Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver’

A few years ago, I posted a recent picture of myself online. I only meant it as a placeholder until I could get a better one, but I got busy. The picture became the social media equivalent of those dusty cars that strangers write, “Wash Me” on, and one acquaintance even offered to shoot a better one for me. It was only a few weeks ago that I realized that, with my book, Designing with LibreOffice, coming out, I needed something more professional, and arranged a professional shoot with Sara Paley Photography. It turned out to be one of those surreal experiences that pop up in my life from time to time.

Because my book used pictures from the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, to draw an analogy between feng shui landscaping and typography, I wanted to get the photos of me from the same location. However, Vancouver was in the rainy season, so finding a suitable day was difficult. Once, we tried to squeeze the session in during a break in the clouds, but I forgot to tell the photographer that the Garden is next to a public park, and we wasted time waiting for each other in different places. I also found out that I now needed a permit to shoot in the Garden – and that, naturally enough, since it was a Sunday, the person who could give permission was not in the office.

Ten days later, armed with a permit for an hour, we tried again. As I had suspected, the garden was a natural place to shoot, with arches and doors and windows, even trees and rocks, to frame shots naturally. Moreover, Sara was such a thorough-going professional that I soon lost my sense of the ridiculous as I tried to follow her directions for positioning myself.

What we hadn’t counted on, though, were the people.

To start with, when people see you posing for picture after picture, they immediately assume you must be someone. As I posed for shot after shot – which is much harder psychologically than I would have expected, and, to a much less degree, hard physically as well – I was constantly being distracted by people lingering as they passed, staring to see if they should recognize me. The idea was ludicrous enough to make me want to giggle.

To make matters worse, halfway through the session, the Garden was invaded by a day camp of about sixty eight or nine year olds. No sooner would we get the shot set up than the children would troop two by two between Sara and I, staring at both of us. I would try to hold my position but the children were not rushing, and at least twice, I couldn’t.

When I couldn’t, we would line up the shot again – just in time for the kids to return the way they had come. Again, giggles were a clear and present danger.

And again.

And again.

Somehow, we persevered, and the results were satisfying, even if my first reaction was to wonder how I had grown so old, and when my cheeks had become so chubby. But the process itself appealed to my sense of the ridiculous in ways I hadn’t expected.


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I remember several memorable musical moments in my life. There was the Vancouver Folk Festival where I first heard Stan Rogers singing “The Witch of the Westmoreland” against the reflection of the sunset on the eastern clouds, and the first time Spirit of the West played the Commodore, when our table on the sprung dance floor was bouncing up and down. I remember, too, hearing Loreena McKennitt at the Mythopoeic Conference I helped organized, her voice floating through the hall while the crowd was open-mouthed and silent. But so far the greatest was hearing June Tabor and OysterBand doing their sendup cover of The Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

The venue was the pub on the old Expo 86 grounds. I forget what it was being called at the time; several incarnations came and went before the fact that the space wasn’t commercially viable became obvious. It was a big space, and too far from the beaten path to attract many people.

The exception was the night that OysterBand and June Tabor performed, and you could see that the waiters were not happy with the crowd. It was a crowd that had come to listen, not to buy drinks, no matter how hard the waiters tried. I don’t know about anyone else, but after about the eighth invitation to buy another drink, Trish and I took to ignoring the waiters’ unsubtle persistence, except to turn away and face the stage more squarely.

If you have heard OysterBand live, it goes without saying that the set started fast and continued with almost perfect orchestration, the slow and softer numbers coming at exactly the right places to provide a change from the faster and harder ones. If you have heard June Tabor in any medium, it also goes without saying that her voice could make you world-weary or arouse tears just by the way she emphasized the right word. As usual, her voice with its faintly Northern accent sounded like that of a survivor, tough and proud and knowing everything there is to know about suffering.

We wished the set would never end, but eventually it did end. A long pause followed, and just as the last chances of an encore seemed to disappear, the lights turned psychedelic. Clouds of dry-ice started to obscure the stage, and June Tabor could be seen in a leather mini-skirt, striking a pose like the young Grace Slick, although she was forty-five at the time. She looked stunning – not just beautiful or sexy, although she had something of both, but someone both totally in command of the audience, yet simultaneously camping it up and not wanting anyone to take her completely seriously.

A few people in the audience took up her unspoken invitation and laughed. A few of us recognized the opening strains of “White Rabbit.” Like me, most of them probably expected a few notes, a reference like other bands at the time might make to “Stairway to Heaven” before segueing into another song altogether.

But after a few bars, the members of OysterBand appear to one side of Tabor, and the light show began to imitate that of the video in which The Airplane performed “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers’ show. Slowly, Tabor began singing the first two lines of the song, “One pill makes you smaller / And one pill makes you small.” At the end of the lines, you could hear her accent.

