Death Mask – Troubled Dreams on the road to Clay & Bone (Part 2)

(For Part 1 of the Death Mask Chronicle, please see:  )

It had been a rough three years, but there was more to come. Ben had just been murdered, I was newly unemployed and preparing to vacate the house which I no longer owned. Ironically, despite tragedy and crippling grief the first thing that loved ones closest to the deceased must do is “make arrangements”. For me this meant writing Ben’s eulogy and assisting with the celebration of life event. Ben was an extremely popular man, as a business owner and lead singer of a local funk band – Big Head Project –  we knew that his memorial would be well attended. The band wanted a venue where they could rock out in Ben’s honour and also accommodate a large crowd. As fate would have it, one of the member’s knew the owner of Richards on Richards and was able to wrangle this nightclub as our venue before it was to shut down forever. (I believe we were the last show on this well-known stage) …the bagpiper piped, the Rabbi prayed, I eulogized, the people grieved and the band rocked. I played a bit of blues harp with the band, and Ben Banky shut down Richards on Richards. Love you Ben.

Life pulls you along and you must follow. My partner C. and I began the search for new accommodation …winter was heavy that year with much snow.  My drinking was also heavy with a new heaviness of heart to go with it. Having lost a couple of key friends who -not surprisingly – loved to drink, I learned how to drink alone if others were unavailable. On a cold January night in 2009 as the snow was falling I decided to make one last fire in my back yard fire pit before we were to vacate the house. I was drinking wine and burning documents. It was nothing for me to finish a bottle and drive to the liquor store for another – which I did – and to fire up a doobie to amplify my inebriation. I was drinking to blackout frequently at this point…which I did that evening…but this time I fell face first into the ashes and embers of the not quite dead fire. I guess that I too was not quite dead, as I awoke quite quickly. One side of my face, from my chin to my nose was burned and scraped in a slight “grill pattern”. My coat was covered in snowflakes and ashes from the fire, and, thanks to my drunkenness, I felt no pain. I went in the house, took off my clothes and crawled into bed next to C. and fell asleep. The next day I told her that I had slipped on the icy steps and damaged my face. It was not the first, nor would it be the last lie told to cover my increasingly damaging & self-destructive behaviour.

As I write this I am sitting in a Starbucks on West Broadway in Vancouver…it is mid afternoon on December 28, 2016. The remains of yesterday’s snowfall are being erased by the rains which have come. To diminish the incessant and glib real estate conversation of the rather loud woman sitting next to me, I’ve donned my headphones & toque & have put my Chillout playlist on loud…it is having little effect. Rain and conversations about real estate…two seemingly unavoidable irritants of living in this town.

There are always several – or more – realities playing out in any one individuals life story. The Death Mask Chronicle is a snapshot and, admittedly, the focus is a little dark. Be assured that joy and growth and love and laughter coexist within this story. Life is, at the very least, dualistic. Where comedy prevailed, tragedy now stepped in. Where I had been Yinning I now Yanged. The seven year period that this story covers (Parts 1 & 2) – between 2005 and 2012 – was notable for the relative difference from what had preceded it. Predictabilty had become chaotic. Weddings became funerals.  The intent of this story is not to garner sympathy. We all must go through some pain on this journey, this is just my shit – yours may arrive earlier or be much deeper…and that will be your story.

The last e-mail that I received from Ben on the day that he died was a reminder that we were on the registration list for the 10th Annual Hornby Island Blues Workshop. It was here that he and I had met ten years prior, and, in honour of this, his widow Linda and our good pal “Big Head” Johnny were determined to attend. At this juncture, my drinking was perhaps even more out of control  than was usual and my participation in the classes was limited by my bleary-eyed hangovers and urge to leave early and continue boozing. Out of this foggy experience though,  I do remember Tempest, a young woman and street performer who stood out for her unique look and brash demeanour. We had some classes together and shared some laughs. She was fun & talented and bright, and, within six months would become Hornby Islands first homicide victim…

If you know Hornby Island, you know that this kind of thing is just not supposed to happen there. Hornby is a small and loving community of gentle souls with a deep well of reverence and compassion. It is a community designed for art & music, spirituality & sustainability, fun & festivals. Sigh. Although I did not know her well, Tempest’s murder, coming less than a year after Ben’s murder – both of whom I met at the Hornby Island Blues Workshop added a further sense of unreality to this already troubled dreamlike state. I started to feel beleaguered and cursed. My ego was placing me in the centre of a  solar system orbited by tragic moons.

