Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Take the crooked road

Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of genius.”                                                                                             — William Blake

I have always found the crooked roads more fun and intriguing, although they are often the scariest ones. Even for someone like me who finds safety in order, goals, and a known destination, abandoning myself to an open road feels exhilarating. Work wise, I have gone down many paths off a straight, predictable direction. Each one has taken me closer to a passion, talent or interest that I wanted to explore. It’s been quite a ride, as they say.

January 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm Comments (0)

The hypocrisy continues

Last night, while talking to a friend on the phone about the Olympics, I was shocked at the vehemence of his reaction to a recent VANOC position. This friend, a retiree, wholeheartedly supports nonviolence; in the decade or so since I’ve known him, I’ve seen him angry only once. Yet, when he told me about VANOC demanding that a small-business owner, who makes hand warmers that carry a flame as a logo, remove the flame image and pay them $5,000, he was outraged. He said: “He should kick them in the balls.” I’ve never heard him use such language. I thought: Wow, if a VANOC move can prompt this level of reaction from a mild-mannered, committed pacifist, how will it affect the hotheads?


Meanwhile, the hypocrisy continues. The B.C. government has slashed funding to youth sports groups, but it can dish out millions towards promotion and support of the Olympics. Similarly, the B.C. Liberals have decimated arts organizations with their funding cutbacks, yet they’re touting the Cultural Olympiad as if they’re a huge patron of the arts.


I find it ironic that many Olympic athletes struggle along on low pay each year (unless they’ve got a generous sponsor), while Olympic sponsors and corporations make millions off their sporting backs. I applaud the dedication, perseverance, commitment, and skill of every Olympic athlete. Hurray for celebrating their dreams. It’s sad, however, to see their efforts awash in merchandising, mascots and promotional paraphernalia that have far more to do with corporate profit-making than rewarding the world’s best athletes. What if VANOC sponsors and advertisers had to share a percentage of their profits with the athletes? That would stun the world.


The glitzy, expensive Olympics are happening in the same city with Canada’s lowest per-capita-income neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, while thousands of homeless people still seek shelter. We can provide venues for a two-week event but not basic housing for residents. What skewed priorities. One group that highlights this inequitable contrast is the Poverty Olympics; I like their catch phrase: “World-class Province, World-class Poverty.” They plan to host their own torch relay, opening ceremonies and games  in the Downtown Eastside on Feb. 7, as a similar group is doing on the Sunshine Coast this Saturday (January 30) in Sechelt, BC. (They’re using plungers as torches.)


The Poverty Olympics website points out these facts:

  • Homelessness has doubled in Greater Vancouver between 2002 and 2005 with more than 2,000 people now living on the streets or in shelters. 
  •  Disease: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,has an HIV rate of 30%, the same as Botswana’s. Other diseases like Hepatitis C are rampant.
  • British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate in all of Canada for six years in a row.

The Olympic Resistance Network website states the following:

“The Olympics are not about the human spirit and have little to do with athletic excellence. They are a multi-billion dollar industry backed by real estate, construction, hotel, tourism and media corporations, and powerful elites working hand in hand with government officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “

Their site highlights Olympics-related issues from security and erosion of civil liberties to environmental destruction and waste and public costs and debt.


During the Olympics, the Pivot Legal Society plans to hand out to the homeless 500 red tents bearing the phrases “Housing is a right” and “End homelessness.” Hopefully, this will draw some attention from the international media.

January 26, 2010 at 8:39 pm Comments (0)

A victory for free speech in Vancouver

I am delighted that the City of Vancouver has rewritten its bylaws that previously outlawed any Olympic protests within a 40-block area in downtown Vancouver. The old bylaw, which could have led to the arrest of anyone carrying or displaying an anti-Olympics sign within the so-called demonstration-free zone, was an outrageous abuse of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

This bylaw change has prompted the withdrawal of a lawsuit by Chris Shaw, a University of B.C. professor and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, who charged that the previous bylaw violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disregarded civil liberties. Good for them for launching the lawsuit, which was endorsed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

January 26, 2010 at 8:32 pm Comments (0)

Take it from the transcendentalists

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

                                                                                     — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Such simple wisdom in this powerful statement, yet how elusive this approach seems on the broader, human scale.