By the third line, Tabor was no longer camping, but singing with exactly the suppressed passion of Grace Slick, almost sounding like Slick except for the burr in her voice.

The difference was that, while Slick sounds ambiguous on “White Rabbit,” Tabor sounded angry. Simply by emphasizing “ones,” she made the line, “And the ones that mother gives you” sound angry and contemptuous. In a single word, she seemed to dismiss convention

The contempt continued in the next line. Under Tabor’s phrasing, “go ask Alice” became bitterly sarcastic and so did the very idea that Alice could tell anyone anything “when she’s ten feet tall.” Just by emphasizing “chasing,” she conveyed the idea that “chasing rabbits” was a ludicrous pastime. Listening, I felt she was giving me personally an extensive tongue-lashing, listing my shortcomings one by one, but I was fascinated and could only lean forward to listen more closely.

The men on the chessboard and the white queen were sung about with a voice of someone who had seen them and knew they were inevitable and tiresome. In these verses, her phrasing sounded much like Slick’s. But when Tabor reached what for Slick was the end of the song – the repetition of the Dormouse’s advice to “Feed your head” – Tabor did not invite the listeners to turn on, as Slick did. Instead, she seemed to be advising us to get smart and learn from the experience.

This impression was reinforced by the fact that she didn’t end the song there. Rather, after an instrumental, she returned to the first verse, singing the words in a flat voice and letting the pause at the end of the last line trail off into silence.

I suppose you could interpret Tabor’s treatment of the song as anti-drug. However, it didn’t come across as so specific. Instead, she sounded like someone who had rushed into foolish things of all sorts warning others neither to imitate her nor expect anything help from the orthodox.

But however you interpret Tabor’s phrasing, it struck the audience like a fist to the solar plexus. When it ended, the audience was silence for a beat. Then everyone spontaneously leaped to their feet in one of the few non-calculated standing ovations I have seen, and you couldn’t talk for the applause.

Personally, I was glad to fall back into my seat. After listening to that one song, I felt as though I had run a marathon with a deflated lung. Like many other members of the audience, I lingered, playing with my drink until we felt strong enough to leave. Neither of us could express what we had seen with more than a half-articulate, “Wow!” express what we had seen, but we knew it had been something profound and memorable — something that we felt privileged to witness.

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When the homeless ask for spare change, I generally give what I have. The fact that some of them are undoubtedly going to use my contribution to buy their drug of choice fails to bother me – I figure it’s none of my business, and I can’t be sure that in their position I wouldn’t buy a few hours of escape myself. But every now and then, I meet a panhandler who pushes hard, demanding more than I am willing or able to give.

It’s not that I imagine that parting with a dollar or two gives me any right to gratitude. They are probably frustrated by having dozens of passersby ignore them. Nor am I to blame if they conclude from my blandly wholesome face that I am an easy mark. But when someone pushes me, I turn stubborn.

Usually, the result is only being sworn at and maybe followed a few steps. Occasionally, though, I meet a panhandler whose stubbornness matches my own.

Once, for example, I was walking from the Chinatown-Stadium Skytrain station to Yaletown when a man approached me saying that he needed money for a bus ticket to Whistler. The bus was leaving in twenty minutes from in front of the Hotel Vancouver, he said.
I suspected he was lying – the excuse is a common one, and I happened to have looked up the bus schedule a few days previously. Yet I gave him a few dollars. It wasn’t enough for a bus ticket, but the deadline was a new twist, and I thought he deserved the handout for his creativity.

Immediately, though, he started demanding more. I said (truthfully) that I had no spare change or bills until I went to the bank. He then said he would accompany me to the bank, and started to walk along with me, alternately telling me long, rambling stories about his life and repeating his request for more money and cursing the selfishness of rich people like me who wouldn’t help him. My repeated insistence that he was not getting more from me apparently went unheard.

The time was early afternoon, but it occurred to me that an attempted mugging was a possibility. I made sure that he was never behind me, and kept walking at a steady pace, determined not to appear nervous or afraid, either of which might provoke an account.
At the bank, the security guards let me in, but not him. He backed away, yelling that I had promised him money, and I joined a long and slow-moving line of customers, even though I had no account at the bank. When he finally gave up, I left the line and got my money from the bank machine.

On Christmas Day, I met another persistent panhandler while waiting for the bus in from of The Bay downtown. I was sitting on the bench at 9:30 in the morning when a passing woman seemed to size me up in passing and return to sit beside me.

