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June 29, 2008

Intuition Not Bread Crumbs

-one view from Ruckle Point at dusk, June 2008

This is a story about following intuition. Sometimes following intuition feels counterintuitive. It feels like you're being pulled to do the last thing your brain thinks you should be doing. It's not practical you protest. I don't have the money you think. But, in your heart you know that it's what you must do. It's as if someone else has already decided for you. If you're listening, you just do it with a feeling of rightness in your heart.

That's what I did last week. I packed up my tent and my camping supplies and I headed to Ruckle Point on Saltspring Island. I first went there about 18 years ago and I consider that beautiful place my personal refuge; the place I go to get re-energized, to calm down, to clear my head, to allow the softness of the mossy forest and the rhythms of the ocean to soothe me.

Before I left, I contacted the editor of The Driftwood, the community newspaper there. They also publish a magazine five times a year called Aqua. The editor's name also happens to be Gail. I met her last year at an interview in early July. About a month ago, I contacted her again and asked if she needed anyone to do any writing for Aqua. At that time I had no idea that I would be taking a mini retreat to Saltspring in the near future. I'm not sure how I thought I would write stories solely via the phone but it's totally possible, although not preferable, so I just put it out there.

To make a long story shorter, Gail and I met for coffee on Thursday and she said to me, You couldn't write a story today could you? Her reporter had had a fluke accident with a bungey cord as he was loading his kayak onto his car earlier that week. His eye had been injured.

So, that's how I found myself sitting at a computer in the The Driftwood offices writing a story about a guy who was going to be holding a Diksha or "oneness blessing" on July 3. He's written a book called The Cosmic Alarm Clock. He'd been to the "Oneness university" in India a few times and now he's passionate about sharing his experience.

Then, Gail gave me three stories to write for Aqua magazine's September issue. I met a Goldsmith who had won a grant to attend as artist in residence at a small crafts community in Finland. Originally from Vancouver, she's followed her own intuition and has learned what she can about an ancient process called Damascene Inlay.

I followed a former teacher turned orchardist around his Appleluscious orchard. He's the creator of the Saltspring Island Apple Festival now in its 10th year, set for September 28th. And, I sat on a deck with the most spectacular view of Mount Baker at the home of two peace activists from Ojai, California. They had "voted with their feet" and arrived on Saltspring sometime in 2003 because they could not spend one more minute living in the U.S. with George Bush as President surrounded by the ignorance and hatred they were subjected to whenever they peacefully protested the Iraq war. Through a series of events, they now manage/coordinate the Film Festival which showed 70 documentaries last year over a period of 3 days in March coinciding with International Women's Day.

It was a good trip and very timely to meet these people not so much because of what they're doing but because how they came to do it. They're all passionate about what they do as the creators of their own livelihoods. They don't make a lot of money. In fact, at this point in time the Film Festival is a voluntary full-time job and it's true they couldn't even do it if they had not had the money to take a leave from paid work.

I believe meeting these people has a role to play in shaping my thoughts about what I will be doing, if not where I will be living, in the not too distant future.

Intuition is pro-active. You're not following anyone else's breadcrumbs. You're trying to hear your own heart which knows your truths where all the answers you need to hear, reside.

Just listen!

June 28, 2008

Instant Karma

-cake for a special two-year-old made by Jen

I have this book that someone gave me called Instant Karma. It’s fun to flip through and read the short lines. There are 8, 897. Here are a few that jumped out at me today:

• Move on from an unwinnable conflict

• Leave some things unsaid

• Your worst enemy can not harm you as much as your own thoughts

• Try to make at least one person feel better each day because of what you say

• Make the decision to be happy

• Don’t give others what they don’t want

• Love your age

• Lose the fear of being wrong

• Spend your energy even more carefully than you spend your money (assuming you do)

• Tell someone how you feel about them

• Do it now!

June 26, 2008

Topiary Prisoner or Free Spirit?

-seen on an apartment building on Pendrell Street in the West End

One of my nieces, Megan, is 29-years-old and a free spirit. She loves to travel. She's an excellent photographer. She has worked really hard this past winter teaching during the day and tutoring 7 clients throughout the week at night.

As a result of the tutoring she tells me that she has almost doubled her income. This summer she is about to head off to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. She is going first to a yoga retreat, then she's going to learn some of the more complicated Fire Poi moves that she first learned in Thailand when she was travelling through S.E. Asia a few years back.

After her yoga retreat she's going to find a beach to surf at and do some scuba diving and hopefully she'll hook up with a fellow traveller or two to explore Nicaragua which seems to be the new hot spot.

Five weeks of adventure. Meeting new people. Having fun. Being joyful. Learning about other cultures. And, as the auntie I can't help myself; I must add in staying safe by paying attention and listening to your intuition. Right Meg?

I really admire her spirit of adventure. It's what you're supposed to do when you're young. It's what will keep you smiling when you're really old. At least then, when you're bored, you will have all those fun memories to keep you entertained and keep you smiling as if you have the best secrets, and maybe if you lived with a spirit of adventure, you do.

It's what will prevent you from feeling like the "Topiary Prisoner" in the above photo. I like to think of it as creative gardening with a sense of humour.

