The Fault in our Stars

I read The Fault in our Stars this afternoon at Queen Elizabeth Park. It’s been a while since I’ve indulged myself in some YA fiction, and I enjoyed it. Writing a book about two teenagers who have cancer without making it super sad, sappy, or sentimental is a feat in itself, and for that, I highly commend author John Green.

IMG_0220I liked the witty dialogue between Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. They are characters I could believe in—that I would want to exist in real life. Their flirting is clever, which saves a lot of the scenes that could be cheesy from going too far into that territory. It helps that Hazel reads a lot so she has a good vocabulary and lots of references to draw from. To give you some insight into her personality, she wears a T-shirt with a picture of René Magritte‘s famous pipe with the caption, “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” and questions the exclusivity of scrambled eggs as breakfast food. Augustus is also a questioner—a teenage philosopher concerned with time and what it means to live a life that has meaning.

MagrittePipeLiterature plays a huge role in this book—probably one of the key reasons I enjoyed it. In our digital age of text messages and wall posts, it is a book that connects Hazel and Augustus. Well, they actually meet in a cancer support group where Augustus immediately falls for Hazel (whereas for Hazel, it happened “the way you fall asleep. Slowly, and then all at once”), but Hazel lends him her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction (which is made-up, in case you were wondering like me), and Augustus reads it and loves it just as much as she does. That book forms a large and recurring part of the plot because both of them exchange letters with the author, Peter van Houten, and go to Amsterdam to meet him using Augustus’ Wish (a Cancer Perk as Hazel calls it).

tumblr_my0fjwiJDc1qbyi1io1_1280.pngHazel narrates the book. Here’s an example of some of her dialogue with Augustus/Gus:

“When can I see you?”

“Certainly not until you finish An Imperial Affliction.” I enjoyed being coy.

“Then I’d better hang up and start reading.”

“You’d better,” I said, and the line clicked dead without another word. Flirting was new to me, but I liked it.

Hazel likes reading poetry and so she quotes T.S. Eliot to Augustus (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) and William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The explanation/inspiration for the title was my favourite part though, and I must confess, it was the title that intrigued me enough to read the book (well, that and the fact that it’s so wildly popular).

From Peter van Houten’s letter to Augustus after explaining his and Hazel’s situation:

Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.

There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars. Love that.

fault-in-our-stars-07(Spoiler alert) On the topic of what else I liked about the book, I liked being surprised that the person who I thought was going to die wasn’t the person who actually died. I mean, it was awful that someone died at all, but it is a story about teenagers with cancer, and so it was likely from the get-go that it would involve death. After all, Hazel calls herself a grenade waiting to blow up.

Whether or not I watch the movie, that remains to be seen. I feel like they put the best lines into the trailer already, and I hate when trailers give you too much. If you’ve seen the movie & read the book, would you recommend the movie? Did it stay faithful to the book? Is a pack of Kleenex necessary?

A Story that Involves You

Dear readers,

Many of you have known about my long love for Vancouver, have known this blog was inspired from the city’s literary & architectural texts, have followed me from Victoria to Langley to Vancouver where I went from dreaming about the city to actually living in it, have watched me settle in and find my home here, stop people on the streets, remember the city’s past, sit in poetic chairs along the beach, grapple with its aloneness and togetherness, hike its mountains, crawl to its culture, and post an ode to the city on my one-year anniversary.

So when a local writing contest came up asking people to submit stories about their relationship to Vancouver, I jumped at the chance. Oh, I think I have quite a few things to say about this.

Those “quite a few things to say” boiled down into a short piece I submitted called “Living Bigger, Looking Closer.”

I’m sharing this with you as I would love your help in getting my story into the Top 10 by reading it and voting for it here. You can even vote for it once per day from now until October 15 if you’re especially keen!

You’ve all journeyed with me at some stage and so I’m really excited to have you be a part of this and to keep you updated on the progress of the contest, which of course I would love to win! I hope you like my reflections on Vancouver, that it resonates with you in some way regardless of where you live, and that you’ll be inspired to share it with others.

