Father and Son

How many people do you see in this public artwork?

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It took me a moment to notice the boy on the right, surrounded by water.

Fascinating, I thought, as I then went on to explore the other public artworks in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

It was only when I came back to this spot and had some time to waste while waiting for a train to pass, that I noticed the sculpture had changed.

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And I became even more interested in this sculpture.

I saw a lot of public art in Seattle last weekend while I was there for an arts marketing conference. It’s not difficult. As one of the tourism brochures states, “From the moment you set foot in Seattle, you can feel it: art is everywhere.”

Seattle, like Vancouver, gets a lot of rain, so it’s unsurprising that there are many references to raindrops and umbrellas. The raindrop seats in the bike rack shelter at McGraw Square were fun to sit and twirl around in, but the story doesn’t go much deeper than this. Same with the inside-out, wind-blown Angie’s Umbrella that marks the end of Pike Place Market and the beginning of Belltown. It’s visually appealing, but it doesn’t tell much of a story other than it rains a lot (and a quick Google search reveals that it’s named after the artist’s mother, just because).

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This Red Popsicle standing 17 feet tall is fun, playful, and intriguing with how it’s leaning on just one of the wooden sticks. Public art can be as simple as this—something to brighten your day as you walk along—but there’s a reason the fountain artwork in Olympic Sculpture Park stayed with me and easily became my favourite piece that I saw in Seattle.

It tells a story. There are layers of meaning. Even the title of the piece, Father and Son, suggests this. It clues the viewer in to the relationship between these two life-sized figures. I found the artwork heartbreaking yet hopeful.

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It makes me want to write a poem—how father and son keeping missing each other, exposed at different times. Yet they continue to try.

Public art always has its critics, and nude artworks seem to heighten that. Father and Son was no stranger to controversy. I was saddened to read in this article from Seattle Times writer Danny Westneat that critics interpret the figures’ relationship as pedophiliac. Why does nudity get automatically read as sexual or erotic? Do we have that reaction to Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures?

This artwork has an interesting backstory. It was the result of million-dollar gift to the City of Seattle from the late Stu Smailes who stipulated in his will that the money be used for a fountain featuring one or more realistic nude male figures. The City handed it off to Seattle Art Museum who commissioned French-born, New-York based artist Louise Bourgeois.

So Bourgeois had boundaries to work within. She placed two nude male sculptures on separate platforms, with alternating cloaks of water falling first on one, then the other at hourly intervals. The nudity makes complete sense to the story she’s telling about the relationship between father and son. They are both reaching for each other across an 8-foot gap, alternately exposed and revealed. Alienated but attempting connection. Nudity is about vulnerability, she says.

Sure, the artist could have clothed the figures, but it wouldn’t have been as evocative, especially since the masculine script embedded in Western culture is to be tough, strong, and not show emotion. Keep your layers on and your walls up. Known for her unsettling sculptures, Bourgeois is pushing back on this narrative. Also, how many artworks do you ever see of a father and son? Mother and child, certainly (I’m thinking of all the Virgin with child paintings I quickly grew tired of in the Louvre or Uffizi), but where are the fathers with their children?

In the same Seattle Times article, I appreciated what other Seattleites wrote in to say about the artwork when it was proposed:

“This sculpture just left me feeling like I wanted to scream — LET THE FATHER SHOW LOVE AND STRENGTH TO HIS SON!”

Another e-mailer said he saw hope in the notion that a father and son would attempt that reach.

“If it was a statue of me and my father, we’d have our backs turned to each other.”

If an artwork can evoke these kinds of responses, wow. That’s a powerful piece.

I’m reading Ruminate‘s Exposure issue right now and the artwork and writing inside echo these two nude figures standing in the fountain. The sheets are pulled back, arms outstretched, a gesture that asks: do you see me?

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Outspoken to Unspoken: Searching for Anne’s Voice after She Marries

Like many Canadian girls, I grew up on Anne of Green Gables. My sister and I watched the movies so often we’d recite scenes in our bedroom at night. The “fishing for lake trout” episode was our go-to favorite. When an elementary school friend visited Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, she brought me a porcelain figurine of Anne I still have on my shelf. A few years ago, I made my own pilgrimage to the Island that inspired L.M. Montgomery’s beloved series.

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Photo from my visit to Green Gables

Despite this history, I’d never actually read the books, much to my husband’s bewilderment. “How in the world can you call yourself a fan?” he wanted to know. “Isn’t reading the books the whole point?” The question bothered me enough that I read all six this summer.

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Read the rest of my article over at The Curator.

A Poem in PRISM

I began this blog back in 2011 to write about the city as text and text as the city. I was noticing many examples in Vancouver of “literary buildings”—buildings that contained written text on it, such as a poem or a phrase. I was fascinated by this combination, how a city is a surface to be read, and how some architects make this literal.

I don’t talk about architecture as much on here as I used to, but cities (particularly Vancouver) still heavily inform my creative writing practice, which is focusing on poetry.

