Quotable: Let the Elephants Run by David Usher

Monday, 22 June 2015

"Artist or entrepreneur, in my mind we are all hustlers and thieves. We are an amalgamation of the ideas that surround us. There may be a few rare geniuses that can pull incredible brilliance out of the air without any prior knowledge or contextual influence. But for the rest of us, ideas are based on other ideas. We build off the work of others. Consciously or subconsciously, our creations are an evolution of the ones that came before.

"We absorb and steal, rob and plunder — whatever it takes to get our creativity moving. We take the best ideas we can find, not to plagiarize them outright but to mash them together, twisting them into knots with the hope of exposing new shapes and new forms."

Living Arts: A Thousand Doorways

Tuesday, 16 June 2015
This article originally appeared as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts series. 

My sister went missing from the Burlington Public Library when she was somewhere between the ages of five and seven. This isn't my witty way of telling you she "got lost in a good book." Rather, she did quite literally go missing after a presentation in the basement auditorium of the Central Branch. She was under my not-so-watchful eye, and she simply slipped away. The police were called. My mother's face was streaked with tears as she shouted things like "Someone could have taken her all the way across the border by now!"

Nobody took my sister over the border. She got separated, and she did exactly the thing parents tell their children not to do during "stranger danger" conversations. She left the library and found my parents' station wagon in the Central Branch's large parking lot. This is where we eventually found her.

This isn't my first memory of the library. It probably isn't even in the first ten. But it certainly stands out as one of the memories I won't likely forget.

In April, I had the amazing pleasure of introducing one of my favourite writers -- Richard Wagamese -- at his literary salon at gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival. Over the hour and a half that followed, Wagamese shared with us stories of homelessness, poverty, and finding his voice as a writer. He also told us stories about his relationship with libraries, and inevitably, it forced me to reflect on my own.

"Every book I ever opened had a thousand doorways in it," said Wagamese, speaking in particularly about the time he spent at the St. Catharines Public Library where librarians "were always there for me." Before he was a celebrated writer, he was homeless, hungry, and thirsty for knowledge. My memories of libraries come from a more privileged place; however, I share Wagamese's hunger for books and fondness of libraries.

The Burlington Public Library's Central and Aldershot branches were both second homes to me as a child. The Aldershot branch is where I sat cross-legged for storytime and where I counted jelly beans in canisters in hopes of taking the whole thing home. The shiny beige plastic chairs would likely seem miniature to me now, but back then they were the perfect place to sit and decide which books to bring home.

In the summer, Central Library was a weekly, sometimes daily, destination. My appetite for books was never more acute than during the BPL's summer reading program. For every five books read, I collected a prize, and I've been a competitive reader since. I've moved half a dozen times in the years since then, but I still have my summer reading program record sheets, and they're invaluable to me. They're keepsakes of the summers I met Amelia Bedelia, Cam Jansen, and the Rosso family (from my all-time favourite children's book, Ten Kids, No Pets).

There are at least a hundred stories I could share about the role of libraries in my life, but here are only a few: Always the budding historian, in elementary school, I connected to the library's copy of Encarta and listened to the speeches of dead presidents. I checked out a hardcover copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz more times than I can count, and it was at that school library that I transcribed the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Heal the World to be sung at a school assembly. In middle school, I accessed the Internet for the first of a million times, and a whole new world was at my fingertips.

In high school, the library was the place I pretended to study because it was easier to hide than to try to make friends. The school library is where we turned on the news to watch the World Trade Centre towers fall. It's the place where we held a memorial for two students who died too young fifteen years ago today. At the Carleton University library, I devoured copies of The Village Voice, reading about concerts I couldn't go to and movies I couldn't see.

It's been years since I've visited the BPL, but for eight years now, I've had a new home at the Central Branch of the Hamilton Public Library, a place I first visited by bus in high school in search of Leonard Cohen CDs and a little bit of freedom. I do a lot of my freelance work, writing articles like this, tucked in a corner of the library's fourth floor.

