Flying Solstice: days 691 — 720

Making the most of the sun

It’s December 21st and I’m writing this in my parents’ house in Ottawa, having spent most of the day flying in from YVR via YUL. The day shouldn’t be over, but it’s three hours later here and I’m tired. But it’s also a whole month since I last blogged, and the solstice seems like a good time to write something. Only ten days to go this year!

I did not expect to have a window seat, but Yes Gawd there it was on my boarding pass, and on the port side too, which meant I wouldn’t face the sun. Absolutely awesome. I haven’t taken real photos from a plane in ages!

A shot of Richmond as we swung around. Then a couple shots of the Fraser River. Then it got super overcast and I didn’t get a good view of anything until we crossed into Ontario… but what a view! I was greeted by Big Island, a place I knew quite well. Way back in 2009, the last time I flew back east in the summer, I snapped and snapped lakes and islands and tiny towns all over this fair country of mine but Big Island was the one that stood out.

Not as green now, and the water’s not as blue. But I’d recognise that weird scraggly east half and curiously round bays anywhere. Gorgeous.

After that the clouds came back and the sun went down; still, it was good. On the connecting flight from YUL to YOW, we were right above the clouds. I saw the fluffy peaks and valleys and I would have liked to capture them… but you know what? At that time I was happy just enjoying the view. It was relaxing, almost meditative, to imagine myself flying without a plane or propellers in this deep blue fluffy twilight.

And what else have I been up to in the last month? Pulling in long hours at work, but also enjoying the holidays. With VGVA, with the Vancouver Men’s Chorus, with my nerd friends at the Storm Crow, and with the UBC Thunderbirds for another of their Pride Nights. And enjoying holiday lights around town, like some fancy new tree at Robson Square, the Lights of Hope by St. Paul’s, and a bunch of West End apartments spreading holiday cheer.

That last one… it started out as a sadly all-too-typical photoless Sunday night, but the moment I saw this building down the lane, my spirits picked up and I knew I had my picture. Thanks, Christmassy strangers!

Now days will get longer. That’s good. And on a more metaphorical level, I’ll get to relax and regroup here, finish my last blog post of the year, and start 2019 with fresh new energy!

Inspiration Street: days 681 — 690

Searching for the paths

An alley off Davie (I think) as I was heading home sick (I think). A lovely vibrant morning on HarwoodA somewhat less lovely morning on Harwood.

But then the weather cleared up, as it does, and Robson gets sparkly this time of year.

Thurlow also looks nice. As does Howe—not from a cruise ship, but from under the big sail thingies at Canada Place. I had to step into one of the alcoves near lights, and do my best to align my shot with the street… which wasn’t fun, believe me, because my acrophobia was kicking up something fierce. For some reason when I take photos from a bridge, it manifests itself as fear that I’ll drop my phone. I wonder if a strap would help with that?

Anyway. I really like this shot, because it’s a visual reminder that Vancouver goes way down as well as up. And now I’m trying to remember what’s down there. Parking, I think? And the SkyTrain. Oh yeah, and this is an actual street, that runs along the waterfront and comes up past Burrard. I drove down it once during the summer, back when 1st Avenue was under construction, and I had to park downtown but not at my place, or I’d be late for a friend’s birthday shenanigans.

Ah, memories.

And now, let’s talk about the East Side Culture Crawl. I only took a quick stroll through 100 Parker Street and one other studio this year, but as usual it was a really good time. And I realise I’m approaching the Crawl very differently than how I used to. Five years ago I blogged about being “hungry for inspiration”, how I didn’t know where I was going, artistic-expression-wise, and kind of hoping being a productive artist was contagious or something. Whatever these artists had, back then I didn’t think I had it in me.

In hindsight, It’s pretty clear what the problem was: I was going down the wrong path, trying to nurture the wrong thing. I mean, drawing? Really? I suck at that, and I’d need actual serious classes to make me not suck! But that was all I felt I had. The other problem was, though I did take photos and blog every now and then, it was pretty infrequent—except for the VQFF, of course.

But look at me now: taking pictures every single day, for the last 694 days, and blogging steadily. This year at the Crawl it dawned on me that I finally have everything I need. Sure, I still enjoyed looking at all these art pieces, but it felt different. Not as hungry for something that won’t work for me anyway. I’ve found my path and I’m walking it one step at a time, one day at a time. That’s all the inspiration I need.