With a Quebecois accent, she poured out a series of reasons for needing money. She needed to get breakfast, she told me. She had two kids in a car a few blocks away who needed to eat. She wanted money to stay at a shelter. In a similar rush of contradictions, she said that she was a good girl, that she didn’t do drugs, that she needed the money to get to an addict support meeting.

I gave her what change I had. It was less than she said she needed, and she insisted I must have more money in my wallet. I said she could easily find the rest, and she insisted that the locals were not so generous. She suggested going to a bank machine, and I refused, pointing out that I was waiting for a bus. She said that the Virgin Mary had told her that I would be the person who helped her, and that if I bought a lottery ticket that day, I would surely win.

Over and over, I told her that she had had all that I was prepared to give. Over and over, she changed her story, as though a new one might make me change my mind.

Before very long in this development, others waiting for the bus had moved away – although not so far that they were unable to hear. I was starting to think that only boarding my bus would let me escape, when she abruptly gave up and stalked down the street, obviously furious.

Such encounters disturb me. I am reluctant to ignore those begging on the street, yet, at the same time, I dislike being pressured into doing something, or to be thought gullible. Usually, I spend several hours after them wondering if I have been arrogant or handled the situation well. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have been afraid rather than annoyed.

But I see no way of solving the dilemma to anyone’s satisfaction, so it is sure to happen again – most likely when I am tired or distracted and want nothing better than to be left alone and not to see such social problems first-hand.

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“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
- Christina Rossetti, "The Goblin Market"

The idea of the goblin market haunts me. Whether in the form of Christina Rossetti’s poem or the faery market in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, it seems to me a place where anything can be found among its motley booths and awnings – a place anything can happen and anyone can be encountered, where promise and nightmare meet, and you can never be quite sure which is which. That is why I can never resist a farmers’ market, and will even get up early on a Saturday to visit one.

True, these markets are pallid reflections of the goblin market. Many of the half dozen or so that have sprung up around the Vancouver area in the last five years are already starting to have all the same booths, so that they sometimes seem to be rapidly devolving into outdoor shopping malls. All the same, they continue to fascinate. An evolutionary psychologist might claim they appeal to the hunter-gatherer in us all, a Jungian that they evoke an archetype reinforced by school fairs and music festivals, a partial holiday from routine.

Foodies, no doubt, are attracted by their wish for the organic and a locally produced diet. Nor can I deny that’s part of the appeal. Show me fresh cloves of garlic, or multiple species of tomatoes of different shapes and colors that were on the vine a few hours ago, and my curiosity and intermittent sense that I should be eating better immediately get the better of me. Promise me alternative strains of corn bred for tastes other than sweetness, and I want to decide for myself how different they are. Show me an artisan displaying belts or handmade canes, and I have to slow to look.

Never mind that, at least half the time, my palate is too unrefined to detect enough difference to make the effort and extra cost worthwhile. Never mind that almost none of the artisans forge or cast their wares. I can tell myself that I’m too gullible and that next time I need to be more discerning in my efforts to separate the true from the false – and next week, I will be as careless as ever in my purchases.

Part of what makes a farmers’ market so irresistible is the personal touch. Maybe some people can trudge up and down the lines of booths without talking to those staffing them, but I” m not one of them (perhaps I need to get out more). I can’t just get out my wallet. Instead, before I buy, I find myself asking about what I’m buying, maybe passing a disparaging remark or two about what’s usually available in the supermarkets, and asking questions about small businesses that are now in their second or third generation. Then, ten or fifteen minutes later, I’m at another booth, starting a similar conversation. The experience is as far from the exchange of “How are you?” at the checkout stand as it could possibly be.

But the major appeal comes from the fact that even the worst farmers’ market offers alternatives. Most of these alternatives are not radical, but they are just different enough to trigger impulse buying – something I rarely allow myself, thanks to habits required in my days of poverty. Usually, I approach a market in much the same way as I would a casino: I give myself a spending limit of, say, $100, and stop buying when it’s gone. Often, that’s an easy habit to keep, because most vendors are not equipped to handle credit or debit cards, and I’m restricted to the cash I’m covering.

My habit is to circle the market once, then return to the booths I’ve marked for closer attention. What I buy remains remarkably consistent, too, generally consisting of random fresh vegetables and cheeses and various organic or at least artisanal foodstuffs.

This morning, for example, at the Burnaby Farmers’ Market, my purchases (in approximate order) were:

  • Bantam corn, consisting of ears about eighteen centimeters long and four in diameter, promised by the vendor to be less sweet than most modern variants.
  • Cloves of organic garlic
  • A strong goat cheese made in the English way with embedded garlic and chives
  • A blackberry and peach tart
  • Half a dozen ears of normal sized corn, described to me as a local variant of Twilight
  • A Neufchatel cheese
  • Two lemon tarts with a cookie crust
  • Whole wheat bread made with honey (a sort of Gentile’s challah, bought in part because the descriptions of the type of bread and some of their names made me wonder what pages of mild erotica were doing scattered among the loaves)
  • A raspberry lemon concentrate

I would have gone on to see what the organic beef, chicken, and fish sellers were offering, but at this point I had spent my quota.