But here’s the thing…outlier events happen. Probabilities be damned…randomness occurs. At the time I didn’t quite see it. I was sensitized to tragic events and attached meaning to them. Ten friends and loved ones perished during this death storm and I was drenched in sad significance.

Headstone in a graveyard near Banff

By the end of 2009, my ex-wife Elaine’s early-onset Alzheimers had deteriorated to the point that my 22 year-old son was finding it increasingly challenging to care for her and also devote sufficient time to his University studies. Elaine was now nine years into a disease that was predicted to take her life within eight. Her condition had reached a point where she needed full time care so we, as a family, convened and put a plan in place to try and care for her at home with the assistance a live-in Philippina caregiver – Daisy. I took on the administrative role, contacting the agencies, hiring the caregivers and looking after the necessary paperwork. My son was on the front lines of this illness, living with his mother and managing her house & financial affairs. Daisy took care of Elaine’s day-to-day needs, cooking, cleaning & “keeping an eye on her”, and Elaine’s sister pitched in wherever necessary, for this group we called, “Team Elaine”.

Although these new responsibilities which I had adopted would preclude moving out of town until Elaine had reached a point of requiring institutionalization (I had no way of knowing when this might be), it did not stop my property search – I had agents in the Okanagan, the Sunshine Coast, the Comox Valley, Powell River and the Cowichan Valley and the Gulf Islands constantly feeding me listings. Whenever an interesting property would come to my attention I would go on a road trip – to check out the property and also pursue my other hobby – excessive drinking at my favourite out-of-town pubs.

A new day, a new coffee shop. Since I sold my place and left my job (I’m calling this semi-retirement) I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I like coffee and I like the buzz of people. It is December 29 and I am parked in Artigiano at 24th and Main. Although I want to finish this story – Death Mask Chronicle Parts 1 & 2 – I am having concerns that it may all seem self-serving and fixated on tragedy & bleak events. Today I feel impatient and desirous of moving into the light, as it were. The light will come in the form of additional Journal stories both here, on Clay and Bone, and on my website where I’ll be blogging about lighter subject matter. Until that time though, I must soldier on and complete the task at hand…gruelling despair, demoralization and gut-wrenching tragedy awaits! (and perhaps a little self-deprecating  humour ;)…

One unanticipated downside to selling ones house and renting is – eviction. The landlords decided to sell the house that C. and I were living in in Kerrisdale and we were – once again – in need of moving. This was an indication of the beginning of the real estate insanity that was to grip Vancouver over the next 6 years. After the near collapse of the global economy in ’08 – ’09, the Asians were coming with buckets of cash. The move proved somewhat fortuitous though as we wound up back in Kitsilano – a favourite neighbourhood where I had principally lived since 1992.

Compared to the previous five, 2010 was a relatively benign year…Elaine was continuing her downward slide, and we needed a second caregiver to assist with her full-time care, and to give Daisy a break. Florence stepped in and now we were six. They say it takes a village to raise a child, the same seems to be true during our decline. Elaine was on 26 pills a day and a slew of medical professionals interwove themselves into her caregiving. Thank you Canadian medical system…thank you.

The medical system was also attempting to give me some cautionary advice but I paid no attention – my Doctor was warning me about the consequences of elevated liver enzymes, and politely suggested that I curtail or limit my drinking – but I wasn’t ready to hear. Following a particularly overindulgent (but fun) stag party in Vegas (where I missed my return flight because I’d passed out at the airport), I returned home in an absolutely toxic state and decided to quit drinking – cold turkey – for several days because I needed to clean myself up before I was to drive down to Burning Man Festival the following week. Three days after stopping drinking I suffered an alcohol withdrawal seizure, collapsed and broke my foot.