Immortalised: days 671 — 680

Half and half

Sometimes the stars just align, you know? As I headed to work along Thurlow Street one morning, the air was crisp and the sun was bright. It had rained the night before, so things were extra shiny. Behold: a little stream of water in Jepson-Young Lane off Thurlow. Incidentally:

  1. this is another one of those shots that look nice but no more, but somehow get a lot of likes. At this point I figure I’ve been doing this long enough and I need to trust my Inner Photographer to know what he’s doing. A lot of the magic of photography does not work on a conscious level.
  2. On the other hand, I can consciously make the magic happen, and I’m learning more about that all the time. For example, it’s only last weekend I learned my phone’s camera has a Golden Ratio grid setting, and I’m also learning about what that means.
  3. The West End is full of lanes, which I think might have been full streets back in the day. They remained nameless until a month or two ago, when they all got named for local activists and notables. For example, Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, a.k.a. Dr. Peter. Fittingly, it’s right behind the Dr. Peter Centre.

History aside, you just can’t beat fall foliage in this weather. True, those leaves are kind of brown and crackly now, but brown leaves in the morning sun is still all kinds of neat.

Exhibit B: the following Sunday I tried to drop in the Competitive division, and didn’t make it. Having a couple hours to kill before trying again for Advanced, I decided to take a little stroll in Jericho Park. The last time I did that, a year and a half ago, the weather was grey and dull. This time? Duckies and crows and herons and geese and more crows and the mountains and it was amazing.

But hey, life isn’t all about natural beauty. Sometimes you have to enjoy the artificial beauty of drag queens. I hadn’t gone to a drag show in a while, and this was hella fun. Plus, as awesome as the queens on Drag Race are, we need to support our local talent! 

And then, the Monday after gay church, going to a real church. Or at least walking across the street from it. It’s funny, I’ve taken a couple photos of St. Andrew’s-Wesley from the side, but never in front. I guess because during the day the shot would be too full of people and cars. But it’s beautiful, isn’t it? The stained glass, the light around the doors, the trees beside the doors which, though off-centre, do frame them quite nicely with their branches.

Friday I saw some weird thing on the way to work. It’s still there, no matter what the sign says. And it’s time for some real talk, kids:

I don’t think it works. 

I really struggled with this one. I wanted to capture the ice cream thing and the words, but also balance it out with a bit of the neighbourhood. But after discussing it with my Taiji teacher (who’s also a graphic artist), the problem is that it’s exactly balanced, and that’s not good. There’s nothing here that really draws the eye, not even the ice cream thing. It’s two incomplete halves that don’t add up to a whole.

Meh, I can’t get too torn up about it. They can’t all be winners. I’ll take what I’ve learned here and move on to better photos.

Six Six Six: days 666 — 670

The Tournament of the Beast

Homoween, VGVA’s annual Halloween-themed tournament, was last weekend. And as chance would have it, it fell exactly on day 666 of my challenge! How on the nose is that? Of course, this being gay volleyball, the costumes leaned less spooky and more silly or sexy. And practical, because you were supposed to be able to play in them. 

Following that fun and exhausting day, we present a whole week of sad wet leaves—still clinging to their tree or on the ground. In its way, though, the last one is breathtakingly beautiful. There’s a whole spectrum of colours here, from deep red to green, and every leaf is unique in how it’s positioned, how its bits are rotting, how it’s holding rainwater… it’s weird and gorgeous and a bit disturbing, and it’s totally going in my Year 2 retrospective, which is now less than 60 days away. Time flies!

More classically beautiful: a few maple leaves gracefully resting on a patch of… clover, I think?… by a tree on Nelson Street. I shouldn’t be shocked at seeing green, this is Vancouver after all. But I was shocked at seeing bright new green. It’s a great reminder that, even in this season, life keeps sprouting and growing.

Trees and the things that grow on them: days 661 — 665

Leaves, but also…

Leaves. Some are still on their trees, but quite a lot are falling, or fallen. Fallen leaves everywhere.

Here’s something interesting I only just noticed this week: there are a bunch of oak trees in New Westminster, specifically around the Sapperton neighbourhood, but I don’t remember seeing any in the West End. Maybe they’re there, but nobody’s leaving great big piles of leaves lying around? I mean, thank you City of Vancouver and landlords for keeping the sidewalks clear, but maybe I need to look up more.

