Spring is Here!

Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can't feel my anything in this photograph. But... I did it! And I'll do it again.
Me, after conquering the Wentworth Stairs for the first time. I legitimately can’t feel my anything in this photograph. But… I did it! And I’ll do it again.

Since my last post (ages ago, I apologize) was bemoaning the long stay of winter, I thought it might be appropriate to start in again with a post celebrating the arrival of spring.

The weather has gotten nice here in Southern Ontario, and the nasty flu and infections that have been plaguing everyone since Christmas seem to have finally cleared off. It was a terrible season for illnesses this year… absolutely everyone got sick at some point, and for an extended period of time. As I understand it, this was because of extreme weather conditions combined with a poor choice of flu vaccines.

But… that’s all behind us now, and I, for one, am finding ways to get out and enjoy the good weather while it’s here (and before it gets so hot and humid that it feels like you’re in a steam room). My friend at The Day Job and I, consequently, are attempting to walk to work every rainless day via the Wentworth Stairs.

For those of you who don’t live in Hamilton, the Wentworth stairs are a set of steel grate stairs built into the side of a kilometer-high sheer cliff called the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment runs from nearly at the border with the US up into the hinterlands, and is a result of glacial activity. In ancient times, it was actually the shore of a vast, deep inland sea, and has lots of fossils embedded in the rock. It’s higher in some places, lower in others, but in Hamilton, it’s pretty high, and sheer, dividing the city almost in half between ‘The Mountain’ (on top of the escarpment) and ‘Downtown’ (the sea-level portion of the city leading down to the bay and the steel works).

My co-worker and I live on The Mountain, and work downtown. Thus, the only really practical way to walk to work is to take the stairs, over four hundred of them in total. We tried the walk last week, and I think it’s going to be really good for us, in the most painful sense of the word. The stairs require a lot of endurance, and more than a bit of courage. At one point, you descend down a sheer cement wall on mesh that you can see right through. It’s not the least vertigo-inducing thing I’ve ever done, and that’s for sure.

But, there is a beautiful smell of spring in the woods around the stairs, and I’m inspired by the people I see climbing daily, multiple times, who are honestly so fit that they should have trophies made in the likeness of their rippling abs. They’re not all young, either. Walking is also saving gas money, and the environment. It’s about time I started walking the walk when it comes to my belief in protecting the environment. And Hamilton really is a walkable city. Proper maintenance of sidewalks and access routes like the Wentworth stairs make what could be a very divided city quite accessible by foot.

Still, by the time I got up those steps, all I could keep repeating was, “I can’t feel my anything…”

It’s going to be a great adventure.


Crazy Times…

Wow, a lot of stuff has happened for Canada in the last week or so. The shooting in Ottawa has hit us especially hard in Hamilton… Nathan Cirillo, the soldier who was cut down while on volunteer duty honouring our veterans, was from our city. I’ve talked to some lifelong residents who knew him, and by all accounts he was a lovely person and a credit to our community in and out of uniform. Everyone in Hamilton watched the funeral, whether they were on the streets or watching the live feed. That is the spirit of Hamilton… community involvement. This is a very little big city. I’m still processing this tragedy, and may write about it more when I’ve collected my thoughts, but for now, I just want to honour the people that went above and beyond that day to protect our country and our officials.

Closer to home, we’ve also had some really weird goings on. A couple of days ago, a guy down on Queenston Road spent eight hours (with cops and SWAT looking on) tossing the contents of his eighth floor apartment onto the ground below. This included knives, a fridge, wallboard, his toilet… what is happening lately? Even by Hamilton standards (and please know I say it lovingly) this is weird.

Even closer to home, there have been some changes in the Pop Seagull lineup, and a formerly very close and trusted friend and I have gone our separate ways. I’m not posting this to spread dirt or twist the knife… just to express my sadness that someone who used to bring joy to my life has changed so much. In the wake of these changes to our ‘behind the scenes’ team, I am left with a few resolutions. I want to record them here, so that I won’t go back on them when it’s convenient for me to do so.

1: I will pay everyone who is not already a beneficiary of my company for their time. I will not allow any more volunteers, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Depending on what the service rendered is, the payment may be in the form of goods, a trade, or some amount of money, be it large or small. But my associates will be paid if I have to sneak the money into their purse when they’re not looking, even if it’s just ten dollars. This was something that was presented to me as a sound business practice when I began this journey, and I saw the sense in it, but I allowed myself to be overridden by the good intentions of others. The thing I didn’t count on was that when times get tough, good intentions are pretty thin on the ground. Also in this vein, I will never again promise references. References will be given out on a case-by-case basis. They will not be something you can earn by time spent or payments waived. I compromised my integrity without realizing it, but I won’t make that mistake again.