Now…you’d think that this kind of wake up call would be enough to convince a hard core drinker like myself to hang up the beer mug for good, and, for a time it worked. It was almost a relief that now, after suffering a seizure & a broken limb, I had an undeniable reason to quit drinking. Unlike the previous four or five times that I’d tried to quit, I embraced this new resolve imbued with the sense that I was now facing a do or die situation. I felt confident that, at last, I had the wake up call that I needed and that this time – unlike the other times – there would be no recidivism….but here’s the reality of the situation. I knew myself all too well and built a caveat into my new resolve. This time, if I fell off the wagon, I’d have to go to AA. …a kind of subtle and sneaky second chance to recommence binging and then have the ultimate punishment…AA

2010 was the year that the Arab Spring began, and also the year that the trial of Ben’s murderer took place. Ongoing momentous changes in the middle east of which I was an avid observer, and court proceedings brought against my friends killer for which I was in constant attendance. It’s a sad irony that Ben had actually hired this guy out of compassion…gave him a job because he’d fallen on hard times. I had met the gunman at a previous staff party…we shook hands and exchanged small talk in the kitchen of Ben’s home. Sigh.

Although the exact dates escape me…it was during this time that three children of friends of mine had also been diagnosed with cancer. Ivy and Ryan were stricken with Leukemia, and Nigel had contracted a rare form of cancer, the name of which I can’t recall. Only Ivy would survive. If you’ve been able to stomach reading “Death Mask” thus far I hope you can appreciate the almost relentlessly bleak journey that I (and so many others) were travelling during this time. Personally, I don’t think it gets worse in this life than the death of a child. Although I was – to varying degrees – on the periphery of these tragic paths, as a caring individual, and a father, I suffered alongside my friends. My heart goes out to them still.

My resolve lasted roughly six months before I fell off the wagon…again. It’s a strange process…it’s as if I’d forgotten how bad it was, or, convinced myself that I was miraculously “healed” and that I could now drink again with impunity. It doesn’t work that way. When I fell off the wagon, I went at it hammer and tongs, diving down down down to where I’d left off. But for some reason I’d forgotten my pledge to join AA. No, I needed to punish myself, and others with another round of bad boy behaviour before I would ultimately find redemption. This next round of drinking would find me getting into near scraps – physically and verbally – with good friends, passing out in parks, and driving while intoxicated…here’s a message from that dark time:

Forgiveness…a good thing to give and receive, and the best outcome that one can expect from heartfelt Step 9 work. I was still many months away from its healing power.

By mid 2011 Elaine’s condition had reached a point where she required admittance to an institution. Soon she would need special lifts and harnesses for bathing, and wheelchairs for mobility. Our petite (yet extremely competent and hardworking) Philippina caregivers would not be up for the task – it was time. Not surprisingly, once we managed to get Elaine into a care facility most of the pressures on Team Elaine were eliminated. We all knew she was in good 24/7 hands and our work, beyond visiting, was done.

By the fall of 2011 I had ramped up my out of town property search –  which were thinly disguised drinking trips to “really get to know the community”. I had pretty much decided on the Sunshine Coast  for its beauty, affordability and proximity to Vancouver (my partner C. did not relish the semi-rural life that I was proffering, and had obligations in the city). An ex-coworker of mine who suffered from Crohn’s Disease and had a licence to grow marijuana, but nowhere to grow it approached me with the idea of – legally – growing it for  her. I agreed to this wholeheartedly, and also decided to have a small version of the home distillery that Ben and I had dreamed about. This vision of a booze and pot-fuelled paradise required at least an acre, with outbuildings, which I found in Halfmoon Bay…I offered with subjects, they accepted.