Strictly speaking, these purchases put a serious dent in my monthly food budget. But, by a rationalizing sleight of hand, I counted them as part of my discretionary funds. Of the items on this list, only the normal sized corn was actually on this week’s grocery list, but I know that I will enjoy all of them, sooner or later.

Then, sooner or later, when they are gone (or possibly a bit before), I will be headed to another farmers’ market, just as eager to beguiled and to buy with a child’s impulsivity as ever before, sure that, if I just look hard enough, I will find fresh moly salad or unicorn flank steak, just waiting for me to try.

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Whenever business is slow, the local businesses who rent out benches post ads that read something like, “You’ve just proved advertising works,” with their contact information below. The ads never fail to evoke a small moue of annoyance in me.

My reaction has nothing to do with being caught out. I’m reacting more to the childish glee of the comment. The implication seems to be that someone has been arguing with me, and I have been expressing doubts that advertising works. But if anything is more annoying than someone assuming that they know my thoughts on a subject, it’s someone assuming they know and getting it wrong.

Having done ad design, I have no doubt that advertising can work. Like many people in marketing, I may be inclined to mutter that only ten percent of marketing works, and that the trouble is that we don’t know what ten percent that happens to be, but I am certain that it can.

Anyway, the assertion isn’t true. I haven’t read the ad because advertising works. I read it because, seeing English characters, I am constitutionally unable not to read them. It doesn’t matter whether the characters are an ad, a Biblical verse, a line of poetry or the first lines of a novel – as soon as I see it, I’ve read it. Probably, I have more control over my breathing than I do over whether I read anything. It’s no credit to any power of advertising that I’m a print addict.

Even more importantly, getting noticed is only half of marketing. Successful marketing makes viewers want to take action – to buy, if possible, but at least to know more so they can decide to buy. Since the contact information is in a smaller typeface and hard to read in passing, I’m guessing that these ads don’t prove marketing effective. Even if someone might be interested in renting a bench, they are unlikely to notice whom to contact – and, if other people are the least bit like me, their annoyance will keep most far from the world of bench advertising as they can possible manage.

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Last week at the Vancouver Folk Festival, my dinner was pulled bison on bannock from Salmon’n’Bannock catering. The meal was so far above what I expected that yesterday, when my editor flew into town, I suggested going to the restaurant of the same name. The result was the most memorable meal I’ve had this year.

Salmon’n’Bannock is a small restaurant on Broadway specializing in First Nations cuisine. Its walls are decorated with Northwest Coast and Woodlands prints of decent but not outstanding quality, and the front of the house is staffed with women dressed in black who provide friendly but unobtrusive service.

What makes Salmon’n’Bannock stand out is its approach to the food. Other First Nations restaurants that have come and gone in Vancouver usually took what might be called the hearty approach, serving thick steaks of game and plenty of greasy (but delicious fry bread). In contrast, Salmon’n’Bannock interprets its roots in terms of light, modern cuisine, and does so with considerable success.

For instance, its cured muskox appetizer is not a slab of meat, but a few slivers of meat with blueberry chutney, served on bannock crackers with a few salad greens. Similarly, the salmon platter for two – which I did not eat, but saw delivered to a nearby table – consists of samples of salmon prepared in four different ways (Indian candy, lox roll, salmon mousse, and pickled sockeye), all of which look unexpectedly delicate.

As might be expected, the restaurant focuses on local sea food, especially salmon and halibut. However, the menu also includes extensive samplings of game from across Canada, including bison, muskox, deer and wild boar. Wild rice, sweet potatoes, and salad greens make most of the garnishes.

My main course was bacon-crusted halibut, served with a garlic cream sauce. At any time, halibut is my favorite fish, its taste being far lighter and more delicate than any variety of salmon, but this was by far the best I had tasted anywhere. The flesh was soft and white, and its subtle taste was emphasized by the juice of the bacon and its fat. From the enjoyment my editor took in the sockeye with creamy dill sauce, I suspect I would have liked it almost as much.

Both the halibut and the salmon were served with a selection of zucchini and carrots, and, at our option with large portions of wild rice. The vegetables seemed a bit of an afterthought, but that seemed excusable, considering that the fish were the main attraction of both dishes, both by intent and execution.

We washed dinner down with alcoholic strawberry and rhubarb cider, and finished a fresh berry pie served with ice-cream that left me wanting to sample more of the menu on a second, or even a third or fourth visit.