Much love & thanks,
Charlene

Vancouver and me

Vancouver and me

St. Mark’s Summit

Last Saturday, a couple friends and I climbed St. Mark’s Summit, probably one of my last hikes of the summer, sad to say. It’s number 3 on this list, which, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m slowly working my way through.

St. Mark’s Summit is accessed from the northernmost parking lot of Cypress Mountain, following Howe Crest Sound Trail East that starts near the Lions Express chairlift. I think this might have been the first time I’ve been on Cypress Mountain.

Olympic rings on Cypress Mountain

Olympic rings on Cypress Mountain

The trail was gorgeous, offering glimpses of Howe Sound and the Binkert Lions along the way. I always love hikes that give you pay-off as you climb, not just at the top (which is my biggest beef with the Grouse Grind).

Wildflowers along the trail.

Wildflowers along the trail

Glimpse of Howe Sound along the trail

Glimpse of Howe Sound

A shot of the Lions from Howe Sound Crest Trail

A shot of the Lions from Howe Sound Crest Trail

We got to the top in just over 2 hours. The beginning and end sections are fairly easy, but the middle section contains a series of switchbacks over some very uneven ground/root systems. I didn’t have hiking boots on and I managed fine, although you do have to pay more attention with where and how you’re placing your feet on the way down (I tend to find the way down harder for this reason—maybe my knees are getting old already).

A wooden bridge crossing

A wooden bridge crossing

Climbing over a rock near the top

One of the steeper sections

Reflection pool

Reflection pool

Considering it was a Saturday, I was surprised the hike wasn’t as busy as it could have been, at least not along the way. There were quite a few people at the summit though, which isn’t a very large platform to begin with. People took turns shifting out of the prime location spots to take photographs.

From St. Mark's Summit, you can see Bowen Island (the large one on the left) and the smaller Anvil Island (centre)

From St. Mark’s Summit, you can see Bowen Island (the large one on the left) and the closer and smaller Anvil Island

You can see other hikers enjoying the view from the next bluff

Other hikers enjoy the view from the next bluff

The view was incredible, not quite as amazing as the Chief, but still pretty close. It also wasn’t as hard of a hike though. I would classify it somewhere between Dog Mountain and the Chief.

St. Mark's Summit. Random person got in my photo

St. Mark’s Summit. Random person and dog got in my photo

If you walk a little further, there is another bluff you can sit on and enjoy the view. My friends and I stayed up here a while to enjoy lunch, and then headed back down in about 1 1/2 hours.

View of Unnecessary Mountain (left) and the Lions, poking up like ears

View of Unnecessary Mountain and the Lions, poking up like ears

A long way down from the ledge we ate lunch at

A long way down from the ledge we ate lunch at. You can spot a ferry in the distance leaving Horseshoe Bay

It was a great day hike I would definitely recommend!

 

Impressions of Halifax

The biggest city I visited on my Maritimes adventure was Halifax, so I should give it some exposure on my blog, since I do like to feature cities. Compared to Charlottetown, it felt decently large. (I would barely even call Charlottetown a city. It felt like there were maybe 10,000 people there, but according to Wikipedia, there are actually 34,562, according to a 2011 census.) But compared to Victoria, it felt much smaller. The Internet is telling me my intuition is wrong though. Halifax and the surrounding area has 390,096 people whereas Victoria and its surrounding area has 345,164 people.

IMG_9007Now that we’ve got all that figured out, I’ll explain why I compare Halifax to Victoria, and why even though I liked Halifax, I didn’t love it.

  • Everyone hyped it up so much that my expectations didn’t jive with the reality. Even the stewardess on the plane announced, “Welcome to beautiful Halifax,” and everyone seemed to use this descriptor when referring to the city. However, it was damp and grey when I arrived, and it didn’t seem as beautiful in the rain as Vancouver is. Although maybe that’s because when I’m on vacation, any rain is an unwelcome sight.
My first photo of Halifax, waiting for the bus to take me downtown from the airport. These Adirondack chairs are everywhere!