2: I will no longer work with friends, and especially friends who won’t understand why I need to treat them like an employee when we’re working. It is so tough to go back once you’ve mingled those two things, and it’s just not worth it. I never want to feel like my friendship is secondary to my position as a business owner ever again. I don’t know how real celebrities do it.

I think, sadly, that problems like these are very common in the arts, due both to small budgets for indie artistic professionals and the tight-knit nature of our communities. Just look at all the bands that break up in spectacular ways. I still want to collaborate, but I’m going to be a lot more careful about how I do it from now on.

The sad thing is, though, I don’t think anything could have been done to prevent this from happening. I was inexperienced, and didn’t know better, and neither, I think, did the other party in all this. Then they went one way, I went another, and… snap. I really wish there was a tried and true way in life to keep our valued relationships happy, but people just change, and have differing values and goals, and then it’s not as simple as when we were in Kindergarten, and it was all ‘share your toys’ and ‘don’t hit’. I think a lot of people find it comforting to oversimplify and try to find a bad guy, but often times, drama, fights and relationship breakdowns are completely and utterly unavoidable.

If anybody reading this is interested in indie publishing or owning a business, I hope they learn from my mistakes. Sometimes, the things that, at the time, seem like common sense just aren’t good business sense.


Feeding My Film Addiction at The Zoetic

This past Friday, I hung out with time travellers at the Zoetic Theatre. They had a DeLorian and everything.

No, seriously, I have pictures.

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Now, I’m not an easy person to impress, and I’m definitely not one of those people who jumps around like a total fangirl at every movie prop or costume from a franchise I enjoy, but this one got me. First of all, look at that craftsmanship. Compare it to stills of Back to the Future. That took some serious time and effort. The thing even has a believable flux capacitor inside!

There’s nothing like driving around the corner of Upper Wentworth and Concession to see a DeLorian time machine, gull wings open, people flooding into the street to take pictures in the growing twilight under an old-fashioned movie theatre marquee… it was pure magic. The Zoetic Theatre’s classic movie nights are getting better and better, and people are flocking to the theatre to enjoy their old favourites.

I know, I know, you’ve got the movie downloaded. You have it on DVD or Blu-Ray. Why pay $10 to go see an older movie at the theatre?

There are a ton of reasons why these events are so much more fun than sitting at home, but since I’ve been there since the beginning of the series, perhaps the best way to explain would be to tell you all a bit about my experience with the Zoetic, and why it’s meant so much to my friends and I.

I first noticed the Zoetic when I was returning from one of my many walks to the park on the Jolley Cut. Since Robin and I are hopeless film fanatics, I was intrigued that something that looked like an old movie theatre was still hanging out in a strip mall in the year 2014. As I drew closer, I realized that it was an old movie theatre… one that we could walk to! A poster in the window advertised a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a mutual favourite of ours.

I was so excited that I power walked home, and told Robin that we were going. You see, being of that generation that worships eighties movies, but was just a smidge too young to see them in the theatre (I was an infant when Raiders and Back to the Future came out) I always kind of felt like I was missing out on something. DVD and Blu-ray, as nice as they are, just couldn’t make up for that experience of seeing these movies, for the first time on a big screen, and sharing that experience with a bunch of other people.

The night came, and we walked down to the Zoetic, expecting to find your average, run-of-the-mill older movie theatre. Nope. This place is an architecture buff’s dream. Art deco mouldings. Tin ceilings. Old-fashioned ticket booths. Plus, they’ve done some really nice renos as well. The bathrooms are wonderful, done up in daring art deco style, and the ceiling in the lobby twinkles. Top it all off with a smattering of eccentric Victorian furniture, and it’s really quite the destination in and of itself.

The screenings are distinctive too. Costumes are encouraged (and get you discounted tickets) and every film is preceded by a fun and immersive film history lesson and trivia contest. Our group has won sour patch kids and concert tickets so far, but we’re aiming for a new car, of course.

The movie started. We cheered. We laughed. We… didn’t cry so much, but the sour patch kids might have gotten us halfway. Seeing Raiders on the big screen really put the film in a whole new light for me, and I started noticing details I hadn’t seen before. For instance, in the chase scene where Indy is hijacking the trucks, through the desert, why do they end up on a giant cliff all of a sudden which doesn’t appear to be anywhere later in the scene? And later in the movie, I noticed something cool, something shocking even, that I had missed every single time watching Raiders on VHS or DVD. In the scene where Indy is pointing the rocket launcher at the Ark, when Dr. Belloq does that monologue telling him he doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, the dude eats a fly in the middle of his monologue, and keeps going. Dude. Eats. A fly. Seriously, and they used that take! We were talking about it the whole way home.

