I became a journalist and my name gained some little recognition in free and open source software circles, I’ve appreciated the title of one of Alec Guiness’ autobiographies, My Name Escapes Me. In one autobiography, Guiness mentions his bemusement at Star Wars fans sending him action figures of his character Obiwan Kenobi and imagining that he would want them.

No one has sent me any swag yet (nor would I want it), but, in my own much smaller way, I’m starting to understand what Guiness’ title means. When people discuss what I’ve written in blogs, I’ve sometimes reacted personally, if only in my head. Yet, increasingly, as I hear people praise or vilify this “Bruce Byfield,” or ascribe not only opinions, but also characteristics and habits that I don’t share in the least, I wonder who they are talking about. This “Bruce Byfield” that they are going on about doesn’t even seem to be a friend or acquaintance of mine. He certainly isn’t me.

But no doubt my name and I will travel along in loose association in much the same way as we have until now. Then I will die, and for a while my name will live on in a few statistics and memories, free of its unwanted connection with me at last.

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Right after I moved out of my parents’ house, I shared a basement suite with a high school friend. He had always seemed quiet and responsible – exactly the type of room mate you want when you’re a university student and studying fills your days. But the arrangement wasn’t a success. Inspired by the example of a girl for whom I’d nursed a crush, I was ready for adult responsibilities like cooking and doing the washing. My room mate wasn’t.

In a sense, the arrangement wasn’t too bad for me. He was paying half the rent, but he was at his parents’ on the weekends and two or three nights a week. I had the suite to myself so often that I had to remind myself that he had every right to stay over. I rarely had to cook for the both of us, and I could usually use the washer and the dryer without tossing a coin with him to see who got to do the first load.

However, it was a strain, sometimes, trying to deal with someone who was not only gone more often than not, but wasn’t ready to take care of himself. I quickly tired of taking messages for him, to say nothing of hearing him complain that I hadn’t bought exactly what he wanted for breakfast; he might have been providing half the grocery money, but he was never around when I had to haul groceries from the store – and we weren’t exactly on the bus routes.

Still, the experience had its comic moments. I remember sitting in our kitchen one night while he tried to cook himself a midnight snack, and his sudden yelp of pain as he put his oven-mitted hand on the hot burner. It was the sort of event you couldn’t put in a story or script, because nobody would believe it.

Another time, he showed up unexpectedly while I was entertaining my girl friend. We were sitting on the couch preparing our costumes for the university medieval club, but from his reaction you would have thought he had caught us in a moment of tumultuous and kinky passion. His face and ears turned a bright red as he passed from the bedroom to the bathroom, fully clad in pajamas and a thick housecoat. From a man with sisters, it seemed an extreme reaction.

About a month into the semester, my room mate found his own girlfriend, which meant he spent even less time in the suite. However, I did notice eleven red roses on his desk before a desk, and a card reading – wait for it — “11 American Beauties, and the 12th is you.” I’m not sure whether the cliche, or the fact that we were living in Canada made the sentiment funnier.

He planned an ultra-romantic evening for his girlfriend, which would culminate in a canoe trip on a lake in a heavily-forested local park that he didn’t know very well. He arrived back at the suite at about 5AM, soaking wet. Not only had they been caught in the rain, but they had carried a rented canoe several kilometers along the unlit cedar trails of the park and, with him in his best suit and her in high heels and nylons. They never did find the lake, but they had got very lost, and very, very damp.

Somehow, I managed not to throw back my head and laugh when I heard the tale. I’d been assuming that the date had ended steamily, and had gone to bed muttering, “Bless you, my children,” so the contrast between my imagination and the reality only made his tale of woe more comical.

Still, perhaps he sensed my impulse to laughter, because he started spending even more time at home. By the time he told me that he was moving back home a few weeks later, I had already been making plans for my next semesters’ accommodation in the campus dorms. Come our final exams, we packed and returned, each to his own parents’ house – me until I could move to the dorm in the New Year, my roommate – I believe – until he married the American beauty.

We had never quarreled, but somehow we never saw anything of each other after that. About a year later, I had heard that he had married his girlfriend and – suburban kid that he was – dropped out of university to help with the dairy farm run by his wife’s family. I can only hope that he knew more about taking care of cows than he did of taking care of himself, but I suspect not — the marriage ended in divorce.

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