My first photo of Halifax, waiting for the bus to take me downtown from the airport. These Adirondack chairs are everywhere!

Partial view of Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

Partial view of Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

  • Halifax and Victoria are both harbour cities with navy bases. Canada only has 3 (the third is in Newfoundland). Thus, they both have waterfronts which are comparable.
Halifax's Harbourfront reminded me of Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria. I enjoyed walking along here.

Halifax’s Harbourfront reminded me of Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria. I enjoyed walking along here, people-watching, and taking in the Busker’s Festival.

I ate poutine with haddock at The Battered Fish, the first of many seafood experiences.

I ate poutine with haddock at The Battered Fish, the first of many seafood experiences.

yum yum.

yum.

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Look what I found! Theodore Tugboat lives in Halifax Harbour! I watched this show with my brother every Saturday morning as a kid.

Look what I found! Theodore Tugboat lives in Halifax Harbour! I watched this show with my brother every Saturday morning as a kid.

One of the acts at the Halifax Busker's Fest.

One of the acts at the Halifax Busker’s Fest.

Getting stuck halfway up the wave in the harbourfront.

Getting stuck halfway up the Halifax wave.

  • Halifax and Victoria are both capital cities, but with very different feels. Whereas Victoria is British, pristine, and pretty, Halifax is a more gritty city, like a sailor with a beard and a bottle of rum in his hand, telling an old yarn that you don’t quite know what to make of. I appreciated this rugged, “rough-around-the-edges” feel to Halifax though because it is so different than out west. Underneath Haligonians’ (yes, that’s what they’re called!) rough edges are really gentle, helpful souls, whereas Vancouverites maybe look more approachable or friendly but then don’t really stop to engage with strangers as much. (I know I’m painting broad strokes and there are definitely exceptions, but this is a quick summary of my impressions). And this is one area that Halifax did live up to all the talk.
Here's a sailor for you.

Here’s a sailor for you.

Entrance to Halifax Public Gardens.

Entrance to Halifax Public Gardens, a floral oasis in the heart of the city.

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These gardens are quite lovely. And they're free! (unlike the outrageous prices of Butchart)

These gardens are quite lovely. And they’re free! (unlike the outrageous prices of Butchart Gardens, though not on the same scale, either.)

A local Halifax restaurant my friends and I ate at.

A local Halifax restaurant my friends and I ate at.

Known for their law school.

Known for their law school.

I loved all the bright, colourful homes in the Maritimes.

I loved all the bright, colourful homes in the Maritimes.

That being said, I obviously enjoyed taking photos (like always) and had a great time walking the streets of a new city and seeing the favourite haunts of an old friend who now lives and works in Halifax. I just don’t know if I would want to live there, but it’s a nice spot to visit, especially when the sun comes out. If you’ve been there, what are your impressions of Halifax? Do you find yourself consciously or subconsciously comparing new cities you visit with old ones you’ve lived in?

Gu Xiong: a journey exposed

I had meant to write this post way back in May when the exhibition first opened, but then summer and vacations happened. However, it’s not too late to check out the current exhibit at the Gordon Smith Gallery, Gu Xiong: a journey exposed. It’s on until next Saturday, August 23.