The day that the subjects were to be removed I suffered from the worst case of buyers dissonance that I’d ever experienced. I’ve owned  four houses previously but had never encountered this powerful feeling of dread and remorse before. I was like a deer in the headlights, I couldn’t go through with the deal. Perhaps it was self-preservation. Perhaps some vestigial remnant of my consciousness  was trying to tell me that being an alcoholic, alone on a rural property, with a barn full of pot, and a distillery full of Apple Snake was not going to turn out well. This became a path not taken. It would have been a different life – or perhaps no life at all. Whether I would have drank myself to death or driven off the twisting highway of the Sunshine Coast after some late-night bender I will never know. Saved by visceral feelings. After this, any move out of town will definitely need to be preceded by full sobriety.

For most of us death arrives by telephone. For some it may be first hand – the bedside vigil or the unpleasant discovery – but most will get “the call”. I had experienced so much death over the previous six years, that receiving calls from friends or family at unexpected times had left me a little apprehensive. When my dear friend Kris called one afternoon in September 2011 to let me know that his 22 year-old daughter had fulfilled a decision to end her life, I felt stunned and broken. I had know Z. since she was a small child and loved her and her sister as if they were my own kids. She was bright, talented, and vivacious and always added sparkle to social gatherings. I felt lost and didn’t quite know what to do. After I put the phone down, I left my home and walked the 12 blocks to Kris’s house to give him a hug and, amidst tears,…kiss his hand, and then I went home to stare at the wall. On this earth, it does not get much worse than losing your child. Personally, I can think of nothing worse.

There’s a saying in AA that, “At first it’s fun, then it’s fun with problems, then it’s just problems”…I was reaching the “just problematic” phase. There’s no justification for excessive drinking when your doctor has given you the “liver warning”, you’ve had a seizure, and now, hangovers are laced with sad memories of tragic events. I was co-existing with serious cognitive dissonance. Although I was never one to actively consider suicide it was during this latter phase that the thought occurred to me that, “…all these problems would go away if I were dead”. So I get it. Even now, if I am feeling despondent for more than a day I think, “hmmm…I wouldn’t want the rest of my life to be like this”…fortunately, despondency rarely lasts more than a day – or two – and I have developed the tools and techniques with which to mitigate it.

I am now in the final stretch of this Death Mask Chronicle…it ends on April 25, 2012…the morning that I woke up in my red Van in the parking lot of a bakery in Sechelt, hungover,  having driven there the night before from Pender Harbour…completely wasted… This was the seminal moment  when I was finally able to face the music and enter the AA program. At the end of the day, it wasn’t concern about my own well being but fear that my drinking and driving might actually harm someone else. I didn’t want to be the cause of someone else’s tragedy…I’d already had enough. This thought was the epiphany I needed to “man up” and face responsibility for my behaviour and actions. Whatever it takes…a wake-up call, a moment of fear, an epiphany or the loving guidance of one’s Higher Power…I am grateful…profoundly so. Thanks AA.

Death Mask – Troubled Dreams on the road to Clay & Bone (Part 1)

It was eight years ago today, on December 12, 2008, that my dear sweet friend Ben Banky was murdered by a deranged employee.

I’m sitting at my desk, at my art studio- Shavasana -on Mayne Island feeling that I have a lot to be grateful for in this life. I am grateful for this sweet creative space that fate has allowed me. I am especially grateful for the engaging, caring, compassionate & loving friends and family that I have been blessed with on this journey. Thank you Ben, thank you all.

Yesterday,  as I was beginning to write the story about how I found my studio space on Mayne Island ( Searching for Shavasana – Part 1)it seemed clear to me that the story would not be complete if I didn’t acknowledge the chaotic, tragic and painful journey that led to it’s inception. The finding and setting up of Shavasana Art Gallery, Studio & Café on Mayne Island is a joyous story filled with personal healing, growth and creativity (it is not without its blemishes – more about that later) Stories of this nature will be written up on my gallery website: . Stories that pertain more to my personal journey, that is, elements of my experience, thoughts and behaviours that contribute directly or indirectly to my creative expression will now be journaled here – on Clay & Bone. If “Searching for Shavasana” explains how I arrived at this sweet healing place of rebirth, “Death Mask – Troubled Dreams on the way to Clay & Bone” explains why it was so necessary.