We often get a lot of flack from relatives for noticing these details in films. People take our attention to detail as a criticism of the films we love, but for film people, it is just the opposite. We love these films so much that we want to get up close to them, dissect them, and get other people close to them too. And that is precisely what we did. The next movie night, we showed The Wrath of Khan to my friend who is obsessed with the new Star Trek.

The movie night after that, we took our twelve-year-old nephew to see Alien. At the end, when Ripley realizes that the alien is still in the escape shuttle, Robin and I peeked over at the little guy, and he was on the edge of his seat, eyes glued to the screen, so completely taken in by the story that he couldn’t see his Auntie Liz and Uncle Robbie exchange a knowing chuckle. Oh, and miracle of miracles, he actually looked up from his phone for a full minute to take in the twinkly ceiling.

That’s the magic that the Zoetic has going on right now, and I urge anyone who wants to have an amazing night out with the family, with friends, on a very special date, to come out and experience these films the way they were meant to be seen. Come and get up close and personal with classic films, and the people who love them. Maybe you’ll notice something special too.


Click above to see their upcoming film schedule!

*Photos taken by Leonard Doxtator. I don’t know the people in these photos. If there are any photos of you in this post and you would like them taken down, please comment or email me at lizmclean.artist@gmail.com and I will gladly take them down. Or, if you like them, I can email you a copy.

I’ve Been Everywhere!

That’s right, I’ve been all over the place these last couple of weeks! Two Fridays ago, with a little help from my friend, Stephen B. Pearl, I experienced my first Hamilton Art Crawl. Have you been yet? Yeah you. I’m talking to you. You’re missing out if you haven’t been.

There are some really amazing things on offer down on James Street on the first Friday of every month. Everything from balloon art to impromptu porch jams to gallery openings! And there’s food, and fashion, and impromptu drama and, and, and… I’m getting out of breath just typing it! Come and see for yourself, and bring the family.

Stephen and I parked ourselves out in front of the armory, and it was a great spot.

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I also attended Superfan Comicon this weekend at Exhibition Place, and the crowds were a little thin, but the authors brought the party with us. Well, the authors, and the awesome Elvises (Elvii?). Thanks to Ira Nayman for complicating this pluralization permanently for me. 😛 Shoutouts to Midnight Elvis! Also, check out my awesome new signage in the background. We’ve got a new banner as well, featuring Pops Seagull, but he was a little late to the party and will have to wait for the next appearance.

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Hanging Out At Historic Ferguson Station This Summer

Are you local to Hamilton and looking for something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon? Then come out and join Pop Seagull Publishing, and a whole bunch of other unique local vendors at the Village Station Bazaar! So far, the line-up is sounding really good, with new and used books, vintage clothing, crafts and antiques.

I think this is going to be a cool event, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s conveniently located in the downtown core, off King Street East, so I think it’s going to be accessible to a lot of people who don’t normally get out to more formal events. For another, it’s going to be held in Ferguson Station, which is a beautiful example of the 19th-century reclamations which Hamilton is known for. Once a bustling railway station on the Grand Trunk Railway line running from Toronto to Montreal, it has now been converted into a beautiful, vaulted open air market. Another fun item of note is that Ferguson Station was the home of the Hamilton Mustard Festival from 1998 to 2010.

So, clearly if you’re looking for a quirky, fun, open air venue featuring unique wares (and you know I always am) the Village Station Bazaar is for you! We’ll be there on:

May 4th

June 1st

July 6

August 3

Cute, right? (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

See you there!

Five Things About Hamilton: Pictures Pending

Welcome to Part Three of my three-part series on class in the placed I’ve lived in Ontario. Entry one is here, along with the original prompt that inspired these posts, and number two is here.

 When we left off, I was in my late twenties, living in Oakville, and realizing that nothing I could do at that time was going to allow me to live there in any comfort due to the exorbitant price of housing. We began looking for other accommodation, and because we needed to stay near Toronto and the greater Toronto transit system, Hamilton began to look like a good option. I had just finished an animation contract in Hamilton, and we had heard that we could get a nicer place for much, much cheaper.

 My work contract was not my first experience with Hamilton, however. My parents grew up here, and most of my extended family still lives here. I have memories of shopping and going to movies downtown as a little girl, and my Dad and I share many happy memories of feeding the birds at the Provincial park down on the bay inlet. Later in my life, I spent a lot of time in Hamilton while my Dad underwent heart surgery at the General. It was a hard time for me, but Hamilton’s medical system is amazing and the doctors and nurses there really made the whole thing a lot easier and smoother.

 I really like Hamilton. I think I like Hamilton better than anyplace I’ve lived before. Here are some of the reasons why.

      1. Hamilton is affordable. Nothing is super cheap, but rent, food and utilities are at least reasonable.

      2. Hamilton has an amazing health system, as I said before. Because the city is home to one of the country’s foremost medical research universities, there are a ton of hospitals and clinics, and wait times are low. The quality of care is also excellent, and charity treatment is often available for those in need.