Gu Xiong at the Gordon Smith Gallery. Photo by Luke Potter

Gu Xiong at the Gordon Smith Gallery. Photo by Luke Potter

Through my Curtain Call Editing business, I became involved with the exhibit as I edited the main essay about the artist and his work featured in a glossy print catalogue, written by the curator. I hadn’t heard of Gu Xiong prior to this, but I quickly became fascinated by his story.

catalogueGu Xiong grew up in the Chongqing province in China and moved to Canada in 1989. He worked as a university instructor in China and now works as one at UBC, but he started from the very bottom when he immigrated here. He was a busboy in UBC’s cafeteria. Themes from his cafeteria days are evident in the gallery, with the Crushed Coke Can and Cafeteria series. In an interview with Shawn Connor in the Vancouver Sun, Xiong discusses the significance of his crushed coke can works:

When I came here and I was working in the cafeteria, I would see students crush a Coca-Cola can after a drink. When I came from China, I was between two cultures. That kind of situation inspired me to crush the can. The can has no life. Every can looks the same on the store shelf. But when it is crushed it becomes life; it has a unique shape. You cannot find two that are the same shape. That unique shape inspired me—from no life, to life.

Crushed Coke Can 1The crushed coke can not only speaks of turning garbage to gold or making something out of a less-than-ideal circumstance, but connects with other themes of globalization, food production, water safety, and mass consumption present elsewhere in the exhibit through paintings, photographs, sculpture, and installations.
Crushed Coke Can 2Invisible in the Light is an installation of tomatoes inspired by several research trips to British Columbia and Ontario. What’s “invisible” is any mention of the workers/immigrants from the international community who picked and packaged these tomatoes. There’s a more complex, layered story than what’s on the label in our grocery stores: “Product of British Columbia.” Xiong wants to expose these layers, hence the exhibition title.
Invisible in the Light 1 Invisible in the Light 2
This “exposure” appears most powerfully in the central installation running the length of the gallery space: “A Pigs River”. This political and environmental work consists of 10,000 ceramic pigs made by the artist as well as elementary and high school students through the Artists for Kids program connected to the gallery. 10,000 was the number of dead pigs in the Huangpu River in Shanghai last March. The river supplies some of the city’s drinking water. At the time, the Chinese government said the water was still safe to drink. Xiong quite literally made this audacious statement into art by placing ceramic pigs in 275 water containers at the end of a long, winding river of 10,000 pigs.
A Pigs River 2A Pigs River 2Xiong’s own relationship with water is depicted in the series of drawings called Drowning, based off a real-life event when Xiong and his daughter almost drowned in the Yangtze River in China back in 1998. These drawings pull the viewer under water with images of struggle, chaos, and confusion. It’s interesting that the two series in this exhibit based on Xiong’s personal experiences use such strong verbs, crushing and drowning, and that these words can be metaphors for the larger immigration experience and human experience in general, crushing or drowning from the weight of political oppression or large companies who control food production.

DrowningThe series of photographs in the exhibition cycle back to the Crushed Cans, with their reference to mass production and consumerism à la Andy Warhol. Again in the Sun interview, Xiong says, “The food is like beautiful propaganda posters. But that man-made food has problems—(it is) not good for our health. I try to discuss that: who has the power to produce that food for us? Do we have a voice?”

Food photographsa journey exposed features old and new works of the artist from 1993-2014 in the Gordon Smith Gallery, open Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5 pm.

 

Fixing the Anne Gap

Like many Canadian girls, Anne Shirley was a freckled-face redhead embedded in my imagination whose fanciful expressions would often find their way out of my mouth as I can be a kindred spirit in the melodrama department: “I’m in the depths of despair!” “It’s been a Jonah day!” My sister and I, who shared a bedroom for the first eighteen years of our lives, would often rehearse the famous “fishing for lake trout” scene before bedtime where Gilbert Blythe rescues Anne from a leaking boat in which she plays the dead Lady of Shalott in Tennyson’s poem.

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Actor playing Anne at Green Gables

Given this background, you’d probably think that I’ve read all eight books in the series, but the truth is—I’ve read none! I’ve seen all the movies, but I have never picked up the books, which is a hard confession to make considering I’m Canadian and an English major who calls herself an Anne fan.

Two friends with whom I recently travelled to the Maritimes thought this was unacceptable (as I was beginning to feel too), and so a few days ago, I fixed this worrisome gap in my literary life. I read the first book of the series, Anne of Green Gables, and what better place to do it than in PEI, the birthplace of L.M. Montgomery’s classic?