But then the day after writing the above paragraph, I did see some oaky-looking leaves on the ground in the West End. Funny how minds work, isn’t it? I had oaks on my mind, and there they were. I’m not sure they’re actually oak leaves, though. The lobes are pointier and further apart, but I don’t know what other tree looks like that.

But that’s not nearly as interesting and funny as what I noticed last Tuesday, on a maple tree just up the street. It’s mostly bare now, exposing these weird little growths. They must be some kind of parasite, but the internet was no help, and all I could get out of my botanically-minded friend is that it’s definitely not mistletoe.

They’re pretty, though. I wonder how long they’ve been growing there, and I just haven’t noticed. How much nature is around me even in the heart of the city, just waiting for me to discover it?

Paved with gold: days 651 — 660

Magic light

Seems I’ve been focusing more on sunsets than fall foliage lately. Could have something to do with (a) leaving work late, and (b) an unusual—for October—stretch of clear weather.

Let’s start with WordCamp Vancouver 2018. Throughout the day I learned about Gutenberg—never played around with it before that day, and it’s super cool. There are still bugs and accessibility issues, but I can see Gutenberg’s massive potential… and how it could have made at least one recent WordPress project a lot easier. Oh well, here’s looking to the future.

Speaking of future: it’s not all deep dives into code here at WordCamp. Ryan Chmura just talked about his journey as a mostly self-taught web developer: things learned, mistakes made, dissatisfaction with his current job, everything. Good stuff, and super refreshing and humanising for those who think WordCamp speakers are born with expert knowledge and flawless public speaking skills. 

I haven’t thought that in a long time, especially since my own (succesful) stab at presenting in a WordPress meetup last June. So, who knows? This is absolutely something I can do again. Maybe WordCamp 2019…? Hey, I better start preparing now!

On the way home I walked past Nelson Park at just the right time of day, when the light set the very air and trees on fire. Guaranteed no filter!

My trek to the Storm Crow on Wednesday took place at around the same time. No fall foliage, but a lot of towers painted gold by the setting sun, reflecting the light back at me. When I blogged about this photo from last month I said I’d include it in my year 2 retrospective… but now I’m not so sure. I think it’s been replaced.

Mind you, it’s not just the setting sun that can work magic—shorter days also means a later sunrise, and longer shadows in the morning. Fall means a lower sun and a bit more fog in the air. Put those together and what do you get? Gorgeous Jesus lights in Blue Mountain Park.

Don’t know how long I’ll be able to shoot these. I’ve been lucky so far, weather-wise, but it looks like things are turning wetter and colder. I’m not wild about that, but I’ll do my best to find the beauty in all those shades of grey.

Just a joke: days 646 — 650

It’s the best medicine

Humour is a weird thing, but I believe it can be studied scientifically.

Experiment: take 14 or 15 budding standup comics, fresh out of a 5-week class, and have them give a 5-minute set one after the other in an apparently random order. 4 were men, all cis and straight*. The rest were women, all cis and only one openly queer in her set.

(* None of them pinged my LGBTdar and I figured they’d have worked it in their material, so I feel pretty confident in my diagnosis.)

Result: all the women were funny, including the friend I’d gone to see. None of the guys were that funny. Jokes about Trudeau and other politicians, one guy joked about offending his Indigenous wife’s relatives with the word “Indian,” another joked about creeping on 15-year-old girls or something… Their humour was largely lazy or mean, revolving around making fun of other people. The women talked about sex and menstruation and relationships and little details of life that are hilarious when viewed in the right light. There was empathy there, which I just didn’t get from the guys.

Conclusion: cishet dudes aren’t funny.

Does that sound harsh? Sorry, guys, I don’t make the rules. You can’t argue with science. And this isn’t an outlier, either; I’ve been to other default-straight standup shows that were much worse, with cringey overt misogyny where all punch lines boiled down to “cos bitches, am i right?” I don’t need that kind of crap in my ear-holes.

Anyway, let us talk of happier things. Like foggy Sunday nights. I’d come home from vball still photoless, but fortunately I spied the Sheraton hotel surrounded by a nice halo of foggy drizzly damp. That would do nicely.