I am a recovering alcoholic. I have been sober since April 25, 2012 – thank you AA. In May of 2005 I was in full swing. Although it was beginning to dawn on me that I had a drinking problem, I was having way too much fun to even honestly consider quitting. To celebrate my 50th birthday in June of that year I decided to have a large party at my home in Kitsilano. I had invited over 100 friends, had arranged for some catering and music and it looked like it was going to be, yet another, large boozy event. My favourite kind. One friend was flying in from Germany, and even my ex-wife, who had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers several years earlier at the young age of 48,  was still fit enough to attend. It was going to be fabulous. And then, a week before the event, my father died, unexpectedly, of a stroke.

When an 84 year old man dies while putting on his socks at home, it is not a tragedy. My father had a long, loving and loved, life. He was a wonderful man and we, his family and friends, all loved him deeply. Faced with this new sad reality though, the first things I had to do were deal with my own grief, help care for my mother, arrange for a celebration of my father’s life, and, call up over 100 friends to cancel my 50th. All of these things were done in good fashion, and within a month or so we were all settling down to our new dadless world.

Just as the summer was getting underway, full of its fun activities & distractions, Festivals and weddings, one of my dearest friends, an almost indescribably lovely man – Paul “Lolly” Lawton, ( ) was accidentally and horrifically pulled through a wood chipper on July 15, 2005. This gentle, sweet, talented man – this angel – this Juno Award winning drummer who was earning a few extra dollars for his trip to Toronto to be best man at a mutual friends wedding the following week died…in this most tragic way. To those of us who knew and loved Lolly, this incomprehensible  event, this new tragic reality shook the personal foundations of many of our collective minds…it was, as they say, a complete mind-fuck. We couldn’t understand this because this wasn’t possible…it wasn’t in the script. Gut wrenching heartache & tears.

As a committed, heavy, social drinker, grieving doesn’t stop the drinking…on the contrary it gives one an excuse (as if one was needed) to engage in even heavier pensive/reflective boozing. Lolly’s death altered my world view and brought so much of it into question. It neither confirmed nor disproved the existence of God. It made chaos more tangible, randomness a stark truth, the shortness of life a palpable reality, and it exposed concepts such as fairness, justice and karma to be just wishful human constructs.   I think it was here that I started to drink to the point of blackout, on a more regular basis.

Four months after Lolly died, and fewer than six months after our father passed,  my sister received a call from our mother saying that she wasn’t feeling well. Mom had been a trooper during these last months of grieving the loss of her husband of 57 years and we had been keeping a close eye on her. Without ready access to a family doctor, on this day, we took her to the emergency ward at a local hospital and, after a gruelling 9 hour wait/assessment, discovered that Mom was suffering from Stage 4 breast cancer.

Collectively taken aback by this new harsh revelation we, as a small family of three, let the medical system inform us as to our options moving forward. Further medical exams, tests and assessments, left us with no positive outcome. Mom was terminal, had months to live and would not benefit from radiation or extensive rounds of chemo. “Take her home and make her as comfortable as possible for as long as you can” was the message. What ensued was three relentless months of always playing “catch-up” with the progression of the disease. Home care, weight loss, Ensure, palliative medications…(me drinking excessively, daily, despite my new caregiving responsibilities)…and eventually collapse (Mom, not me, on Christmas Eve) hospitalization, hospice, and death – three months to the day after diagnosis. I held her hand as she died.

In case you are wondering, dear reader, why I am writing about all of this misery, I guess my best explanation would be catharsis. I am just beginning to write & journal/blog in my two new websites and I felt it a good idea to explain the recent past and how and why I ultimately came to make quirky masks of human faces adorned with antlers and run an Art Gallery Café called Shavasana on Mayne Island ( ). It’s a story of tragedy and despair, substance dependency & healing, and ultimately, just as fate can be random and horrific, it can also be benign and blessed. I feel fortunate to have survived – thus far – on this path …the events of this story notwithstanding.