I looked at it and wondered what made the person do that. Did they feel trapped? They could have created just about anything. Why this? Or is this a representation of someone dancing? We don't have enough whimsy in our lives do we?

What did you see and/or think when you first looked at this photo?

Follow up: Another photo similar to this I took got published in The Georgia Straight newspaper and I noticed the week after that the actual gardener saw it in the Straight, wrote a letter saying it made his day. That made my day!:-)
Read his letter here!

June 24, 2008

Word of your Life

-Calla Lily in Stanley Park near Malcolm Bowl, June 23, 2008

A few days ago, knowing that it was nearing the time when David from Tennessee would be going to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and I wouldn't be going to the ranch at all this year, I thought of some books that he had brought with him last year and left in the Ghost House where our class met every day.

I went back to my journal and read what I had written down. Jan Phillips. Malidoma Patrice Some. Oriah Mountain Dreamer. I had heard of Oriah Moutain Dreamer but I had no idea that she was a Canadian. So, I got two of her books - The Call and The Dance - out of the library.

Her first book is called The Invitation and it's based on a long poem that she wrote. I didn't know that she was the person who had written that poem which had elicited a strong response the first time I'd read it quite a while ago. I'd never forgotten its intent long after all the words were gone.

I find it interesting that I would have those thoughts at this point in time and now that I have read her books they are so in line with the kind of thoughts/feelings I have been having and that I am needing to hear. I found them very comforting.

In her book The Call she speaks about how if we were to get really quiet, to stop, to breathe and be still we would each know, instinctively, that there is a word that is ours. It's a word that captures what we have always struggled with, what we fear, what challenges us and what needs awareness and change.

Her word is rest. She is, by her own admission, a Type A overachiever who is always doing too much. It's hard for her to be still.

Your word, she says, might come to you quickly. Or, it might come when you get yourself into a still, quiet, meditative space. Don't force it. But, it will come and when it does you will know it. When you find your word, you will feel a rather humbling sense of recognition.

Living your word, embodying it in your life is never about doing. Your word is your key to stopping a repetition of that which is consistently a challenge for you.

What's your word?

June 23, 2008

West End Farmers' Market

These are just a few of the photos I took this weekend as I walked around the neighborhood. The Farmer's Markets are in full swing. The one in the West End is held across from Nelson Park and runs Saturdays from 9am - 2pm.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine, when you open them, that you've left downtown for Saltspring. That's what I do!

June 21, 2008

Midsummer Eve and Suomi

-Helsinki Airport, August 1980, Me and Johanna before my return to Canada

Their cottage in the country

Finland will celebrate the longest day of the year and its Midsummer Eve weekend this weekend. Midsummer Eve is celebrated on the Saturday that falls between 20th June and 26th June marking the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

On June 13, 1980 I went to Finland as part of an exchange program called Youth on the Go. I'd read about it in the Vancouver Sun and applied. I didn't know anything about Finland. That was the appeal. I'd never been on an airplane. I recall waving a slightly fearful goodbye to my parents at a much smaller YVR and hopped on an Air Canada jet that landed in every major city in Canada. I finally disembarked at Mirabel Airport in Montreal and waited to board a Finnair jet.The time? 6pm. I'd been travelling since 8 am and I hadn't even left the country. Who booked that?

Having led an extremely sheltered existence, I'd never travelled anywhere alone before. I recall being met at the Helsinki Airport by Johanna and her dad, Veikko. We'd be spending the next two months together. They were holding up a sign with my name on it. It was an awkward meeting with lots of silences, smiles and hand gestures and then it was out to their first car, a Toyota Corolla, for the hour or so long trip to their small apartment in Lahti, famous for its ski-jumping.

When I arrived two things stood out for me. They couldn't really speak English and this was going to be more challenging than I'd anticipated. Their apartment was so small. Upon arrival, I was introduced to Issa(pronounced eesa) and the word for mother. I remember that word Issa because Johanna used it a lot. She also gave up her bed for me that entire summer and slept on the floor of her tiny room beside me. That strikes me as amazingly nice of her now.

Upon arrival, her mother had prepared a special Finnish dish. By this time, I was barely able to focus my eyes having been awake for what seemed like 3 days. But, I recall that it was something like liver in milk with boiled potatoes and herring. I'm sure it was very special. I could barely look at it, let alone eat it I was so tired.

After a quick dinner there was no time to rest. It was time to head out to the cottage in the country. Finns are famous for their country cottage escapes. We piled into the car, I recall Johanna and I in the back seat with the pet budgies. With the tiny car loaded down, the budgies in their cage on her lap twittering happily, we set off.

The cottage was another hour or so away from Lahti and when we arrived, I went to bed almost immediately. It was right around the time of Midsummer Eve, a time when the sun never sets. Therefore, I didn't realize when I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse that they hadn't all abandoned me. It was light out but they were nowhere to be found. It was probably about 2 am and the light outside confused me. It had been a very long day nearing the longest day, literally. So, I just returned silently back to my little bedroom in the cottage and wondered a little anxiously why I'd thought this trip might be a good idea in the first place.