If Salmon’n’Bannock has a fault, it is that, instead of cooking traditional dishes, it is more likely to take traditional ingredients and combine them in what – judging from their distribution across North America – could not have been traditional ways.

At times, this choice was probably just as well – I expect, for instance, that most modern diners would prefer to eat the halibut with bacon rather than a pot of grease prepared with their auntie’s special recipe. But I wouldn’t have minded an option for fry bread, even though the baked bannock was almost as tasty. Next time, too, I plan to try the Nuxalk salmon soup, the only traditional dish on the menu.

However, for lovers of fish and game, such faults are minor. I can’t think of another casual restaurant in Vancouver (or any restaurant, period) whose fish I enjoyed so much. So far as I’m concerned, the Salmon’n’Bannock is the place I’ll be taking visitors for the next little while. In fact, I don’t think I’ll wait for my next visitors for my next step in eating through the menu.

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At First Nations art galleries in Vancouver, Mitch and Diana Adams have a reputation as an effective sales team. Being the artist, Mitch does much of the talking, but because Diana at one remove from the discussions with gallery owners, she is an astute observer of what is happening, and is actively involved in strategic planning.

Several weeks ago when I was in Terrace for the Freda Diesing School graduation ceremony, I asked her what advice she would give young artists about dealing with galleries. Diana responded in detail as we had dinner at Boston Pizza, with Mitch throwing in the occasional comment.

Diana is able to contribute because of her own lengthy experience in sales. “I grew up in a family restaurant business,” she says, “So selling comes naturally to me. As a waitress, my job was to sell the meal. My favorite situation was when people would go, ‘I don’t know. What do you recommend?’ I’d find out what don’t they want to eat, what’s their budget, what they are allergic to, and take it from there.”

Some of what she knows about sales comes from observing her father. However, Diana has been selling her own bead work for several decades. She still remembers her first effort at a Tupperware-like party, where she sold $450 worth of merchandise, confounding her parents’ expectations.

Since then, Diana and Mitch have sold regularly at music and craft festivals through northern British Columbia. For seventeen years, they have been regulars at the Terrace farmers’ market, during which time they have fine-tuned their partnership in sales.

Preparing and handling anxiety

Some artists, especially established ones, can sell to the major galleries in southwest British Columbia without ever visiting Vancouver or Victoria. However, the business of First Nations arts remains very much a face-to-face proposition, and young artists in particular are more likely to make sales when they talk to a gallery’s buyer directly.

Asked how she approaches selling Mitch’s work to a gallery, Diana emphasizes a strategic approach. “I take it on as though I’m applying for a job,” she says. “I do my background homework. I’ll look at a store or a gallery that I want to deal with. I will go in, and not tell them that I’m looking to sell to them. I will observe how they treat their customers. I’ll also see the quality of what they sell. If they have a pamphlet, I will take one, or Google them on the Internet.” She does not worry much about prices, figuring that is not her concern, but she will note at the quality of what is sold, and how staff treats customers.

The point of this research is to decide whether they want Mitch’s work in that gallery. “What a lot of artists don’t understand,” she says, “is that they have an option of deciding whether this is a gallery to deal with or not. I want to know that I’ll be dealing with someone who is dependable, approachable, fair to deal with, and able to give criticism. If I offer them something they’re not interested in, I want to be able to dialog about it. As much as I might want to be a client of theirs, or leave works on consignment, I need to know that I can have a professional working relationship with them.”

Before approaching a gallery’s buyer, Diana and Mitch discuss what pieces to show, their prices – both the price they want, and a bottom-line figure that they will accept as a last resort – and what to say about each piece. This preparation, she stresses, is absolutely essential. “Gallery owners have told us that’s one of their pet peeves, when artists approach them and they don’t know the price of an item. That’s a death-sentence, right there.”

She also notes that, on an introductory visit, artists can expect a lot of questions. Galleries “want to make sure that you are the artist, and not someone else. If you’re the artist, you would know the answers right down to the details.” Forgery and theft are regular events in local First Nations art, so galleries want an indication that the seller truly is the artist.

Another reason for preparation is that it helps to reduce nervousness. “It’s always nerve-wracking. I’ve done it countless times, but there’s still that excitement and anxiety, because you want to do well. But you can’t be overly anxious or insecure, or you’re going to fall flat on your face.”

Another way to reduce anxiety is to take someone with you. However, Diana immediately adds, “Don’t take anyone who’s going to undermine you. Don’t take anyone who doesn’t know anything about your art or will second-guess you.”

Instead, the second person should be either silent, or an active partner. “There’s been times when Mitch has forgot something,” she says, “but I always give him a chance to speak first. But if he forgets something, I’ll come forward. I’ll look at him, and if I know that he’s done talking, I will say my piece.”