We all handle grief in our own way. After the initial intensity, life pulls you forward, time provides healing space, and you are compelled to “get on with your life”. All well and good. We have things to do, responsibilities, distractions. Whereas my drinking habits remained undiminished, I began to experience subtle changes in mood & outlook. Depression crept in along with a general sense of meaninglessness. My work suffered, and, what little interest I had in my accidental vocation of  “Advertising Sales Rep” – evaporated.

This was not an auspicious time to be in print advertising sales. The overarching power & pull of the internet was shifting the grounds under the feet of print media empire owners everywhere, and the community newspaper I worked for was no exception. By 2006 our parent company, Canwest, was struggling: by 2007 their bonds were given junk status; and by 2009 they declared bankruptcy during the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Canwest’s problems were not all internet related, they had also taken on unmanageable debt just prior to the financial crisis which – in essence – bankrupted them.

All of this drama started to play out at work as they tried to shed expenses at every level of their media empire. We lost our beloved publisher – Peter B. – during this stressful time, which angered the staff and ultimately resulted in efforts to unionize – which failed by one vote.

None of this improved my mood. The staff was polarized. I started to feel depressed, anxious and distracted at work. I approached my Family Doctor with concerns that I couldn’t shake my troubled thoughts and dark moods. I was given a prescription to see a shrink and, for a time, went on the anti-depressant – Zoloft. I found this particular SSRI to be unhelpful and actually worsened my anxiety. The side effects felt speedy and within a month or so I weaned myself off the pharmaceutical and returned to my trustworthy “mood enhancer” alcohol…not that I had ever given it up. It was sometime during this period that I went on my first bout of stress leave.

Stress leave is not guaranteed to diminish or remove your stress. For some, like myself, it provided a kind of  unhealthy paid vacation with plenty of idle time to think…and drink. As, they say, “idle minds are the Devil’s playground” and, as a self-professed News Junkie with a degree in Poli Sci/Economics I started to fixate overly on the increasingly glum situation in the middle east and the  global economy.

There’s no shortage of doom and gloom on the internet…or perhaps, in the world at large for that matter. The trifecta of environmental collapse, post 9-11 apocalyptic ponderings, and fear of a subprime mortgage global derivative meltdown provided ample ingredients for a potage of worry. Because of my own particular basket of interests & worries (world affairs & economics), family history (a father and grandfather who fought in both wars), life experience (travel through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan & Pakistan) and education/outlook, I inhabited a dark vision of what was approaching us. I know that I am not unique in this regard.

Headstone in a graveyard near Banff

This was 2006. Iran was actively pursuing it’s nuclear program (and supposed development of nuclear weapons) and the rhetoric between it and Israel had reached -a worrisome intensity. Israel was lobbying the Americans to attack  Iran in a pre-emptive strike to take out its nuclear capability. If their sympathetic allies were unwilling they were threatening to do the job themselves, and the Saudis were also applying pressure on the Americans to do the same, to cut off “the head of the snake” as they viewed their Shi’ite rival. At one point the Saudis even suggested that if Iran developed the bomb, they would just purchase nuclear weapons from their Sunni ally Pakistan to gain parity. Fun times. How did it become even remotely conceivable that non-nuclear states could just purchase nuclear weapons like pieces of industrial equipment ?  I digress here…, I am relatively certain that an entire military/bureaucratic branch of the US government exists to prevent such an outcome but I am revealing a glimpse of the rabbit-hole thinking that was obsessing me at this time. Ongoing grief, depression, stress, monomaniacal issue-based worries, caffeine overload, and alcoholism.

