In recent years, Web of Change has been the most important event I attend each year. It’s a gathering of really senior people in the social change space in a wilderness location. Most years, it’s an exceptionally well-run event with a real focus on building a trust network among attendees. I’ve made new friends and colleagues there, and gotten plenty of work through those connections.
For the past couple of years, I’ve wanted to convene a similar event for marketers. It wouldn’t be exactly Web of Change, because marketers wouldn’t share the same sense of common cause, but this new event would share a lot of the same goals.
Mid-level and senior marketers would attend.
The conversations would be about strategy, not WordPress plug-ins
We’d build a trust network amongst peers
Most importantly, it would be non-douchey
So, this summer, we’re launching Fireworks Factory. It’s an intimate, invite-only conference for smart web marketers. We’re holding it on Galiano Island, a ferry ride away from Vancouver. It’s going to be very small in this first year–there won’t be more than 50 people in attendance. We made this video to talk about what the conference will offer:
We lived in Malta for a year in 2007, on the small island of Gozo. Each town on Gozo has a week-long religious festival–Malta is the most Catholic nation outside of the Vatican–punctuated by fireworks and pyrotechnics. These explosives were all homegrown, crafted in a community-owned fireworks factory on the edge of town. Men from the village would spend time there building and testing fireworks, in the hopes of outdoing their rival towns. Occasionally, something horrible would happen.
Still, they were communal spaces where something risky and breathtaking gets imagined and created. That seemed like a good metaphor for the kind of conference we want to run.
Why is it invite-only?
I’ve always been conflicted about invitation-only events. Web of Change vets all of its attendees, as does TEDx Vancouver. We’re applying the same logic as Web of Change: because we want to ensure the right level of people are attending. We’re planning quite a conversational, two-way event, and as such we want attendees who have confronted complex, strategic issues. There are, after all, tons of events for a more general marketing audience. Even that makes me a bit leery, but it’s the simple reality of a small, targeted event. I can’t imagine what filter TEDx Vancouver uses.
It was not until I stood waist-deep in Desolation Sound that I truly felt like I was home. The Milky Way stretched across the star-filled sky like God’s wispy white mohawk, and an orange moon rose, The bioluminescence sparkled like a thousand tiny camera flashes around my legs. It was cold, but not viciously so, and my friends and I had just come down to the beach for a quick dip.
Our backs were to the shore, the beach and Hollyhock beyond. I’d come to Canada to attend another Web of Change–my fifth, I think. It was as challenging and insightful as it usually is–a welcome time for conspiring with colleagues and thinking big thoughts.
The evening before I’d had an eerie walk to a party down a dirt road in the dark. I was arriving late, and so walked over alone. The cedars crowded in on either side, leaving just a narrow band of stars to light my way. Rationally, I knew that death by cougar or wolf attack was highly improbable. My lizard brain, however, is not rational. I walked as fast as I could without running. You know, running like prey would.
I then traded the towering cedars of Cortes Island for Vancouver’s towering glass towers. It’s a cliched comparison, but doesn’t driving down Georgia Street feel like you’re traveling through a great, grey forest?
Coming home is always a little odd. It’s not so much the change of language that feels strange, but a shift in perspectives. I live in a warm, rural place, and now I’m a little chilly (despite the gorgeous Vancouver weather–one’s temperature settings change so quickly) and surrounded by skyscrapers and millions of people. The days are suddenly shorter, and the nights never really get dark in the city.
Home also highlights the little foreign habits one acquires. When I’m walking around our village, I greet nearly every person I pass with “bonjour” or “bon soir”. I actively had to prevent myself from doing this during my first couple of days in Yaletown. Similarly, my mind has now switched so that when I see somebody, I greet them in French. In Vancouver, you do that and you just seem effete.
These differences seem obvious, but they’re the ones that matter. Similarly, my fresh eyes observed just how many cars there are on the roads in the city. In our village, the horses and boats nearly outnumber the cars. It’s like we risk death every time we step off the curb. This was doubly the case for my first trip back from Ireland. I’d trained myself to look the other way when stepping off the curb.