Mostly I remember the quiet and standing in my clean, new pyjamas looking out across the field. Their cottage was on a large piece of secluded property. There was a big barn with a sauna attached to one side of it. We spent many hours in that sauna.
It's where Johanna really learned to speak English actually. It's where I also experienced the supreme delight of an authentic Finnish sauna including the customary self-flaggelation using birch leaves. We'd slap ourselves with vastaa and an earthy yet astringent aroma would arise from that activity would mix with the the seething sound of a cloud of steam rising off the hot rocks when she'd pour water on top of them. Imagine being wrapped in warm birch leaves after a rain.

We spent hours aiming at the dart board on the side of the barn. If we wanted ice cream we'd run to the nearest little corner shop about a mile away because her mom and dad in comparison to mine, were young, barely 40, and they were fit.

We helped a nearby farmer put his hay into bales the old fashioned way - with pitchforks. Then, at lunch we sat down to a feast of roast beef served inside the farmhouse at a long table in which wives and daughters served in two shifts the workers and other locals who had helped out. It was so hard. My arms ached. I slept later as if I'd travelled to the bottom of my dreams and back again.

We ate delicious sausages that had been cooked over the outdoor fire, listened to Voice of America on a transistor radio at lunch on cloudy days, played cards, ate Pirrikka (Finnish pastries) made by her grandmother and tried to communicate.

There were no cell phones. No Ipods. No laptops. No personal computers. There was no Internet. There was no Skype or Youtube or E-mail.

In hindsight I marvel at Johanna's parents' willingness to host me. Her mother could not speak English at all. For the entire summer she smiled and was gracious and waited impatiently for interpretation and cooked for an extra Canadian daughter. She had a beautiful smile and gorgeous brown eyes. That's what I remember most about her.

Johanna's English speaking skills improved immensely. Veikko's did too. She went on to become a flight attendant for Finnair and speak 6 languages.

I acquired only the most basic of basic Finnish words: Greetings. (Hyvaa Huomenta or Good Morning pronounced Hoova Huomenta). Numbers. Food. Slang. Please.(Olka Hyva) Thank you or Kiitos pronounced Keytose.

One phrase that has never left me is what her father used to say quite often to her mother, especially in the car as we were driving to and/or from the cottage.

"A la huppeta," he would say sharply looking at his wife and sometimes staring at us through the rear view mirror. I'm not sure how it's spelled but apparently it translates into something along the lines of: "Why must you talk about nothing?"

That summer I learned that it doesn't really matter where you live, families have their similarities the world over.

June 19, 2008

Soul a la Mode

I was reading one of my favorite books that I haven't looked at or even thought about in about 12 years. A friend suggested I take a look at it again based on a conversation we were having. It's called Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. It's fair to say Moore should know something about the soul because he lived as a monk in a Catholic religious order for 12 years.

In it there is a reference to the bardo state. It says that The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes this state as a time between incarnations; the period before the next birth. Bardo takes time, it can't be rushed. There's no point in premature birth.

That's where I feel I am at. It's why finding "a job" is not happening the way it should: with ease. There is no reason on the surface of my life why being employed should be a difficult thing for me at this point in time.

However, what is happening on the surface is insignificant in a way compared to what is happening deep down and that, in my own soul, I know is the real reason why this transition is becoming in the words of another friend "biblical" in nature; the stuff of Greek myths.

I have often been Saturn's child and Saturn according to Moore, locates identity deep in the soul rather than on the surface of personality. We know who we are because we have uncovered the stuff of which we are made, sifted out by melancholy or depressive thought and experiences then reduced to "essence".

This description makes so much sense to me at the moment. It's a time that stops in time. You are apart, separate, forced to look at what you have not looked at while your life has been light and happy, full of activity, purpose and the stuff of dailiness.

During those times things are going well and you no longer must think very deeply at all because there is no time, there is no need really and with ease all the right people and experiences are flowing towards you. It's good. It can't last long enough especially for one of Saturn's children. And, inevitably it never does even if years unfold and it seems like you'll never go to that place again. All your lessons have been conquered. Or so you were hoping.

This may not be true for everyone. Some might say, a consistency of spirit and a life of little reflection is part of their own dilemma even though, on the surface, there appears to be no dilemma at all.

Have they ever been forced to ask difficult questions; to move closer to their own essences in order to transition to that next place where there soul will not be completely abandoned, left to wait, feeling an opportunity has been lost even though, on the surface, where life gets measured by others, everything is going so well.

June 17, 2008

The Infinity of Branding

In 2006 I had the pleasure of being a passenger on a Harley-Davidson. It was a gorgeous July day and we were on the Sea to Sky Highway. The light sparkled the waters of Howe Sound fantastic. The road whizzed under us in furry, blurry happiness. That's how it felt. I'm certain that my face under my helmet looked a bit the way a dog's face does when it's leaning way out the window of a moving car.

It was spectacular. It was better than everything I thought being on one of those bikes would be like. F-R-E-E-D-O-M! And, that feeling my friends, as you probably already know, is exactly the feeling that Harley-Davidson has built one of the strongest brands in the world around. It's a way of being, a sense that you're a ruggged individualist, separate from the pack. There was a fork in the road and you took the road less travelled, and that has made all the difference... But, you know all that. We've all heard it before.