Since 9/11 Rome has been burning and many of us have been fiddling and dancing on the periphery of the fire. The Empire took the fight overseas  (Afghanistan 2001 – Present, Iraq 2003 – Present, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc;) starting fires, and burning through many lives and vast amounts of cash. Like so much of the world, we in Vancouver have been spectators to this ongoing debacle, watching with a mix of fear, sadness, anger, confusion and disinterest. Fiddling and dancing. Searching out distraction. Cauterizing our consciousness with substance abuse and infotainment. I was no different…until 2005 the problems of the world were abstract visuals consumed between boozy parties and social events. Then my own personal Nakba began to unfold. My world changed. A switch was thrown and loved ones, friends and acquaintances started to die with great regularity. Dad, Lolly, Mom, two beloved aunts, some jolly coworker pals, friends and partners of friends. It was a rough time, I lost 10 friends and loved ones from ’05 to ’12,  and – I can’t say if this new sad reality increased my drinking  or enhanced my melange of worry/paranoia –  but, by mid 2006, both were in full swing. And then war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel.

For me, this war, the 2006 Lebanon War as it is known, represented a turning point in my perception of how things were going to turn out for Israel, Iran, the Middle East, and, perhaps you and I- we were fucked . Because the war between Hezbollah and Israel was considered a proxy war between Iran and Israel, it was – in effect – a glimpse of the future when Iran acquires the bomb. …our primitive solutions to communal problems combined with nuclear weaponry were not going to end well. I felt disheartened and hopeless. I started to look for the exit doors.

When you have a strong opinion or belief it’s not uncommon to gravitate to information sources which support your point of view, this is known as confirmation bias, “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”. We also have a tendency, within our social networks to create what is known as “echo chambers”… “group situations where information, ideas, and beliefs are uncritically bounced from insider to insider and amplified, while dissenting views are censored and/or ignored”. Our perspectives are thus reinforced through selective information gathering and cloistered opinion sharing amongst like-minded individuals.

It’s 2007. Geo-political instability was soon to be accompanied by the onset of the Financial Crisis of 2007 – 2008 – considered by many economists to be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. For those of us who are prone to worry there were legions of pundits portraying the subprime mortgage meltdown as a looming disaster which only the informed and prepared could hope to weather. The crisis did not come into full swing until the fall of 2008. Until then, I read & obsessed. I worried and I drank. I sold whatever stocks I had and went to cash. My stress levels spiked and, in early ’08 I took another round of stress leave. It was during this period that the thought of cashing out and pursuing a more gentle, sustainable lifestyle away from the city really began to take hold of my consciousness. A vision from my hippiesque youth of rural acreage…nature, community & creativity held great appeal. The parent company (Canwest) of the community paper I worked for (The Vancouver Courier)was trying to avoid bankruptcy and, in so doing, was offering select staff members buyouts to help reduce their fixed costs. Because I had a sympathetic boss, I managed to be included  in the buyout. (Thanks EJ 🙂 By the middle of ’08, as arrangements for leaving my place of employment and receiving “a package” progressed, I further decided to sell my house and pursue my dream.

As I was preparing to list my house in September of ’08, the news became relentlessly bad and it appeared that the global economy was truly coming apart. Lehman Brothers collapsed on September 15, 2008 – the largest bankruptcy in history – along with Washington Mutual, General Motors, IndyMac, CIT, Chrysler, etcetera. The US subprime mortgage system (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac) was disintegrating as well as the value of real estate and the stock market. The Dow and the TSX plunged over 50% (May ’08 – Mar ’09) …from Wikipedia: “The crisis threatened the collapse of large financial institutions, which was prevented by the bailout of banks by national governments, but stock markets still dropped worldwide. In many areas, the housing market also suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment. The crisis played a significant role in the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in trillions of US dollars, and a downturn in economic activity leading to the Great Recession of 2008–2012 and contributing to the European Sovereign Debt Crisis.”

For Vancouverites at the time of this writing (December 2016) it may be hard to fathom but in the Fall/Winter of ’08 – real estate had crashed. In the 3 months that my Kitsilano home was on the market, I had in excess of 200 people drop in at openings without one offer. No feverish bidding wars, no “well over asking”, and the invasion of overseas $$ had not yet arrived. By the time it finally sold on December 9, 2008 I had dropped my price – at the feverish insistence of my realtor – and weathered the inevitable “low-ball bottom feeders” who had crawled out from under their various rocks.