It must come as no surprise that I spent eight years editing children's books, and even more as a reader, writer, and reviewer. It will come as no surprise that I pity my travel partners, because each new destination means another library (or libraries) to visit.

"One of the things we need to give to our children is that the culture of books is the best place to be in," said Richard Wagamese at gritLIT's literary salon. It goes without saying that I couldn't agree more.

[Edited to add: Here are the Burlington Public Library summer reading lists that started it all:]

Doors Open Hamilton 2015

Thursday, 11 June 2015

If you've followed this blog for any more than a year, you'll know all about my enthusiasm for Doors Open Hamilton. It's undoubtedly in my top three events in the city (and I love events!) and every year it marks the beginning of spring for me. This year was no exception. Excuse the tardiness of this post, but it took some time to comb through photos because this year as Doors Open weekend was epic, even by my standards.

Day One: 
Day One surprisingly took me to exactly one Doors Open stop, the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The problem with the Art Gallery of Hamilton (and it's a good problem to have!) is you can't do it justice quickly. I also committed to doing Day One on foot, which meant a lot of walking in the downtown Core, as my second stop was Epic Books for Authors For Indies, where authors Ariel Gordon, Amanda Leduc, and Gary Barwin were holding down fort. Not photographed were many of the other pleasure of Locke Street: A frozen banana from Forrat's Chocolate, a banana cupcake from Bitten, pizza (and a caesar and mojito) from Naroma, and champagne from Pure's anniversary celebration. Needless to say, I ate and drank well.

Day Two:
Well, needless to say, Day One's patio weather threw me for a loop and I wasted too much time eating and drinking to take in a lot of sights, so I did my best (and succeeded) to embrace as much of #DOH15 on Sunday, starting with The Sirloin Cellar on James Street North. It was never a place frequented by this vegetarian, but it was neat to slip upstairs to a room in the Tip Top building that hadn't been open to the public in more than a generation.

Next I met up with a Jane's Walk that had gathered around the Lister Block. When I think about how close this building was to destruction I still can't help but get a little bleary eyed when I see the incredible restoration job that's been done on it. We were so close to losing this beauty.

The "Stories from Central" walking tour began at Worker's Arts and Heritage, a building I recently learned (while digging through YWCA Hamilton's archives) once housed a north-end branch in the early 1900s. Today it's a museum, and potentially my wedding venue, if I ever get around to planning that damned thing.

Next up, the Ferguson Pumping Station. There's not much to say about this one except while inside it my dad told me a story about meeting Deadmau5 in Milton the night before and now I will forever link the Ferguson Pumping Station to EDM.

Alright. Here's the biggie. The Vincent Massey Educational Archives are on the Doors Open Hamilton tour every year, and because it's on the mountain, I've never gone. This downtowner doesn't make it up the escarpment much. Huge, huge, huge mistake. The Vincent Massey Educational Archives are nerd heaven for someone like me who spent a large chunk of my life working in educational publishing, who loves digging through archives, and who is devoted to both family and Hamilton history. It seems like you can't read the Hamilton Spectator without learning about another school closure. It's incredible to know that the Vincent Massey Educational Archives is there to rescue discarded signage, cornerstones, and other artifacts that would otherwise be destroyed or discarded.

The Vincent Masey Educational Archives is stocked with yearbooks spanning generations. Gary Hill is my grandfather, and today he's non-verbal. Without his ability to speak, it's difficult to learn new things about him, so finding out his high school nickname was "Rocky" is invaluable. I only wish I could ask him where it came from. 

When one of the volunteers told my dad he could ring the school bell, his face lit up. "Inside every man is a little boy who wants to set off the bell," she said.

Relics from my neck of the woods. 

Our last stop was 270 Sherman to see the TH&B collective's latest exhibition. If you haven't seen it before, my family's connection to Hamilton's cotton industry makes 270 Sherman a special visit. Read about it here: http://www.notmytypewriter.com/2013/05/doors-open-hamilton-270-sherman.html

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