And fall colours. And more fall colours. And yet more fall colours. And a gorgeous shot of cloudy morning sky over Davie Street. Y’know, if self-discipline to go to the gym isn’t enough to get my ass moving in the morning, maybe the thought of more photos like this will do!

It’s not actually a Stargate: days 641 — 645

Chevron seven, locked!

This post is all about warm tones. The soft gold of a sunset, the russet on wood hues of a cider drink at the Storm Crow, the earthy tones of a cooked turkey, and oh look another sunset.

The only exception would be Friday night: as I came home from work, not feeling very inspired, I turned around and shot my street, with a glimpse of the North Shore mountains and orangey evening sky in the far background. It’s nice, I think, but kind of nondescript, so I’m extremely puzzled at how popular it eventually became. 23 likes on IG and 9 on Facebook, which for me is a lot. What am I missing? Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining, I just… don’t get it. Not the first time this happened, and I figure that’s the way it goes. I’m good with it.

Saturday, just on an impulse, I went for a walk in Yaletown. I’ve shot photos of it before, mostly in the summer before and after grass volleyball. The real target (which I wasn’t even thinking about, but is obvious in hindsight) is this thing, which is very definitely not a Stargate. I’ve driven by it a million times, and always vaguely thought it was an homage to the franchise, even though the proportions are wrong. Turns out, though, it’s an homage to Yaletown’s industrial past, and this particular ring was part of the previous Cambie Bridge, which was a swing bridge to allow bigger boats to pass. Fascinating! This was all before my time, since Yaletown was all prettied up and gentrified for Expo 86. Only a few mementos like this exist anymore, including Engine 374 in the Roundhouse. I wonder how many others are around? That’d be a fun hunt.

The vegetarian spider: days 631 — 640

In her pretty little parlour

It’s been days of random stuff, taking in what Vancouver has to give me.

The Harvest Moon after volleyball. Harvest moons are apparently supposed to be orange for some reason, but I really couldn’t tell. And I’m a bit peeved that my phone still can’t take better full-night moonshots. Also, I’ll be honest: I’ve been doing that thing where I laze around all day Sunday, and only get off my ass to go play Intermediate. This shot was taken as I got home and realised I didn’t have a photo because I didn’t want to do yet another shot around the gym.

I really need to be better about that.

Mind you, Monday was looking up. Here’s a rare morning commute photo, of pigeons near Vancouver Centre Station. I also took a few closer shots of that one pigeon on the bike, but it turns out pigeons aren’t that pretty up close. Who knew?

Lately I’ve been pulling longer hours, so here are some photos I took as I got out of work: Granville Street. The West End from Burrard Bridge. The sunset from Burrard Bridge.

On Thursday I took the scenic(er) way home, along the waterfront for a bit. I really like this photo of Harbour Centre behind 333 Seymour, almost making it look like it’s the same building. And here’s one of North Vancouver. I do miss not having a physical zoom, but this photo’s all right.

I’m pretty sure I’ve shot the Vancouver Block Building before… maybe it was only years ago, back when I used Flickr? At first I wanted to capture the building alone, but that turned out to be impossible. I don’t mind though, this is a really good shot, contrasting the lovely white stone with the more modern glassy towers. MicroSoft wasn’t around in 1912, was it? No, I’m thinking of IBM. Which I don’t think is that old either but I’m too lazy to check.

Looking it it now, the photo has a little bit of a slant, which usually I try to correct before posting. This is all right, though. Gives the whole thing a certain je ne sais quoi. I’m slowly edging out of what I thought is acceptable, photography-wise. And maybe I’m making mistakes along the way, but that’s the fun of exploring.

The next day, coming home through Davie Village, I spied with my little eye… a spiderweb. Actually two webs, each with a pretty orb weaver in the middle, in some bushes by the sidewalk. I got as close as my lens would allow, careful not to disturb the webs, and noticed the biggest spider had a little seed in its web. Neat! Useless to her, but it made for a great picture which I’m absolutely including in my Year 2 retrospective.

And it got me thinking: are there any vegetarian spiders? Turns out, yes! Or, sort of. Bagheera kiplingi isn’t totally herbivorous, but it seems to be pretty close. Just goes to show, Nature has enough tricks up her sleeve to one-up any silly little jokey hashtag in your photos.