January 22, 2010 at 5:06 am Comments (0)

Neologisms: getting away with words

I love reading the winners of The Washington Post‘s annual neologism contest, in which readers  supply alternative meanings for common words. Here are the recent winners: 

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that,when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men. 

The Washington Post‘s Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are this year’s winners:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it..
6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
9. Karmageddon (n): it’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.
And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.



January 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm Comments (0)

Creativity on the waves: a New Year’s ritual


Each year, they come bearing tiny, simple boats, mostly wooden ones. A discarded scrap of fir with a candle,  a Kleenex box bearing a tiny flame, a crude miniature catamaran.


On New Year’s day at dusk, dozens of Roberts Creek residents gather at the mouth of the creek to launch their handmade craft from the shoreline. This community event for all ages has no official rules or competitive framework. Boat-makers coddle their creations, trying to light each one’s candle in the wind. Some launch theirs close to the bridge by the creek mouth, others walk farther along the shore towards the pier, shortening the distance to open ocean. Once afloat, if forceful waves push a vessel too close to shore, an owner might poke it back out with a stick or even stride into the numbing current to shove it away. 


As these fragile, lighted craft bob out into the Pacific Ocean, clusters of bystanders gawk and point and exclaim or swear over the progress or watery demise of their boat.  Most of the boats rarely make it more than about 20 metres before the candle flame disappears or a wave smashes their structure into oblivion. One year, in a stormy downpour, my humble boat barely hit the water before too-high waves hurled it to pieces against the rocks and logs along the shore. On board, my feeble little candle didn’t stand a chance.


Usually, each year, one or two hardy boats manage to conquer the waves and float out about 100  metres, their candles burning boldly in the darkness. The owners of such boats cluck and gloat good-naturedly, sharing the strategies and design tips of their success.


It’s general knowledge that no one spends more than a half-hour building their boat: less is more. The informal, verbal plan is not to use nails or toxic construction materials.


I’m not clear when this annual tradition began or why, but people participate even during horrendous weather conditions.  Guess you can’t expect less from a community that makes a gumboot its sentimental symbol.

*                               *                               *                                   *                             *                             *

            From Greece’s brine-soaked Santa Claus to Thailand’s “fire boats”, illuminated ships are a round-the-world holiday ritual.


            In Greece, residents decorate small Christmas boats, instead of trees, with lights and ornaments. Children sing Christmas carols holding lighted model boats. (The word “carol” comes from a Greek dance choraulein.)


            Greeks even herald Saint Nicholas as their patron saint of sailors; with a seawater-drenched beard and clothes, he toils against waves to rescue sinking ships.


            At Christmas, you can find a procession of lit-up leisure craft in Cornwall, England. In Zurich, Switzerland, locals float tiny, candle-bearing boats down the Limmat River.


            Buddhists in northeastern Thailand have a “fire boat” celebration on the Mekong River. People adorn large, elaborate wooden boats with candles, lanterns, incense sticks, and religious offerings.


            Throughout North America, many coastal and lakefront cities host illuminated boat events at Christmas. Locations in the U.S. range from Tampa Bay, Florida to Washington, DC to Newport Beach and San Diego, Calif. Even in the desert, light-decorated boats in Ocotillo, Arizona cruise through lakes on Christmas night.

            In Canada, cities from Halifax to Vancouver host a Christmas boat parade, including Hamilton, Ont. and Ottawa.

(The last part of this post was originally published in the winter 2007/08 issue of Sunshine Coast Life magazine. It appeared as a sidebar (“Carol ships around the world”) to a feature I wrote on local carol ships.)

January 4, 2010 at 10:26 pm Comments (2)