According to Diana, planning not only relieves anxiety, but also helps to present yourself as a professional who is easy to deal with. She suggests role-playing the presentation of your artwork, and even approaching galleries you do not plan to deal with so that you can rehearse and prepare yourself for visits to the galleries you hope to work with.

Making the visit and the first impression

“We don’t expect a sale on first visit,” Diana says. “We hope we make a sale, but the whole point is making contact.

Her emphasis is on professionalism throughout. “Dress as though approaching a job,” she advises, “as though leaving a resume. Make sure that the work is well-presented, not carried in a garbage bag. Because if we have no respect for the art, it’s going to show. We use an artist’s portfolio, because presentation is everything. Some of the people we’ve approached have been quite reserved, but we still put on a professional smile, and say what our purpose is.”

Diana also suggests that body-language is important. “Smile,” she advises. “Have good eye contact [with the buyer]. “Don’t cross your arms. Remember to breathe.”

After the introduction, the actual presentation of the pieces is left to Mitch, on the grounds that as the artist he is the one best qualified to talk about them.. “I try to be halfway through explaining the piece as I hand it to them,” he says.

He also gives some thought to the order of presentation. “What I like to do is not give them my best piece right off the bat. Instead, I lead up to it. And I think they see it, too, that the best piece is still to come. But they’ll be lining the pieces up, and hopefully they’ll be being wowed by the pieces that aren’t the best ones.”

If the discussion turns towards the price of any of the pieces, the Adams’ policy is to hold firm to their original asking price, falling back slowly to their minimum only if they strongly want the sale.

“You can’t be desperate,” Diana says, adding as a warning, “never say to anyone, ‘I’ve got bills to pay.’ Never say that because, really, it has nothing to do with the gallery owner. That’s a form of manipulation. It’s a really poor sales technique, because the person who’s being spoken to feels bad and put on the spot. It leaves a bad taste in their mouth, and makes them want to avoid you in the future.”

Some buyers, according to Diana, will claim to find flaws as a tactic for lowering the purchase price; they should be ignored and not cause you to waver in your price. Others may mention what they perceive as flaws as explanations as to why they are not buying; their criticism can be considered later. In fact, once or twice, Mitch has gained credibility by acting on such criticism and taking a piece back to the criticizer for another look.


Many inexperienced artists are disappointed when they fail to sell after a first visit. Many will give up and avoid that gallery. However, as Diana emphasizes repeatedly, you shouldn’t count on making a sale after a first visit.

In fact, at one gallery, the Adamses visited three times before making a sale. “But we kept going back, introducing ourselves, and reminding the purchasing agent who we were. We didn’t take [rejection] personally; we just thought they weren’t able to purchase.”

The truth is, you may never know why most sales fail. Often, the reason will have little to do with you or the artwork, or only in the most indirect way. For example, “there’s some galleries that only buy big items, and Mitch does only miniatures. We needed to keep that in mind, and not take it personally. There’s no reason to be rude, even when they’re rude; we just stay professional, and thank them for their time.”

After an initial visit, Diana and Mitch discuss the experience, and decide whether they want to continue trying to sell to a particular gallery. Sometimes, they may decide not to return, even if the buyer seemed interested in Mitch’s work, because they have decided to deal with only a limited number of galleries so that they can focus on building long-term rapport.

If they do return for another visit, they prepare for subsequent visits in much the same way as the first. The main difference, Diana says is that “we’re not so tense.”
Also, the introduction may become more personal and friendly. “I try to remember something about that person that they shared with me,” Diana says, such as the birth of a grandchild or a trip they have recently taken. But “the contact is still professional. It’s intimate, but it’s not stepping over a line.”

Trying to sell your work to a gallery can often be difficult and full of anxiety. Unsurprisingly, mistakes can be made. For instance, Diana recalls “one time when Mitch got so nervous that he put his hand over his mouth, and what he was saying came across as very muffled. All I could do was reach over and pull his hand down, and he kind of looked at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he realized what he had done.”

Diana continues, “Some people beat themselves up about moments like that, but there’s nothing you can really do except laugh.” She advises other artists not to dwell on such circumstances, but to focus on being prepared and professional, focusing not just on a first sale, but on a long-term relationship that will also eventually produced a second and a third sale, and many more over their career.

That is the approach that Diana and Mitch are taking, and so far it seems to be working. Listening to their war stories, it is obvious that it hasn’t always worked exactly as they hoped. However, it has worked well enough that Mitch is well on his way to establishing himself as an artist.