Emotional branding. Make them feel it. Let them live it. Tap into their dreams. Help them belong.

At the High Tech Communicator's Exchange, Sharon Habib of Outsidein Communications did an excellent job of speaking about her experience of re-branding the North Shore Credit Union about five years back.

She did her research. She found out that Vancouver's North Shore has some of the highest numbers of people who are active in the outdoors in BC. She used people who actually worked at the bank in photogaphs and those photographs had a specific style based on a photo with a dog named Koby in it.

Koby was running in focus up front while his owner, an employee, was seen a bit distant and hazy in the back holding his leash. I think there was a frisbee in the shot. They came up with the tag line: "Thinking OUTSIDE the bank." People want to bank to live not live to bank. They chose outdoorsy colours; natural colours like sand and seafoam green for the website and the bank cards. They used photos of employees in their lives outside of work in the outdoors - coaching soccer, kayaking, biking and doing what West Coasters do, rain or shine.

Here's a branding checklist based on her talk.

My advice: Use your intuition. Be the unexpected. Find a way to conquer and overcome the fear of the conservative people/attitudes in your midst so you can risk creating a brand that's memorable.

Here's Sharon's advice translated by me (and in some instances added to by me)from her talk:

1. Do your research! Back up your rationales with facts and stats. Combine a right brain dominant with a left brain dominant to substantiate the decisions you make in creating your brand and then designing it to be graphically/aesthetically on-target.

2. Who? What? Why? Answer all those questions first about your competition and then do the same about your own organization.

3. Use words, visuals and actions to support the answers to the above. Describe your brand in words.

4. Educate senior management on the signficance of branding in general and include them in every step of the process.

5. Educate employees in an active, fun way. Information. Events. Contests.

6. Ensure everyone - the receptionist to the president - can say in simple language what the brand stands for.

7. Use that description to develop a tag line. Try and create a dual meaning in that tag line. "Thinking OUTSIDE the bank." It can be read literally. It refers to other things - how customers behave, how the bank partners with others, etc.

8. Work with a talented graphic artist who also has had some formal education in graphic design and knows how to choose colours and fonts and a graphic style that will support the brand's emotion.

9. Forge partnerships and collaborations that are in line with what the brand stands for and that will mutually benefit each brand.

10. Try to create a bricks and mortar environment that aligns with your brand (Tell the story on the inside (storyboard, photos, gimmicks) and the outside in unique ways that reinforce the brand.

11. Ensure that any sub-brands (and limit the number of those as much as possible) complement the overall brand. ie: in terms of the bank, the names of accounts should complement the brand, while not confusing them.

12. Ensure your corporate participation in acts of social responsibility support the brand's intent.

13. Hunt down inconsistencies.

14. Create a brand book that's user friendly, can be referred to quickly and explains the brand and its usage including: logos, tag lines, graphics, swag, etc.

15. Remind yourself, as the marketing or communications person, that branding is like parenthood - it's only over when you're dead! And, even then we can't be too sure... (I'm not a parent. No children of mine were offended by that statement.)

Oh and a word of caution. Branding is not for the weak. It helps to be a creative genius with the sales skills of Bob Rennie, the assertiveness of Germaine Greer and the patience of the Dalai Lama in executing and maintaining any brand.

Read about the saga of the Harley-Davidson brand here.

Got a comment? Got a tip?

Waking up to Optimization

I attend the High Tech Communicators' Exchange. It's the brainchild of Catherine Ducharme, a local marketing/communications professional. Her company's name is Outsidein Communications.

Last night, the final night before summer break, we heard from three different presenters with three case studies. The presentations were all excellent but my favorite was by a woman named Raquel Hirsch. Her company is called Wider Funnel Marketing. Personally, just my opinion, I think there's a more creative name and they might want to hire Catherine to improve their brand but the service they deliver looks fantastic.

Her talk was on Conversion Optimization. Those two words - Conversation Optimization - translate into a bunch of questions. Why do you have a website? Is it to get people to contact you to use your services? Do you want to sell them something? Can you prove, statistically with the help of software, that your users are actually following through or not? Do you want them to download something? Are they doing it? Do you even know? Wider Funnel Marketing, like the name suggests, means you are getting more of what you want from your users, faster. That will translate into more business, more products sold, more work, more money, a stronger brand.

I loved it when she said, "I feel uncomfortable when people ask me, 'So, what do you think of the way our website looks?'" I want to say "Who Cares? It doesn't matter what I think of how it looks. It doesn't matter what you think of how it looks. Is it doing what you built it to do? Did you build it to do anything? Do you even know what you want those who land on a page to do? What's the action you're asking of them? Are they doing it?"

It made me realize, (for about the one-thousandth time) that too many companies still think of a homepage like the front door of a house. But, we all know that on the web there is no front door. People are coming in the windows, up through the floor boards, through the mail slot and down the chimney. They're arriving from other sites, from Facebook and LinkedIn and MySpace. They're coming from Google search and from Blogger and Flickr, because they attended an event and heard about a company. They're arriving from a million other places for a billion other reasons landing on any one of the pages, not necessarily the homepage, on your site randomly (or not so randomly) depending on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) prowess.