The longer you’re away, the weirder it is. This is my third trip home to North America since February, so the cognitive dissonance was very manageable. We’re clearly not designed to be removed from one place and plopped, as if by disinterested aliens, on the other side of the world. If you did it to any other animal, it wouldn’t survive the afternoon.
Still, it’s always a pleasure to see friends, family and big trees on the West Coast. I return now to France, my bag full of red licorice, Stanfield’s underwear and over-the-counter drugs for which I don’t know the French name.
Citing “a combination of challenging economic times and an inefficient operating model within the downtown theatre space, and the cost of temporary production facilities”, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company announced yesterday that tonight’s show will be its last. The organization apparently couldn’t continue to shoulder a rumoured seven-figure debt.
In a city that cannot afford the cultural loss, the institution lasted 49 years. The closure is particularly saddening as, compared to Vancouver’s other big theatre company, the Playhouse had the riskier, more challenging programming. I have fond memories of seeing many great plays there–and less fond memories, too, of less successful ones.
Skimming their impressive production history, they’ve produced some truly wonderful works of the past couple of decades: The Syringa Tree, Copenhagen (my favourite contemporary play ever, as it happens), Oleanna and so forth. I reviewed a couple of shows recently: This and Beyond Eden.
So what’s the bigger lesson we can take from this sad event? Is it the natural outcome of a time-shifting, cocooning culture with more and better entertainment options at home? Is it reflective of Vancouver’s ethos, which focuses on communing with nature or a vodka tonic, but not so much on connecting with the arts? Or maybe there’s no lesson at all, and the company’s closing is the result of over-spending and under-performance?
In any case, I applaud what the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has done over its nearly-fifty years in the city, and mourn its passing.
Julie recently discovered a comic book in her storage boxes. It’s “The World of Archie”, and is more or less propaganda for Expo ’86. She says that she bought her copy at the fair. I posted a photo of the cover on Twitter recently, and somebody asked me to scan it. So, here it is.
I’m still unsure about the Occupy movement. I see that, in the United States, it represents a profound discord among Americans who feel frustrated with the financial meltdown and the current administration’s response to it. My smart American peers hope that the protests will coalesce into a Tea Party of the Left. Such a group would pull the Democrats to the left as the Tea Party is pulling Republicans to the right.
I find the Canadian protests more vexing. Here’s the first paragraph of Occupy Vancouver’s ‘working statement’:
We, the Ninety-Nine Percent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.
That’s about as specific as their demands get, as far as I can tell. Personally, I can get behind opposition to environmental destruction (I fight that battle, in variousforms, every day in my work), but none of their other topics really speak to me. Or rather, they’re not effective when bundled together in this catch-all, ambiguous fashion.
And that’s my key issue with Occupy Vancouver, I guess. Specificity matters. Protests are rarely successful, and the ones that are, in my thinking, are those with a hyper-specific objective. Protests opposing American participation in the Vietnam War or logging in the Clayoquot Sound identified a specific outcome and worked toward it.
We must distinguish, in other words, between dissent and deviance. Dissent is like civil disobedience. It occurs when people are willing in principle to play by the rules but have a genuine, good-faith objection to the specific content of the prevailing set of rules. They disobey despite the consequences that these actions may incur. Deviance, on the other hand, occurs when people disobey the rules for self-interested reasons. The two can be very difficult to tell apart, party because people will often try to justify deviant conduct as a form of dissent, but also because of powers of self-delusion. Many people who are engaged in deviant conduct genuinely believe that what they are doing is a form of dissent.
Are those engaged in Occupy Vancouver dissenting or deviating? Some of each, I suspect.
I grew up in West Vancouver, in the most middle-class corner of the British Properties. We had a schnauzer name General (for his bearing, not his commonness). We would often take General on walks into some woods near our house, and over to the Cleveland Dam. It’s the dam that holds back Cleveland Lake, a drinking water reservoir for the Lower Mainland, and divides West and North Vancouver.
I was always struck by the duality of my experience on the dam. If the water level is high, one side of the dam is this roaring tumult of noise, whitewater and mist. Yet if you walk across the dam and look north through the fence, there’s this still lake surrounded by woods.