Much of the credit is due to his finishing skills and original designs – but at least as much should probably go to the successful sales strategies and partnership that Diana and Mitch have developed. Watch them even once, as I have done, and you’ll know how professionals deal in the world of First Nations art.

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Whenever someone claims they can tell if a piece of writing was written by a man or a woman, I have to suppress a knowing smile. They have only a fifty percent chance of being right, and a near certainty of embarrassing themselves with rationalizations if they are wrong. Writing, apparently, is a skill that has very little to do with gender.

I first became aware of this basic fact through the reactions to James Tiptree, Jr. As a young teen, I remember critics praising Tiptree for a supposedly masculine prose style. When rumors emerged that Tiptree might be a woman, many explained at great length why that could not possibly be so. Then it was revealed that Tiptree was actually a woman named Alice Sheldon – and in a perfect demonstration of double-think, many of the same critics began explaining how they knew that all along, and pointing out aspects of her prose as evidence for what was suddenly an obvious fact.

Something of the reversal happened a few years later with F. M. Busby, a writer of intelligent space opera. Because Rissa Kerguelen, one of Busby’s greatest successes, featured a female protagonist, dozens of people assumed that Busby was a woman. A man, they argued, couldn’t possibly write such a sympathetic female character. But Busby was a man – although one fond of saying that “An intelligent man who isn’t a feminist isn’t.” The reasons that he went by his initials were that he disliked his given names of Francis Marion, and that his publisher considered his nickname “Buz” too informal for a book cover.

Having these two counter-examples, I have always been skeptical about efforts to identify gender through writing samples. Like too much alleged social science, such efforts always assume that certain subject matter and stylistic choices are somehow innately masculine or feminine (gay, lesbian, transgendered, or queer are always left out). A male writer, for instance, might be supposed to use “I” and to write short, unqualified statements. By contrast, a woman might be said to be more tentative in offering an opinion, and write about emotions or domestic subjects. Needless to say, such divisions say more about the devisers of such studies than any actual differences.

In fact, I’ve always found such studies rather dismissive of writer’s abilities. Most writers I know would have no trouble imitating the so-called masculine or feminine prose styles of such studies. Once they knew the required mannerisms, all that would be needed is a few hundred words of practice.

Moreover, whenever I have tried any online versions of such studies, the results have been random. For example, this morning I ran samples of my writing through Gender Genie, an online adaptation of one such study. My journalistic articles registered consistently as male, and my personal blog entries as female. My fiction registered as both male or female, although neither very strongly. Similarly, two women writers of my acquaintance registered as male, and a male friend as female. I would have tried more samples, but at this point, it was obvious that the results had such a large margin of error as to be unreliable in any given case.

And apparently, my personal observations were correct. Recently, fantasy writer Teresa Frohock invited readers of her blog to identify the gender of the writers of ten different writing samples. Of 1,045 guesses, only 535 were correct – a number slightly above random chance, but well within statistical variation. As Frohock noted, despite all the elaborate rationalizations and the stereotyped ideas that men were more likely to write epic stories and women emotional-driven ones, people were unable to tell men from women based on how and what they wrote.

In other words, exactly what my experience would predict.  Excuse me while I cackle, “Told you so!”

But this subject goes far beyond a mildly diverting observation. The obvious conclusion is that, if writing samples don’t reveal who is male or female, then why are most people so quick to assume that supposed differences in male and female brains are significant? If the products of those brains are indistinguishable from one another, then the brain differences can’t matter much, either. As often happens when gender is discussed, too many people tell themselves comforting stories, then look for reason to believe the stories instead of examining the evidence.

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When people call British Columbia “Lotos Land” or “the California of Canada,” they’re not just talking about the alternative cultures or the casual standards of dress. They’re also talking about the weather in the southwest corner of the province, which has fewer extremes of heat or cold than anywhere else in Canada.

Unfortunately, this reputation has one overwhelming problem: the locals believe it more than the tourists.

Most of the year, this delusion is harmless. Anyone who has lived here for more than a few years is unlikely to carry an umbrella, much less wear rain boots, but the weather is mild enough that going through the day slightly soggy is no great hardship – especially since half the locals have stripped down to shorts and T-shirts at the first sign of the temperature inching above five degrees, so that no dry cleaning bill is involved.

However, denial of rain is one thing, and denial of snow another. Because the average winter has only a few weeks of snow – and, every few years, none at all – the general population has convinced itself that the region never suffers snow at all. Every year, a majority of drivers resist adding snow tires to their cars at the end of October. It isn’t unheard of for local municipalities to forget to set aside money for snow removal, or to run through the entire budget for that line item halfway through winter. And only in the Vancouver area could the provincial government pay $3.3 billion for a bridge so badly designed that snow and ice falling from the cables is a major danger to traffic.