Your own private hell will arrive in it’s own time and fashion. The weekend of Friday December 8 through Monday December 11 2008 contains – for this writer –  the most hellish, tragic, untimely, transformational, and life altering sequence of events yet encountered. Let me elaborate.

  • On Friday December 8, 2008, one of my best friends – Ben Banky – while decorating his business with staff in preparation for the annual Christmas party, was murdered by a deranged former employee. This beautiful man, this gentle, bright, loving and kind friend, husband, son, uncle, brother & boss was gunned down by a man who had been fired days earlier for threatening co-workers. The incomprehensible and mind-fucking nature of this tragedy left all of us who loved him, and participated so joyously in his life, devastated, and immersed us in our own private hell which only time and the distractions of life has mitigated.
  • The following day – Saturday the 9th –  I awoke from this nightmare to learn that the subjects had been removed from the sale of my house, and that, this sweet enclave, the stage upon which so much of the joy, tragedy and life of the prior eight years was enacted was for all intents and purposes – gone. Against the very bleak economic outlook at that time, the sale of the house represented an unknown roll of the financial dice. With Ben’s murder the day before, there was no joy to be had in this sale (or anything) and, the discussions he and I had shared – of starting a rural cottage-industry distillery – died with him. As things played out over the next several years, the sale of the house proved to be a very untimely financial decision. The story has not yet come to a conclusion though and ultimately, given some of the rebirth, joy, ecstasy and beauty which subsequently followed this “period of pain”, it may be viewed as a necessary transition on the path to a new life
  • The buyout from my place of employment was available for pick up from the regional head-office on Monday the 11th. I drove down in a kind of dull emotional fog, picked up my cheque, and never went back to the office. The job, the coworkers, the clients and the routines that gave some kind of structure to my booze encrusted existence were gone. Within this four-day period my universe shifted dramatically – I had lost a best friend, my home and my job. I was hollowed out, glum, uncertain and worried about the future….

(This uplifting story continues as: “Death Mask – Troubled Dreams on the road to Clay & Bone (Part 2)“)


Eventually it breaks – or you do.

It’s December 9th and I’m sitting at my desk at my Art Studio/Gallery on Mayne Island. I’m looking out across my backyard which is covered in snow, across to Galiano Island and Active Pass which separates us. Snow is a rarity here in the Gulf of Georgia, now known as the Salish Sea, after the Coast Salish people with whom I share this clime. Thank you.


Despite having this studio for the past 3 years, I have only recently created this website which now enables me to “Blog” or Journal my activities here on Mayne Island at my little cottage business known locally as Shavasana Art Gallery & Café. As the name suggests, my studio also doubles (triples) as a place to view local art exhibits and drop in for a cup of coffee and hang out. Sometimes on these small islands (population roughly 1,000 kindly souls) it is wise and necessary to wear multiple hats. Providing a business which fills my needs for a creative studio and also gives islanders a place to drop in for a coffee and look at some local art seems to work quite nicely.

The gallery website has also only recently been launched – the idea being that it would be wise to have a stand-alone site for my creative work (as of this writing, primarily masks:  )and another for the ongoing events and activities of the Art Gallery Café (  ). Each site has it’s own journalling content needs so my work will be cut out for me. Given that 3 years have already gone by since I started on this journey, I have a lot of existing content which will – over time – be included in either site. I’ve been going through some earlier photos and a Journal that I’ve kept which will provide thoughts  and observations about life as an artist/curator on a small, idyllic, tranquil yet complex island in the Pacific Northwest.

Maybe it would be unfair to refer to the length of time it took to arrive at this particular junction on the journey as “procrastination” – I’ve been busy and there have been ……………………………………….distractions……………………………………….so…here I am…there is snow on the fields of this tranquil place, complexity abounds within and without, and there is much work to be done…this feels like a beginning 🙂