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Olivia Chow to speak in Vancouver about life, loss, faith and art

Alfred DePew
Feb 4th, 2014

Olivia Chow celebrates her election on May 2, 2011. Photo credit: Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

More than the content of the book, I wanted to talk to Olivia Chow about what it was like to write her recently published memoir, My Journey.

“It’s (journalist) Victor Malarek’s fault,” she says, laughing, in a phone interview last week. “I didn’t set out to do this."

“Some of the strengths I found [in dealing with loss] came from the experience I had when I was much younger, and I first immigrated to Canada. So I wrote some of that. And at church, a friend said, ‘Why don’t you just tell your story?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Old people write memoirs; I’m not that old yet.’"

Doris Lessing: how the Nobel Prize winning storyteller kept me reading

Alfred DePew
Nov 19th, 2013

Source: BBC News

I read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook while living in a town two hours north of Barcelona. It was 1976, in the first year after Franco died, the beginning of what everyone hoped would be a new, post-fascist Spain, though it was hard to imagine with the national police on every corner, carrying rifles.

The Catalans feared a another civil war. The nobility and bourgeoisie were busy stashing their money in Swiss bank accounts. Basque terrorists were busy blowing up cars. And Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) was about to return to Spain after more than 30 years of exile in the Soviet Union, which rattled the Spanish Communist Party members who were busy distancing themselves from their Stalinist past.

The only news we could trust came from the radio we clustered around once a week to hear BBC World Service.

Palm Springs: bonfire of the banalities

Alfred DePew
Nov 2nd, 2013

The sun. Source: NASA

From the darkened bedroom where I lie as still as possible, I hear someone shout “no” from the living room and fear that the toilets have backed up into the shower drains again, but since I am trying to avoid any sudden movement or unnecessary excitement, I stay were I am with my eyes closed, waiting for this headache to go away.


Yesterday, my first full day in Palm Springs, I managed to get too much sun, though I anointed myself with liberal amounts of strong lotion and sat mostly under the umbrella and came back inside regularly to fetch more water. But the sun here has a liquid quality and seeps under any kind of shade, as if it were humidity.

This is the California desert. In August. When no one in his right mind would choose to be here.

To e- or not to e-(Book): when writers take on the publishing world

Alfred DePew
Aug 26th, 2013

Reader, I uploaded it. It is done.

My first book of stories, The Melancholy of Departure, is now live on Amazon and Kobo and, thanks to an agreement between Kobo and the American Booksellers Association, it is available through many independent bookseller websites in the U.S.

Everything I could have hoped for.

Not only is the eBook up and running; The University of Georgia Press published the paperback in March, and Canadian independent booksellers can order it through the University of Toronto Press.

In print and on the web. The best of both worlds, right?

So when my friends who did all the programming and heavy lifting turn and ask me what it’s like, why do I go blank?

Istanbul protests:“Ordinary people, marching everywhere”

Alfred DePew
Jun 2nd, 2013

Source: Serim Paker "The most beautiful 'bridge traffic'"

I start my Saturday morning on Skype with friends and colleagues in Istanbul, trying to find out more about what’s happening there. Early Friday morning, police moved in to break up a peaceful protest in Gezi Park, which the government plans to destroy in order to build a shopping mall.

So what’s the big deal? Happens all the time, right?

Not with tear gas. Not setting fire to the tents of the demonstrators.

There are other factors at work here. This is one of the last green public spaces in central Istanbul. And there’s an appeal that has not yet been adjudicated in the court system. And it comes a week after sudden and repressive new alcohol laws take effect, on the heels of more and more legislation that affects people’s private lives, whether or not they are practicing Muslims.

Indie-rocker and BC Conservative Duane Nickull challenges Premier Christy Clark in Point Grey

Alfred DePew
May 9th, 2013

Duane Nickull, BC Conservative candidate for Vancouver – Point Grey. Second photo: Nickull with Randy Rampage backing up DOA at the Rickshaw Theatre in January.

With platinum blond hair and pierced ears, environmentalist and software developer Duane Nickull doesn’t look like your typical Conservative.

“What does a Conservative really look like?” he asks. “We come from all walks of life, the same as the NDP.”

As far as his own first impressions of people go, Nickull admits to surprises.

“When I look at some one and think I know how they’re voting, my perceptions aren’t even close. A musician with dreadlocks and hemp fiber clothes. Green Party, right? Nope. Conservative. On the other hand I run into people in suits with briefcases who are Green Party supporters.”