Consequently, the first half centimeter of the season sends the entire region into a panic more commonly reserved for a visit by a radioactive monster from the sea. Within an hour of the first flakes falling, the downtown core is deserted, except for the people crowding the Skytrain stations waiting to flee. Often, they have a long wait because, true to regional form, the system wasn’t designed to minimize the effect of ice on the tracks. One memorable year, the doors iced shut, and a uniquely Canadian solution had to be found – beating the doors with hockey sticks to knock the ice off.

Meanwhile, on the roads, the refugees from the office towers are demonstrating their total ignorance of physics, sliding over the snow in their summer tires and slamming on the brakes every thirty meters. Soon, cars are being abandoned in the middle of the road. Occasionally, someone from back east can be seen holding themselves upright on the frozen lampposts, unable to stand because of the helpless laughter that has possessed them as a few stray flakes of snow cripple a city. The easterners have seen real snow storms, and driven in them, too.

The next day, as likely as not, half the city will take the day off on the excuse that no one can get into work. This response to the weather fits well with the casual work ethic, but it’s not just an excuse. The chances are that only the major roads have been ploughed overnight, and getting to them can take hours.

Even if you leave your car at home, your odds of getting anywhere are remote. No municipality clears sidewalks, insisting that home and store owners must do so. Most do not.

As for public transit, forget it. You’re lucky if a few extra buses or Skytrain cars are put into service. And, even if you are lucky enough to find a place on a bus that takes you where you need to go, water is running over its floor as slick as any ice, and the steam rising from people’s clothing leaves you half-blind and disgusted by the prevailing levels of personal hygiene. All you can do is bury your face in the old scarf you hastily pulled from the bottom of the closet last night and do your best to avoid eye contact.

All this is discouraging enough, but it gets worse. Of those who stay home, few will spend the extra leisure winterizing their cars. Instead, what happens is that most people get an unexpected holiday, and the snow disappears in a freezing deluge of rain that floods the streets for a day or two.

Then, like trauma victims everywhere, the locals promptly forget their experiences. A few weeks later, they go through the whole experience with the same details, and again a few weeks after that, until the cherry blossoms appear, and the regional delusion comes slowly into some kind of rough sync with the weather and reality.

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An hour before sunset today, I was finishing my laps in the pool of my townhouse complex. I started to sprint, my arms scooping deeper into the water, and my legs kicking out harder. My head rose for air, higher than at my usual speed. And then I saw them: dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of crows plodding purposefully towards their evening roost.

This wasn’t the first time, nor even the fifty-first time that I’ve been aware of this phenomenon. I’ve known about it for years, and from a variety of angles. Thanks to triangulation and a few comments in the local free newspaper, I even know that the crows are heading to the light industrial park near Canada Way and Willingdon.

Yet it’s a sight that always uplifts me, and leaves me a little awestruck, two emotions that I wouldn’t have thought crows could inspire. After all, crows are the nuisance birds, the carrion-eaters and dwarf versions of the raven, full of themselves and their needs and disgusting habits. Watching their numbers and seeing the fixity of their intent, I might have thought of Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds, but uplift? Awe? From crows?

But the explanation is simple. As recently as a dozen decades ago, North American skies were flooded with birds. Then the Carolina parakeet, which was probably a kind of conure, became extinct, in part because its flocks would return to its dead and wounded members to help them. The passenger pigeon, which filled the skies like the buffalo once filled the plains, lasted a bit longer, but it, too, disappeared.

In such cases, a radically simplified ecosystem is left behind, full of vacant niches. In parts of the United States, these niches are partly filled by feral parrots. However, in the Vancouver area – and, I suspect, many other parts of North America – many of those empty niches have been filled by crows.

Crows are one of the few birds who are intelligent enough to thrive near human habitation. If anything, after watching them pass overhead in a parade that I know can last for over ninety minutes, they seem to have increased their numbers.

In fact, they have increased to the point where nothing can be done about them. The janitors and groundskeepers might complain about the droppings they must struggle against each day, and so might many homeowners on the routes to the roost. Yet, really, what can be done? Any effort to shoot them would be like being on a battlefield for taxpayers. Probably, the crows are too smart for poison to claim more than a handful. And they are too many to net or transport, even if crows were cute enough for our sentimental environmentalism. Besides, given their intelligence, most of them – or maybe some corvine replacements – would be back inside the month.

Individually, the crows I saw are mortal. Yet, collectively, they are more than humans can ever hope to cope with. They are living proof that, even if we were to ten times decimate the inhabitants of the wild, some of them will adopt to our cities and thrive. Amid all the highway construction and commercial buildings I see as Vancouver braces for increased density, I find the idea that we can’t win against the wild as represented by crows oddly cheering.

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