December 30, 2015 - Oliver
Since starting this project at the beginning of 2014, I’ ve met hundreds of people. It seems like I started this a lifetime ago, some days. Out of the hundreds of strangers I've approached, Oliver was definitely a unique experience. On November 06th, I was presenting a talk at Interesting Vancouver 2015, an event that highlights interesting people doing interesting things here in Vancouver. Rather than just talk about The Stranger Project, I decided to demonstrate, as best I could, what my meeting a stranger looked like. I asked for a volunteer from the audience. Oliver didn’t miss a beat, his hand going straight up in the air with great intention. I couldn't ignore him!
I’ve chatted with strangers before on camera for news stories. I did a few interviews for the KGP Films documentary, ‘Not A Stranger’ as well. However, I’ve never attempted to delve into someone’s personal story in front of an audience of 350 people before.
Oliver was extremely charming and so willing to share his story. We got into a nice conversation, however, as I was also emceeing the event, I had to keep to a time limit. The intent was to show that the conversations I have with strangers have no secret formula. There's nothing unorthodox, and nothing that would be a barrier for others wanting to engage and connect within our community. We were still able to have a connected conversation, on stage with hundreds listening in.
I met with Oliver again, two weeks later, for coffee. I wanted a chance to get into a more relaxed conversation and just chat, without the microphone. And without a seven minute time limit! I was amazed to learn that Oliver had come to the Interesting Vancouver event by himself. I think it shows a certain amount of bravery to attend events alone. I do admit to enjoying going to the movies by myself. I was astounded to discover that Oliver lives and works in Coquitlam, and had no hesitation to meet with me. Oliver even suggested we meet at a coffee shop that was much closer to my house than his. A truly generous soul!
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Oliver’s family moved to Maple Ridge when he was not quite a year old. “I have one sister, she’s almost four years older than I am. We got along as kids, I guess. She used me as her play thing. She used to dress me up as a girl when I was little,” he said, smiling shyly. “My parents thought it was funny. She kinda was a bully. We’d be out for a walk and there’s a lot of dyes in Maple Ridge, and she’d push me off the dyke and laugh. We’re best friends, now,” he said, with an beaming smile.
Oliver remembers his father giving him some concerned, fatherly advice. It was when he was going from elementary school, into high school. “He told me to speak up for myself. I think he thought it might be tough for me, but I survived okay,” he said. Art was his favourite subject in school. “I’ve always liked comics, since an early age. My father had an extensive comic collection.” From an early age, Oliver would spend time drawing and creating his own comics.
“My Dad was an actor and I decided to go into acting, when I was in high-school,” he said. We spoke a little bit about his father’s career. His father was a successful film actor, appearing in both ‘Legends of the Fall,’ and ‘The Watchmen.’ He has since become an English teacher. “I did the acting thing for a couple years, but I decided to go from acting to the arts. When I went to university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he told me.
“I didn’t have a gap year or anything. In hindsight, I wish I had taken a break, but I went right to university.” Oliver went to Simon Fraser University (SFU), in Metro Vancouver. Oliver took graphic design, and got his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts.
“With my father being successful, I acknowledge that I was very fortunate to have my education paid for. I knew that I was lucky, and never took it for granted,” he said. “My Dad and I also talked about the ‘school of life’ and the importance of that. I took five years to get my degree, and whether or not I found work in that field, what I had learned throughout the experience was important.” It is clear that Oliver has a high regard and deep fondness for his family.
Immediately upon graduating, Oliver took the first job he could, working in a grocery store. “Sure I had a degree, but there wasn’t much design work to be found, and I had to work,” he said. “I started doing some volunteer work for the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. At that time it was really the only way to get involved.” From his volunteer work, he went on to became their Gallery Representative.
With his passion for comics still strong, Oliver devotes some of his time as board President of Cloudscape Comics. They're a collective dedicated to ‘developing meaningful community amongst all people who like, love, read, draw, write, edit, letter, ink, and create comics.’ When not working with comics, Oliver spends his time working in the arts, programming shows and exhibits for a civic space.
It’s been about six weeks since I had coffee with Oliver. I’ve had this story (plus one other) in my head ever since. I don’t take notes during these conversations; I don’t want the writing be a distraction during our chat. I did, in this case, make some bullet-point notes about four days after speaking with Oliver - I wouldn’t want to get to a place where I don’t remember any of our chat.
What I’ve learned is not to leave it so long between chat and writing. More importantly, I learned yet again, it doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’m doing, there are interesting, kind, creative, caring, friendly, thoughtful and outgoing people, all around.
As another year draws to a close, I’m reflective both personally and with regards to TSP2014. It’s often difficult to now separate myself from this project. It’s a part of me. I’ve grown because of this. I’ve grown through this. I have no intention of stopping either. #notastranger #BIGthings2016