The dam features in the climax of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma, when the book’s ghostly narrator meets his friends there:
On Cleveland Dam, the park at the west end and walk to its centre, as promised, I hover invisibly above the silent spillway. The reservoir behind the dam is slightly below the runoff level and algae within the water has loaned it an otherworldly shamrock sheen. The dam’s road is smooth and glistening from a freak rainstorm and is seemingly paved with diamonds.
Lately I’ve been asking Vancouverites–new arrivals and lifers both–whether they know about or have visited the dam. Hardly anybody has. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s a lovely spot and will probably awe kids who haven’t seen a lot of dams before. There are walking trails on the West Vancouver side, and a park on the North Vancouver side. On a nice day, it’s an excellent spot for a picnic. Combine it with a trip to the salmon hatchery, and you’ve got yourself a rewarding Sunday afternoon out in the suburbs.
If the defunct HBO show Carnivale mated with Glee, their love child would be Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone. The musical tells the story of…ah, here, just watch the trailer:
It’s a macabre, imaginative cabaret filled with fun, clever songs and terrific performances. While the whole cast was very strong, both Sarah Jane Pelzer and Elliot Loran stood out. The production seemed very tight and well-rehearsed for an opening night. The show is full of choreography and finicky business with props, so I was struck by how smoothly the cast handled all the staging minutiae.
It’s really more of a series of delightful songs than a play or musical in any formal sense. Like a good episode of True Blood, it’s dark and sexy, but you don’t exactly dwell on its story structure or themes. The characters worry about the claustrophobia of small town life, but the show doesn’t have anything fresh to say on that topic.
I had a couple of minor quibbles with the staging–the set and props were all a little too Etsy for my taste. I’d also have excised a few date-specific details from the script. Mentions of YouTube or Christina Aguilera interrupt the timeless quality created by the fairground setting and musical choices.
It’s a great date show–90 minutes without intermission. Bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend to Ride the Cyclone would make you look a little edgy, and there’s lots to talk about after the show.
Last night was my 20th high school reunion. It was held in a night club in West Vancouver. That, on the face of it, sounds bizarre to me. West Van has night clubs? Or at least ‘club’, singular. Later on in the evening, there were go-go dancers.
It’s a curious experience, a reunion like this. With the exception of three or four classmates, I really hadn’t seen the rest of my 150 classmates for ten–there’s was a previous reunion–or twenty years. I spent six to 12 formative years among these people, and then never saw or, in some cases, thought of them for the next 20.
There was more hugging than I expected. There was instant familiarity with a few people, and plenty of back-slapping camaraderie and clinking of glasses. More than one person told me that I looked “exactly the same” as I did in high school. Were they being kind or just drunk?
Why do you go to a reunion? To see old friends. To compare your waist, hair and credit line to your former peers. I was also quite curious sociologically in the ordinary experiment of a high school class.
For example, of the 40 or 50 people I spoke to or about that evening, I was the only one who was both married and childless. I talked to three classmates who had four children, and several more who had three. The friends I’ve acquired as an adult are considerably less prolific. Is that because I number a bunch of artists and entrepreneurs among the latter group, and they express their procreative instincts in other ways?
Many of my classmates had left West Vancouver, but not gone very far. There’s a healthy population of former Sentinel Secondary students in Vancouver’s other suburbs–White Rock, Coquitlam, Surrey and so forth. Plenty have gone eastward to Ontario.
The evening also reinforced an idea I first read in Stumbling on Happiness: our internal happiness meter is fairly predetermined, and doesn’t actually stray very far from its initial setting. People who were upbeat and chipper in high school seemed to be the same way at 37 or 38. By the same token, if someone was a standoffish and brittle in grade 12, they hadn’t warmed much in the ensuing two decades.
It did occur to me that a subset of people in my graduating class didn’t like high school. So they’re unlikely to come to the reunion. On the other hand, they might have turned out to be the most interesting adults.
Whether you loved or hated high school, I recommend the experience of a reunion like this. It’s a rare thing.