      3. Hamilton has incredible community spirit. Some people don’t see it, because Hamilton can be a little… grungy sometimes, but when you look past the wear and tear, you’ll see a lot of great people who take pride in their small businesses and care about their communities. It’s the kind of place where you get to know the guys that run the restaurant across the street and work the counter at the convenience store. I like that.

      4. Hamilton has lots of stuff to do. Whether you like movies, art, live theatre, night clubs, hiking, the beach… whatever… Hamilton has it or is near to it. For the size of the city, there’s just a lot of really interesting stuff to see and do.

      5. And lastly (and this is one that a lot of people won’t believe, but it’s so true…) Hamilton is beautiful. I won’t listen to anyone who wants to bitch about Barton Street or the Steel Company… the working class history here is what made the city what it is today! Besides, the Steel Company is so cool looking. How many people can say they got such a close look at a huge, industrial revolution era steelworks? It’s really neat in there, and when you catch it at the right kind of day, in the right light, with the sun rising pink behind it and vapor rising from the stacks, it’s picture worthy. And I love the buildings. Hamilton has the most beautiful range of architecture periods and styles, especially Victorian gothic revival, which is one of my personal favourites. You can find everything… old fifties blown glass signs, gabled roofs with worn shingles, old shopfronts that are growing a little lopsided with age… I want to do a photo project of all the beautiful details these buildings have someday. The combination of beautiful architectural work, urban renewal and graceful aging make the streets of Hamilton fascinating, full of secrets. And the view from the mountain looking out on the lake… now that’s a place to do some yoga. Right there. Beautiful. Stand on the mountain brow sometime when it’s snowing, and tell me it’s not the most beautiful place in Southern Ontario.

As you can see, I’ve fallen in love with a city. I’m going to take pictures, over time, so others can share it with me. Until then, that’s my series. Lighter fare is coming up on Thursday, as I share some silly conversations that Robin and I have had lately.

The Music Is Back

This week, I went out for dinner with my folks. As we scarfed down some seriously delicious Italian food, our discussion drifted to stuff we might like to buy in the future. I mentioned that my next big purchase, when I got my financial feet under me again, was going to be a pawn shop electric guitar. My Dad then said that the Hubs and I could borrow his electric guitar and bass, along with his practice amp.

 This may seem like a small exchange, but it marks a huge, if gradual, change in my life.

 For the past five years, my life has been nothing but school. Some people say that, but I really mean it. I went directly from a one-year intensive Master’s Degree program into one of the most scary-hard art programs in the world. Now, before you think I’m getting whiny, let me clarify: I know what I signed up for. However, one of the things I’ve discovered after running this journey to its end is that you can never truly predict what something will do to you, how it will change you, despite having consented fully to it at the outset.

 One of the things that living and breathing school and work for five years did to me was take away my joy. I became mean, because I saw the people in front of me as obstacles to efficiency and success. I stopped cultivating hobbies, of which I previously had many, because I didn’t see the point. I would start a video game, or a knitting project, or commit to a performance project, and then work and school would inevitably keep me from following through. I had a feeling of never living up to expectations and failing, all the time, because I could never make school and work balance with everything else in my life. Both schoolwork and the rest of my life suffered.

 And yet, if you’d asked me at the time, I would have told you I was getting meaner, more restless, and less capable, and I never would have been able to tell you why. The slow leach of joy from my life happened so gradually, I never even noticed that it was a problem. I just knew I was miserable. It’s taken me nearly a year to sort all of this out, and it’s still unravelling. The saddest part about all of it is that if your were to ask me, even now, I would still say that it was unavoidable. I had to do this kind of schooling to get where I was going. It was a sacrifice I made knowing what its potential effect could be, because the alternatives were so much worse.

 Things started to turn around when I moved, got a steady job, and a car. I started listening to the radio again as I drove, liking the rush it gave me, a rush I hadn’t felt in years. After a while, I started singing along. Singing along made me yearn for a guitar so that I could perform again. I had sold my guitar when I needed money to go to school. I’m slowly coming around, starting to want things for myself again, just for the fun of them. My vocal coaches used to tell me that I had a hard time emoting during performance. I think I just needed to go through the wringer a bit, to really live, to appreciate the act of expression through music. Soon, I’m going to play that guitar, and I’m going to sing with joy.

 So, that brings me to Liz’s Question of the Week (TM):

What in your life costs you no money, but brings you joy? Would you ever let it go for a larger gain?

 Answer in the comments, or better yet, use it as a blog prompt, and I’ll answer on your blog!

 …And, if you’re ever in Hamilton, you owe it to yourself to check out Chicago Style Pizza. Just do it, but show up early. They don’t take reservations.