Werq the stairs: days 624 — 630

In which I reminisce about bookstores past

The weather in Vancouver is still mostly good: sunny when I go buy slip covers at Bed Bath & Beyond; or when I stroll to work in the morning; or when Vancouver House is framed by the setting sun and wispy cirri, and when I turn around and see Yaletown towers all tinted gold.

That one’s going in my 2018 retrospective for sure!

Things turned a little wetter on Thursday, though that also brought RAINBOWS. Believe it or not, I don’t remember seeing many rainbows in Vancouver. Maybe the conditions aren’t right, because if it’s overcast all the damn time you won’t get proper refraction? Don’t ask me, I’m not a rainbowologist.

But speaking of rainbows, it’s time for a stroll down queer memory lane…

1221 Thurlow Street was torn down last week. Not a big deal, I thought at first; the little Korean ribs place had been vacant for a while, and it’s far from the only West End spot to suffer this fate. However! I picked up on my social media feeds that this address was a very special one, for between 1983 and June 1996 it was the home of Little Sister’s, Vancouver’s LGBT bookstore. And then I did remember looking up the place when I moved out west in August ’96, because of course I did. And I vaguely remember being confused about which address it was at. I probably checked out both just to be sure.

Funny coincidence: the Vancouver Men’s Chorus sang a specially commissioned song about Little Sister’s in their summer show this year: the store was on the second floor above a restaurant, and on the landing was a little bulletin board where you could post classifieds, catch up on what was happening in the community, or cruise other book-lovers. Though I’ve never known the store at its old Thurlow Street location, I can easily imagine what it was like. Let’s travel further back…

After coming out in 1992, one of my my favourite places to hang out was After Stonewall, Ottawa’s LGBT bookstore. David Rimmer, the owner, was the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet; he was the first to tell me what “Stonewall” meant, and sold me the freedom rings that were all the rage back then, and which I still flaunt ever year at Pride. It was on the second floor too! 105 Fourth Avenue, just off Bank Street. A quaint little house in a quiet neighbourhood, easily accessible by transit. And am I dreaming, or was the House of Speculative Fiction located on the ground floor? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was. Boy, there’s a gateway drug for you: grab all the curious folks and fill them with tales of other worlds, other genders and sexualities, then get them curious about the other bookstore upstairs…

After Stonewall was a safe space, where a young queer nerd could stop and relax and learn and try to find himself. It was cozy, and crowded with books and magazine racks and greeting cards and the little table with jewellery across from (ie: 5 feet from) the cash register. Their new space at 370 Bank St was bigger, more accessible and closer to downtown, but maybe it lost some of that cozy familiarity? Then again, maybe that’s just nostalgia talking. I believe both After Stonewall and Little Sister’s gained more than they lost by moving to their new digs. We don’t need to hide our bookstores away on second floors of small old houses anymore.

Still… yeah, I get it. If I heard 105 Fourth Avenue was torn down, I’d mourn. And first chance I got I’d visit the spot, and try to listen for the ghosts, the sounds of pages being turned, of baby queers hungering to discover a history and culture they never knew.

But hey, let’s end this post on a happier note: RuPaul. I remember reading about her for the first time in The Advocate (probably) and being very confused with how articles mostly used “she/her” but sometimes “he/him”—hey, we’re not born knowing the nuances of gender and drag, right?—She was at the ’93 March on Washington, which I still probably have a VHS tape of somewhere. I remember clearly one bit where she said “People always ask me where I see myself in ten years. I see myself in the White House, baby!” Which, well, didn’t quite happen. But Ru did go on to superstardom and, as problematic as the show is, RuPaul’s Drag Race has elevated many, many queens to stardom as well, and brought drag into the light.

A few of these drag stars were in Vancouver Saturday on the Werq The World tour: the top four of Season 10 (Eureka, Asia O’Hara, Kameron Michaels and Aquaria); Valentina from Season 9; Kim Chi and Bob the Drag Queen from Season 8. It was an awesome evening. Bob is hilarious, Kim Chi is gloriously nerdy, Kameron is beautiful, and I guess Asia will never live the butterfly thing down.

Who knew all this would be possible twenty-five years ago? Who would have thought parents would ever bring small children to a drag show? Who would have thought a year ago I’d ever be a Drag Race fan? But it is, and they did, and I am. Just goes to show, you never know what the future will bring.