Green GablesIMG_9496Visiting the Green Gables homestead was the fulfillment of a childhood dream for me and my friends. For those of you like me who had only known the house by the movie, you may be a little surprised to learn that the house used in the movie was filmed in Ontario. Disappointing, right? However, the house in Cavendish is the home that inspired L.M. Montgomery. Her grandfather’s cousins lived there. Despite not being like the movies, the house itself is beautiful and old and creaky and everything a farmhouse should be. For a city girl like me, I even felt a twinge of longing to have one season of life in such a setting. The two-storey house is decorated with period pieces to replicate what would be in Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert’s early twentieth-century home: chamber pots, spinning wheels, cast iron stoves.

Anne's bedroom

Anne’s bedroom complete with carpet bag and broken slate

The grounds are equally lovely. You can take a walk in the surrounding woodlands dubbed Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood by Anne. The golf courses encircling Lover’s Lane interfered with the charm of the place, but Cavendish itself is kind of like that. You can visit beautiful Cavendish Beach with its white sand and rugged red cliffs (for $7.50 since it’s part of PEI National Park), but in town are monstrous theme parks and water parks that scream kitschy and would probably have L.M. Montgomery rolling over in her grave.

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Lover’s Lane

Golf courses

Golf course

IMG_9495Cavendish BeachIMG_9858IMG_9864Speaking of graves, here is the Cavendish cemetery where she is buried with her husband, the Reverend Ewin MacDonald. The Haunted Wood trail from Green Gables leads to the cemetery as well as to Lucy’s Cavendish home, where she lived most of her life with her maternal grandparents, Alexander and Lucy Macneill as her mother died when Lucy was just 21 months old.

Cavendish Cemetery

Cavendish Cemetery where L.M. Montgomery is buried

Cavendish HomeThis Cavendish home is where Lucy wrote Anne of Green Gables, and although the farmhouse and buildings are no longer standing, just being in the spot that inspired her was enough to inspire me in my writing. It felt like hallowed ground walking around the homestead, reading quotes from the author’s journals and taking in the overwhelmingly green and unadulterated view of wide open fields.

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the importance of place…

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wide open spaces

IMG_9530IMG_9518IMG_9529A teenage girl who’s a descendant of the Macneill’s gave a five-minute history of the site and Lucy’s relation to it at the Bookstore, which was really interesting. All of Lucy’s novels are set in PEI except The Blue Castle, which is one of my favourites (set in Ontario). Also, Lucy was about to give up on having Anne of Green Gables published when it was rejected for the 5th time because she thought another rejection would “finish her”, but she decided to open up the manuscript one last time and rework it, and it was on her 6th attempt that it was finally accepted. I love stories of perseverance like that.BookstoreIf you buy a book at the Bookstore, you can even get it stamped with a seal that says “Site of Lucy Maud Montgomer’s Cavendish Home.” After devouring the novel in a few days (which I was pleased to discover parallels the movie very closely), I am now wanting to read the other seven. I am not wanting to read Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson though, the novel that’s meant to be a prequel to Anne of Green Gables, because 1) I’m personally not interested in how Anne got to Green Gables—Lucy didn’t want to begin the story there, so I don’t want to either; 2) I’m a bit leery when people mess with classics that are absolutely fine on their own; and 3) from the excerpt I read of it at the back of my Penguin edition, it was painfully mundane and lacked the creativity and wit that characterizes the original. And I think therein lies the problem of appropriating an author’s story, character, and style while also trying to come up with your own version. Pretty near impossible. I must say reading the books makes me want to revisit the movies though, now that I’ve walked in Anne’s shoes for a small sliver of time.

Reading Anne on Cavendish Beach

Reading Anne on Cavendish Beach

Have you visited Anne of Green Gables? Read the books or opted for the movies? What’s your favourite line or scene to rehearse?