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I’m saying all this to lead up to an exciting announcement: this past summer, my poem “Text to Vancouver” was published in PRISM international, a quarterly literary magazine based in Vancouver.

Given the content of my poem, I was thrilled my piece found a home in this particular magazine among many writers whose work I admire.

If you’d like to read it, you can order a print copy here. To whet your appetite, I will say that I wrote this poem after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “Letter to N.Y. ” The rhythm of her poem captured me and I wanted to write my own version to my city, but update it for the twenty-first century. Kits Pool, designated bike lanes, and glass condos are some Vancouver references I place in there (I initially wrote “thrown in” and realized how wrong that is. Nothing in poetry is ever thrown in!)

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Speaking of publications, you may notice that I’ve also put up a new Publications page. The writing life has plenty of discouraging moments and I feel it’s important to celebrate  what I’ve done so far, as I aim to keep pursuing this path. Hence me sharing this news with you!

Thank you for reading and encouraging me in your own ways. If you’re comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear what little or big thing you’re celebrating. We could all use more reason to!

Catching our Breath in Nice

It’s been a year since the Artist and I left for Europe. In looking back at my posts, I’ve realized I haven’t written about one of the eight places we visited. So, last but not least . . . Nice.

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Nice felt like the Waikiki of France. Tropical. Laid-back. Beautiful views and turquoise blues. Hotels slung along the shore, such as Hotel Negresco with its signature pink dome.

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Nice was a perfect place to catch our breath after the bustle of Paris. We had two nights here before moving on to the Cinque Terre. Our only agenda was to walk la Promenade des Anglais, explore le Parc de la Colline du Château (Castle Hill), and relax.

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As you can tell by the photos, Nice is sunny and warm, even in October. We climbed the winding steps at the eastern end of la Promenade which brings you to the 16th-century Tour Bellanda, the only remaining part of a medieval castle that stood atop this hill (you can see it in the photograph above).

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Castle Hill was the city’s original site. It was dismantled by soldiers during the French occupation under King Louis XIV in 1706. This limestone rock is a natural formation standing 93 metres tall. There are plenty of footpaths at the top, castle remnants, an impressive waterfall built in the 18th century, playgrounds, and cafés.

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It’s a beautiful place to wander, have a picnic under a tree, and take in the views of la Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) to the west and the Port of Nice to the east. You can also see inland to the red-tiled roofs of the city and the Provençal hills further beyond.

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The cherry and cream-coloured Hôtel Suisse at the base of Castle Hill drew my attention with this plaque honouring James Joyce’s sojourn in the city, where he began Finnegans Wake. I’m wrapping up my project of writing a poem for every place we visited on our trip and this plaque provided the inspiration for my Nice poem which I’m quite excited about. It’s a departure from my usual style.

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La Promenade is dotted with beaches. We couldn’t stay here and not hop in the water, though we got about as far as our knees before the wind proved too much. We found Cinque Terre a better/warmer spot for actually swimming in the Mediterranean.

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We ate our favourite dinner of the whole trip in Vieux Nice at a restaurant called Le Tire Bouchon. We stumbled upon this place and felt especially lucky when a British couple at the table beside us told us that this is the best spot to dine in the city (apparently they come to Nice often and have tried a lot of restaurants). The Artist ordered steak and I had a lamb shank served on the creamiest bed of mashed potatoes. Quelle présentation!

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There’s a wonderful flower and produce market called cours Saleya that we enjoyed wandering through and buying some fresh fruit. The streets in this old part of town never cease to surprise with their unexpected turns, oddly shaped and squished buildings, and peek-a-boo glimpses of architectural gems. And with colourful flags overhead, the streets exude vibrance and cheer. We didn’t know if it always looked this way or if there was a festival happening at that time, but we really loved the vibe in Vieux Nice.

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Glacier National Park

“It’s as impressive as Jasper,” he told me. As a proud Canadian sceptical of the beauty Montana had to offer, I wasn’t so sure about my husband’s statement.

We bought our tickets at West Glacier and entered Glacier National Park, taking our time to drive the scenic 80 km Going-to-the-Sun-Road that traverses the park from west to east. It crosses the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at 2026 metres, the highest point on the road. For those who don’t know, Glacier is the American side of Waterton Lakes National Park (and much, much larger).

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I believe it was after looking at this view that I told my husband, “Okay, this is amazing.”

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Full of (receding) glaciers, lakes, and argillite mountains, Glacier National Park is known as a hiker’s paradise. While you can certainly enjoy the beauty from the road, most of the park’s treasures lie further in. We stayed three days and did two hikes. While there are plenty of trails, the majority of the hikes are actually overnight backpacking trips. Given how many bear warnings there are, I was glad we weren’t doing any of those.

Hidden Lake Trail

Hidden Lake Trail is one of the shortest and most accessible trails to hike, with a long boardwalk section at the beginning to protect the ancient alpine meadow. The trail starts behind the Visitor Centre at Logan Pass.