Let me give an example that brings a smile to my face. A while ago I wrote something on my blog about getting a bad haircut that reminded me of Pat Benetar's haircut from the 80s. I use Google Analytics on my Blog. I can therefore see who's visiting my Blog and in some instances how they got there. You would not believe how many people are googling "Pat Benetar's Haircut" and arriving at my blog. They end up on my site by mistake just because I wrote a blog entry about getting a haircut that looked like Pat Benetar's haircut. Who knew that many people in the world still even thought of Pat Benetar?

Hirsch said accurately and painfully, look around the boardroom and here's what typically happens. It's either the guy who makes the most money in the company or the cool guy (the creative director) who decides what the website looks like. But, very few of either one of those people are actually using, or are aware of, software such as Google Optimizer (or a more powerful version of that software) to create hypotheses, then design alternative landing pages that test those hypotheses. Then, based on the statistics that those different landing pages generate, you will change the interface of the site to lead to an increase in people doing what you intended them to do - call you, buy your product, download your information or whatever you decide. And, you will do that even if you personally, aesthetically, don't like what your interface looks like as much as you did prior to finding all this out.

We all know from experience, (because most of us who work in Communications are not even up-to-date on the technological tools that exist out there and how to use them to a business advantage) that the weakest link in Communications has always been measurement.

The best examples I can think of are communication's consulting firms, usually small, that have these incredibly cool websites that use Flash and they've come up with some clever visuals that lead you through some analogy with metaphors. You're having to click on a candy cane or a beer glass that's emptying and sometimes you can't even figure out which graphic to click on to just get to a page with the kind of information you were seeking. And, all you really wanted to know was, where the heck are they located in the physical realm here on planet earth?

I consider myself a creative person and I'm initially attracted by those types of sites but if I can't figure them out, I get pissed off, and I don't even get to the end of the analogy before I just say screw it and I'm gone. I'm not unique. They've forgotten that I'm giving them less than a couple of seconds to fulfill my needs. And you thought sex was demanding!

Tommorrow I'll talk about branding and share some of the things that Catherine's business partner Sharon Habib spoke about in her exercise of branding the North Shore Credit Union.

June 16, 2008

Geriatric Boot Camp

It was Father's Day so I made the trek out to Surrey. It was such a gorgeous day and now, whenever I go out there, dear old dad looks forward to me taking him on an outing. Why wouldn't he?

We go to White Rock or Crescent Beach or Fort Langley. We need to expand our repertoire. And, now that gas has become a rare commodity, it's time to use his car. That's what fathers are for right? Let's get in the veteran mobile with the special veteran's licence plate; the one with the poppy on it. I always say that those licence plates for veterans are a lot like the "L" for new drivers. One glimpse of the red poppy and your brain immediately says: Warning. Veteran at the wheel. Stay back. Keep your distance. May not see. May not hear. Still driving. Except, in this case, I'm driving! Imagine when you reach an age where your children no longer let you drive your own car when they're with you. A tad cheeky! But, c'est la vie.

So, I get there at 9 am. Ya, it's a wee bit early but he's always telling me how he's out and about for his daily walk by 8 am. I knocked on his door. There was no answer. I call him from my cell phone. He takes a long time to say "Hello". I have to explain that I'm not in Vancouver. I'm standing outside his door - a mere 10 feet from him. He answers the door. He's in his pyjamas. "Oh, I guess Im' a little early," I say. "Sorry about that. I guess I should have called last night to let you know I was coming." What I'm really thinking is oh god, I'm glad he doesn't sleep in the nude.

"I guess I slept in," he says. "Well, get up. Have a shower. Get dressed. I'll get your breakfast. It's sunny. There's no time to waste. If it's Father's Day it must be time for a Geriatric Boot Camp." I say that because it seems like I have developed this bad habit of forgetting how old he is (90 in August) because he is in such good shape. As a result, I end up taking him on what feels like a major boot march almost every time we go out. "Are you trying to kill him?" my sisters ask me when they hear about these excursions.

Yesterday, we did the route along the Fraser River from Derby Reach into Fort Langley. The sign said 4.6 km to the Fort. Me and numbers you know. That doesn't sound too far I thought. You think you can manage that Dad? I forgot that it was one way. "That's fine," he says. He has developed this rather annoying habit of saying "That's fine" to just about everything. It makes me wonder what I'd have to do to evoke an objection.

We set off in the sunshine through thickets of ferns, glimpses of a muddy brown arm of the Fraser, yellow buttercups sprinkled like tumeric on the clover, horses grazing and a gravel trail that winds its way past Maples and Cottonwoods.

He has a habit of walking in dress shoes. It must be some Presybterian aberration I think to myself. I'm not sure I've ever seen him wear runners. Strangley enough, before I started running, I had a bad habit of doing that as well. Is it possible that choosing inappropriate footwear is a genetic aberration?