One of the biggest changes he has noticed personally since announcing his candidacy is how he interacts with people in public. Before running for office, like all of us, he’d get impatient in the grocery store lineup.

“It’s amazing the metamorphosis when you become a politician,” says Nickull.

Studio notes: a painting dream

Alfred DePew
Apr 7th, 2013

Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper, 2007

In the dream, I sit in front of a large painting of two irregular rectangular shapes. The painting was begun by someone else and appears to have been abandoned. The shape on the left is a reddish mauve. The one on the right is a cerulean blue, lighter than the form on the right. And on its inside edge is a swipe of white that has picked up the blue underneath.

I keep looking at the space between the forms and this interesting edge, until I feel nearly ready to resume work on the painting.

When I look again, I see that a student has painted over the rectangular shapes with burnt umber and yellow ochre. The top part of the canvas is full of a loopy script.

I see that she’s working very fast, moving from this painting to two smaller canvases and back again.

I’m shocked and disappointed.

I had wanted to go into the painting and work on it myself, but it was her painting all along.

I want to tell her to slow down, sit back, and look for a while.

I ask her to imagine a story about a woman and a painting or a narrative from the painting’s point of view. I invite her to write several versions and discover what happens in each.

The True Heroines: Naked launch at the Rio

Alfred DePew
Mar 15th, 2013

The True Heroines: American housewives after their wartime careers in Europe as cabaret artists …

'Naked' as in strip tease, not nudist. Naked as in down-to-your-bloomers-and-bustiere.  About as naked as you could get on stage in the 1940s and 50s without being arrested.

So there we were on Tuesday night at the Rio Theatre, in an audience some 400 strong, with the ghost of Vancouver’s infamous past: Burlesque. Strip tease. Licentious dancing with foodstuffs that shall remain nameless. Jokes to make a grown man blush. Numbers like Ms. Cellophane, Birth Brawl, and Dance of 1,000 Deaths.

But what about the True Heroines? Act One was their backstory, you might say: they have a history as cabaret artistes in wartime Europe before they became American housewives, whose “special abilities” have caused them to be hunted down by … but I don’t want to give it away.

Abilities, schmabilities! These gals have super powers, and they’re not afraid to use them. One can make herself invisible. Another can throw off a 200-pound punk with the flick of her wrist. My personal favourite? The one “who could shake off attempts on her life like nobody’s business.”

When influenza takes over

Alfred DePew
Feb 26th, 2013

Illustration from the pulp magazine Weird Tales (October 1936). Source: Wikimedia Commons

A musical word, like belladonna. Beguiling and as full of deadly potential.

Flu is the thing we hope to avoid each winter, and whose vaccine we either get or don’t depending upon our opinions.

Shot or no shot, it can infect us—carried by the air we breathe, the objects we touch, the hands we shake.

It is ubiquitous. Like fear. With a mind and life of its own.

And despite my best intentions and massive doses of Vitamin C, it takes me down in January. Stealthily at first. And then with real insistence, it grabs me like a thief and hisses, “Don’t mess with me.”

I’ve heard it can last from three to six weeks—lingering. It can turn into whooping cough or pneumonia. It claims lives.

So I cancel everything that will require my leaving the house for two weeks, including a business trip back East.

And I go back to bed. I surrender to days of fevered delirium, fitful sleep, and waking dreams—nightmares mostly—of my life in various stages of collapse.

The flu as metaphor.

The flu as signifier.

The flu bearing news that I can hear in no other way.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Is that it?

The Egyptian revolution: Hisham El-Gamal on the challenges of maintaining hope

Alfred DePew
Jan 25th, 2013

Hisham El-Gamal 

When I interviewed organizational consultant Hisham El-Gamal this time last year, he was full of hope. Egypt was nearing the first anniversary of its revolution. "Voices of Egypt," a film about his workshop that brought people together of different political and religious views, had gotten a great response.

As we near the revolution’s second anniversary this Friday, El-Gamal says there is a “sense of gloom [in Cairo]. People fear the future more than … [before] because it’s more vague. Egyptians are very polarized," he says. "We’ve lost our unity. The coming anniversary is a little scary. People don’t know what will happen.”

In a Skype interview last week, El-Gamal says he still believes in his film’s message of reconciliation.

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