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Hiking to the overlook only takes an hour and a half or so. You could continue all the way down to the lake, but we figured the view was better from here and we wanted to save our legs from all those switchbacks. We stayed at the top for a while where we more than entertained by a family of mountain goats.

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This mother and kid couldn’t have walked by in a more perfect spot with the lake below and the magnificent Bearhat Mountain towering in the background. My husband joked the park paid the goats to do that. Although you’re told to stay about twenty metres from wildlife, these goats came right up to us! Very docile creatures, though check out those muscles!

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Just in case you think I’m partial to mountain goats, I also captured some other wildlife we saw on the trail, though these guys weren’t quite as exciting.

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Upper Two Medicine Lake

This hike is more remote. My hands were practically clapping the whole time to scare off potential bears. (As an aside, we did this hike first and so the next day when we are about to step onto the populated boardwalk for Hidden Lake Trail, my husband turns to me, “By the way, you don’t need to clap here.”) He looked very relieved when I agreed.

Upper Two Medicine Lake isn’t hard terrain but it’s a full-day hike, walking along the long edge of Lower Medicine Lake until you climb through forest and meadow to reach the second lake. There are two waterfalls partway up called Twin Falls (though you can only see one in this pic).

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It was a cloudier day so the idea of swimming in the lake wasn’t as appealing when we got there but I waded up to my knees and the Artist fished.

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We could have easily stayed a week in this park. Fortunately, we were camping in East Glacier that wasn’t affected by the devastating Howe Ridge Fire, which ignited due to a thunderstorm the night before we left and is still going. It’s tragic as this is such a beautiful place that I hope others will get to and continue to enjoy.

Here are some of my other favourite views in the park:

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And that’s a wrap on our camping trip of 2018!

Catch of the Day

On our kitchen wall hangs a fly fishing calendar (you can guess who purchased that). The quote accompanying the month of August is: “This love of fly fishing takes me to places I otherwise wouldn’t go.”

In thinking about our recent camping trip to Idaho and Montana, I think my version of the quote is: “This love of my spouse takes me to places I otherwise wouldn’t go.”

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Husband fishing in Glacier National Park

Ever since we were dating, I knew fly fishing was one of my husband’s passions. Whenever he gets the chance, he ditches the city and drives out to the Squamish or Skagit River and spends a day casting rod into water. It’s a quiet, meditative act for him and I don’t deny it looks poetic. A River Runs Through It is one of his favourite books/movies and so we watched it together while we were dating. I surprisingly enjoyed it.

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My husband’s love of fly fishing has increased throughout the years, probably because it’s harder for him to get away from the city. Not enough to simply fish, he now ties his own flies and has taken over a section of our kitchen table for this endeavour which I like to tease is his male version of a sewing station. I’ve even written a poem trying to fathom this hobby and the hilarity of seeing my husband’s large hands intricately tying threads and feathers around a thumbnail-sized hook clamped into a vice.

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I guess the joke’s on me.

On our holiday, we did a full-day guided fly fishing trip down the Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho, a belated birthday gift for my husband. I told him he could go by himself. No, he wanted me along, he said, and you pay for two people anyway.

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Small mountain town of Stanley with a population of approximately 63 people. Sawtooth Range in the background.

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The Salmon River, Idaho.

Seeing that I have only fly fished one other time, I was content to go for the ride and take pictures of the scenery along the way. But a rod was immediately put into my hand when we got into the boat and I found myself fishing for six hours and even liking it!

It helps when you have a good teacher and Robert of White Cloud Rafting Adventures was exactly that. Humorous, helpful, and patient, he taught me how to cast, mend, and “commit” to my set as I often hesitated on what to do when I actually had a fish. It was fun to see him as excited as we were when we caught one. He’d scoop it up in his net so he could unhook it, snap a picture for us, and release the fish back into the river.

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Here’s one of my first little guys.

If I hadn’t caught any fish, I would probably be writing a different story but seeing that I caught at least ten, I felt like I was really rocking it as a beginner. I even challenged my husband to see who could catch more, and while he won in that category, I caught the biggest catch of the day at around 18 inches with this cutthroat trout. What a way to finish!

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Let’s just say I like catching them more than I like holding them. So that’s Robert holding my fish.

For comparison’s sake, here’s my husband with his biggest catch. I think it’s clear who’s the winner, right?

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Fly fishing continued to be a theme of our trip. Around campfires at night (yes, they were allowed in the places we stayed), my husband would read from his ultimate favourite fly fishing novel: The River Why. I can’t say I’m as big a fan but we’ve come so far we have to finish it now.

About halfway through our eight days of tenting, we took a break from nature to enjoy some culture in Missoula, Montana. In addition to wandering downtown and popping into art galleries, we enjoyed their lunch hour food truck scene and jazz music in Caras Park and drove to the church commemorating Reverend John Maclean who was the real-life inspiration for his son’s book A River Runs Through It.

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It’s funny to think of the activities you never thought you’d try if it weren’t for a friend or a spouse. What’s something you never thought you’d try but did? And did you like it?