We make it to Fort Langley and sit on a bench in a park near the old railway museum. The yard is full of irises, pale florentine and purples and hard pink bulbs of peonies getting ready to burst into blossom. It would be beautiful if not for the fact that bikers love Fort Langley. Their bikes wreak havoc. The roar of the engines confuse the silence of the main street.

I leave him on the bench and I go off in search of water. I return and look at him and say, "How ya feelin there dad? Are you going to be able to make it back?" He looks at me and says, "I don't think I could feel better than I feel right now!" And, he's completely serious!

I stare at him for a second. I think to myself, Geez, when was the last time I felt like that? Try saying that. It makes you feel better just saying the words. Repeat after me. "I don't think I could feel better than I feel right now."

Just say it Gayle. Lie!

June 13, 2008

Tie one on

I like to read my community newspaper, the Westender . There's a section in it called Rants/Raves. People, really irritated people who have way too much time on their hands, call in and get whatever is bothering them off their chests. Then, several of those rants get printed in the paper.

I have to say that when you read it, you would think that people who live in the West End are the most short-tempered, irritable sods on the planet. They complain a lot about noise and choppers and rude people and people who take up the whole sidewalk when they walk. They complain about the annual fireworks. They complain about too many dogs. They even complain, if you can believe it, that in the Davie Village, the Gay Pride banners were removed temporarily so that the Triathlon Championship banners could replace them for a week or whatever. Get a life people! Take off your rainbow-coloured glasses and go shopping!

Having been a community newspaper reporter and occasional editor in a small town, I know from experience that it doesn't take much to set people off. And, it's never really the things that you think are going to set them off that actually do.

I once wrote a feature on Bingo. I thought the writing was really good albeit glib and sarcastic. But, coming from the city, I had no idea that Bingo in a small town is sacred. Do not touch Bingo. Do not comment on the people who play Bingo. Do not comment on any aspect of anything that has anything to do with Bingo. Bingo is beyond reproach. I feared for my life after that feature was published based on the mail it generated.

This particular rant caught my attention for another reason however...

Here it is.

"If you're a 30 year old male or approaching 30 or 35, it's time to throw the skateboard away. It's a bit passe already. You're not a nihilist, you're just annoying. You're in the way on the sidewalks. It's time to have a shave, cut off the dreadlocks, get rid of the baggy pants and walk down the street - shoulders back, chin up - and become one with society instead of this pseudo-anti-social childish bullshit... Grow up and put on a tie. Then you're going to impress a woman, okay? Oh and put a book in your hand. Not a skateboard. A book. - Calvin, Rantline caller.

Now, the reason this makes me laugh is because Calvin, the guy who wrote it, actually thinks that all it takes for a woman to be impressed is for a guy to finally put on a tie.

If only it was so easy. If only. For guys. For women. For all of us. This amuses me immensely.

Got a rant? Be my guest...

June 12, 2008

It's the Glasses. Honest!

Progressive lenses - eyeglasses with three distinct areas of varying vision requirements - are one of the most unprogressive inventions of humankind.

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day with pliers in one hand and my progressive lenses in the other. They are out of whack. They are off kilter. They are not lining up. I am going insane!

My neck is now out of alignment because I am behaving like one of those toys that some people put on their car dashboard. Do you know what I mean? I am referring to those little dogs or famous people like Marilyn Munroe or a member of the Vancouver Canucks. I think they may be called toggleheads. They have tiny, skinny bodies and big, big heads that joggle around every time the car moves. I think I may be moving my head in a similar way in an attempt to find a clear line of vision. Forget the optician. I think I may need an exorcist. Got a cross?

I have tried taking them to not one, not two, but three places that sell glasses and are supposed to fix glasses. I even went back to the place where I bought them - a factory - and they went so far as to put little black lines on the lenses in an attempt to line them up. I peer through them for a few seconds, I look around, I look down at some text and I think they are okay. They seem better. I am ecstatic. I can forget my glasses. I can just see. Then, I leave and I find out very quickly that they are not fine. I am still am not able to see clearly. "Maybe it's not your eyes. Maybe it's your ears. Maybe your ears are sagging," said one of my friends.
Thanks. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

I don't know about you but when I can't see, it's as if I also can not hear, I can not speak, I can not function.

I find myself staring at people as if they are alien beings who have just dropped off another planet and I am trying to recall where I have met them before. I believe that is how I am now looking at people as a result of my progressive lenses being unprogressively out of whack.

None of this would matter. On a typical day this would just fit into the category of minor inconvenience. However, I no longer have typical days. I have interviews. I am attempting to interact with people who don't know me during interviews. And, as a result, I must pretend to be a superhuman speciman of perfection who is normal beyond normal so that I do not scare them and so they will want to weigh the odds of hiring me over hiring their friends, people they have gotten drunk with, slept with, and have experienced, firsthand. No sense jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

When I am looking at them through these lenses at this point in time, I am sorely falling short of the perfection mark. And, of course, interviews are not meant for imperfection. You can not start an interview by saying, "Don't mind me if I'm staring at you a bit like Glenn Close right before she cooked the bunny in the movie "Fatal Attraction". "It's just my progressive lenses. They're off. Don't let it worry you. Trust me!"

Let's just say, at the moment, I'm a walking advertisement for laser surgery.

June 08, 2008

Disability and Sexuality: The Glass Box

Here's what I mean about becoming an "expert" on free Vancouver.

We spent the afternoon at a free "work in progress" called The Glass box put on by Theatre Terrific at the Roundhouse. It's a work in progress because it's still being tweaked.

It consisted of 3 people reading a script. One of the people is a woman in her 50s. The other woman is in her 20s or 30s who is a quadriplegic. She was injured in a diving accident that took place on a high school rafting trip. The third person is a man of an age I could not tell who has Down Syndrome. Jan Derbyshire is the Director.

How often do you think about sexuality and disability? It's usually either/or. One or the other but not the two together. If you're like most able-bodied people, I'm willing to guess next to never. Or if you do it's most likely in the negative as in a lacking, not a difference.

So, to have three people on stage, two with some form of disability, telling stories in a way that were about their sexuality, but more about their vulnerability, was a unique experience. I mean put up your hand if you think you don't have a disability of some form or another. Think about it and if you can't understand what I'm saying, then I'd say it's fair to say that your self examination has been minimal.

It's interesting to see three people telling their own stories and being able to see how much, in spite of their individual uniqueness, they have in common.

The play engages the audience in a way that can't help but turn the focus inward and gets us to think about our own sexuality while having the priviledge of hearing how other people's lives, able bodied or not, are really not all that much different when it comes to the vulnerability that is inherent in sexuality.

Have you ever asked yourself what you have in mind in terms of your future and sexuality? It was an interesting line in the play. Ever had to fill out a questionairre that tries to assess what your sexuality is worth, especially, if it has been irrevocably altered as a result of an accident? Not likely.

I'm not sure when the final product of The Glass Box will be complete or where it will run but if you get a chance, go see it.

Afterwards, we walked up to The Yale ordered a beer and sat in on the Sunday afternoon Jam session.

Cost of entertainment for the afternoon: $8.00 with beer including tip.
Enjoyment? Priceless!

A good line in the play: "Regrets are always a 10!" (on a scale of one to 10)

It's so easy to entertain oneself in Vancouver with next to no money. It's one of the best things about this place!

June 07, 2008

Attracted to the Hive 2

I have this little idiosyncracy. Well, okay, okay, I may have more than one actually, but for now, we'll focus on this one.

When it comes to research, I'm pretty good at finding out information when I need information, a task that has been made almost mindless, ironically, thanks to Google.

But, when it comes to "the arts" and "entertainment", I have this strange little way of being that rears its weird head in that I tend to base my decisions about what I want to attend based almost solely on intuition once I've read the smallest snippet of advertising about it. Therefore, if you're someone who needs to know all the details about what I've chosen beforehand, then you would be much safer to find out for yourself, or even safer if you stayed home.

Entertainment, like life, is risk. You might spend money and it might be crap. Or not! I'm willing to take that risk. In fact, I like that risk. Not every day mind you. But, every once in a while. Afterall, it's about the experience. It's about being invited into the ideas and perceptions of others who think more than most about playing with the mind and whatever freaky thoughts might enter it. God knows and so do you, if you're truly human, that can be scary, possibly dangerous, sometimes humorous and at its very worst, lethally boring. But, and this is absolutely key, it will be different than let's say, showing up at the office every day!

Last night was a good example. Hive 2. Part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival runs this year in Vancouver to June 14th. Apparently this Festival travels to a different city in Canada every second year and then returns to its base at the National Arts Center. They've been doing this for six years. They choose some of the hottest productions from independent theatre companies across Canada (although, this year, the Prairies for whatever reasons didn't make the cut).

Vancouver's Indie theatre scene, like the variety of cultural experiences in Vancouver in general, has exploded.

Hive 2 took place in a warehouse at the Centre for Digital Media at the Great Northern Way Campus which isn't really a "campus" yet! I'm not sure how to explain it. Dark. Big open warehouse-type space. Bar. 10 different groupings. Active theatre. Short. We showed up. We were led away to each contained experience. Wierd. Confusing. Different. Definitely, not Friday night in front of the TV.

Oh, and speaking of Oh, here's a little celebrity gossip for you. Sandra Oh of Grey's Anatomy and of the film Sideways was there with a friend. She looked liked, well, herself in a rumpled, sand-coloured raincoat and in true Canadian fashion, she was treated like you'd treat your next door neighbour. Actually, you'd be more friendly to your neighbour.

Why not attend one of the other theatre performances. You've got 8 days. Here's the Magnetic North site.

June 02, 2008

Best Kept Stanley Park Secret

Let me share with you what may be a little known secret about the Stanley Park Seawall.

Regardless of whether you're riding a bike, rollerblading or walking, the very best time to be on the seawall, especially if you are not into crowds, is after 6:30 pm on a weeknight. This is true in spring, early fall, and in the height of summer.

At this quiet time of night you can lose yourself in your thoughts and the scenery. You can put away any fears that someone will be riding towards you even though there is only one way that you are supposed to ride around the seawall for safety sake and that is counterclockwise.

On a sunny evening, the light hits the water to produce a breath-taking show just past the Lions Gate Bridge. Sometimes, more often than not near Lumberman's Arch a shiny, black seal's head will catch your attention because the light will gleam off its wetness as it pops up.

At this time of night there is less chance that a pedestrian will be on the bike path, or that hordes of rollerbladers and other bikers will be on it so that when you are being passed on the very narrow parts you must balance, like on a tightrope, and keep your bike very, very straight so as not to take a fall. This is especially true near Siwash Rock.

And, while I'm on the topic of biking, yesterday I rode on the seawall from English Bay to Granville Island and I could have kept right on going to Jericho Beach and out to UBC. The fact that you can stay on a path through Stanley Park, past English Bay, skirt Yaletown, and keep on going past the dragonboaters in False Creek near Science World and onto Granville Island is just fantastic.

Oh, and one more tip. I noticed that for a mere $5 you can feel what it's like to be on a dragonboat team through a program called PaddlesUp. Sign up south of Science World where the dragonboat trailers are located. It looked as if this experience is only available to the general public on Sunday afternoons at 2pm.

In case you were thinking of coming down into the park this weekend, you might want to park elsewhere. It's the Vancouver BG Triathlon World Championships and English Bay will be a zoo. But, I caught it last year and it's pretty cool to see some world class triathletes (Simon Whitfield) flying by on their bikes.

But, as usual, I digress.

Back to the bike riding. If at any time, you are feeling somewhat disillusioned by the high cost of living in Vancouver, you should get on a bike and ride this route and you will then finish the ride with a renewed sense of wonderment at what a beautiful city it is indeed! Sometimes when you've lived here your entire life, you can get rather complacent about its natural beauty at times. In fact, I would recommend this bike route as a must-have, authentic Vancouver experience to any tourist who's capable of riding a bike.

When I cycled past the Olympic Village that is under construction on the SouthEast side of False Creek, I could almost feel a sense of the anticipation and excitement that will overtake the city for two weeks in 2010.

Yes, I know. It's really almost impossible to imagine that such a thought actually entered my consciousness, but it did. That's what biking will do for you. Must be the endorphins.

June 01, 2008

Glad to be an SFU Alumni

I've become pretty good at this, I said to Lisa as we were chowing down on free food at the SFU Theatre on Saturday afternoon. Although, it was her suggestion that we go because a friend was running for the SFU Board of Governor's and it was voting day. Free stuff. Finding free stuff to do, that's what I meant I've become really good at.

The event coincided with SFU's Open House and part of that also included an Alumni event in which if you showed up at the Board of Governor's meeting, you would be treated to lunch and an Improv Comedy performance afterwards.
I hadn't been up to SFU for a very long time and it was impressive to see how much it has grown in terms of new and interesting buildings.

I have to say that I am glad to be an SFU Alumni. Although I worked at UBC for many years, on and off, I went to SFU as an undergrad and I have no qualms saying that I have always felt that SFU, overall, is the more progressive university.

Why do I feel this? It was first to have a downtown campus. It's now going to house its School of Contemporary Arts in the old Woodwards' building in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. It just seems to me that it has always tried to remain true to its more radical history within its vision. And it seems to be able to react faster than UBC when it comes to capitalizing on new opportunities. I think about the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at the Surrey Campus. I think about the Writing and Publishing programs.

Maybe I'm biased but I don't think so. I liked working at UBC, especially in Computer Science. It was a great place and a great experience and as a result of all my time at UBC, I don't think I am biased. If anything, I should be biased in the other direction, towards UBC. Afterall, they paid my rent for many years thanks to a regular paycheque,and I made great friends there.

As I was driving up the hill, yesterday, I thought about my time at SFU and a feeling of sadness came over me briefly. Having attended university right out of highschool, I really know now just how badly I handled the whole experience by not getting involved. I'm one of those people who is now a firm believer that you shouldn't even really be allowed to go to university right out of highschool. You should travel. You should work for a year. And, only when you can articulate why you really want to be there, as opposed to doing something else, should you go.

Right out of high school I felt intimidated by the whole experience and in hindsight, it's quite amazing to me that I managed to complete my degree at all. Talk to a professor? Oh my God. I couldn't imagine that. My father didn't even finish high school. I couldn't talk to a professor back then. Like every experience, you get out of it what you put into it.

But, what's that saying? When you know better, you do better!

So, it really impresses me now that a friend's daughter, Courtney, has done such an amazing job at researching universities. She's about to graduate and she has been to the prospective student events at the University of Victoria. She's flown with a friend to the University of Alberta to compare that to the University of Victoria. I assume she's done her research into SFU and UBC. She's contacted the field hockey coaches about how to get on the teams. She's applied for bursaries and scholarships. I'm totally blown away by her choosing to control her destiny and make an informed decision about her future.

My friends, her parents, have obviously done a great job in guiding her, and, it's not because either one experienced university firsthand. It's because they understand that as parents it's their role to be "mentors", to create a dialogue around "options" and to remain as neutral as possible about the outcome.

Are you glad you made the decisions you made about your education or career choices? What would you do differently, if anything at all?