a dark time

There are times in my life when it seems like I don’t have a clue about anything.  When nothing seems to make sense.  I’m in the middle of one of those times when I am reminded of the uncertainty of everything.  I get up a little bit early today.  It is raining again.  The flat I am staying in is a block off the Mediterranean Sea in the small resort town of Sitges. Most of the night I’ve listened to the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore, which although slightly distant now were very close as I walked  from the town’s centre last night.  From this corner near the church where I now sit,  have breakfast and think, I walked along the shore, the sand giving way under my boots. These thoughts of confusion began last night during this walk. The meaning of life, as clichéd as that sounds, omnipresent in my mind.  I question everything that I have done and what I am.  I question why I should do anything in the future.  I feel blank.  What is the importance of trying, of constant learning, of love?  I walk to the end of the rocky pier about half way back, the town’s lights far enough behind me so that I cast no shadow in the dark ocean.  I stare into the blackness of the sea alone on the edge of the world  and wonder what it might offer me, if there might be a message about my life.  Nothing is clear, there are no outlines, no shapes, only the constant sound of the water shifting against the rock.  Perhaps this represents my life. I feel contempt for myself and my efforts.

My sleep is restless, my thoughts no more clear when I wake.  I begin to be reminded why it is so easy for people to cling to structure and tradition.  Why people don’t travel far from home.  Why people worship an all powerful and knowing being, follow religion, visit the same cafe every morning, why obsessive compulsiveness or addictions form. So many ways we are in life seem to be a response to the great uncertainty of life, to create for ourselves meaning, or to mask and hide from the possibility that there is none at all.

I have a wonderful breakfast, of eggs, toast, tomato, and ham.  The rain falls harder.  It’s time for me to return to the flat and pack for the trip to Barcelona.  The only thing that I am certain of this morning is that there is me.  I’m alone in the world with other people who are alone in this world.   During my solo journey it is nice, even welcome, when another offers to help make sense of my experience.  It becomes less confusing and painful in the darker times and more joyous and clear in the bright times.  To hold my hand and to say that they see a similar thing is very comforting and helpful.  Perhaps this is my meaning, perhaps it is meaning we all share – to help those other solitary travelers be more comfortable in their journeys with the hope that they will offer us the same.

To do this work of travelling together we must learn to hear one another’s voices and develop connections among ourselves.  In this effort we must also learn to hear our own voices.  I believe we are strengthened by learning that we express ourselves in many ways, with many different voices, and as we do this we create connections with one another.

thoughts about built space

I’m sitting in the Barbican, in the flat of Tim and Alan. It is Sunday morning.  We are packed and ready to go to Spain.  They’ve taken this opportunity to go to their local Anglican church, which seems to me to be older than God himself.  It’s a beautiful building that was for the most part destroyed during the last war.  The buildings in London are quite amazing; there is a real sense of preservation.  Besides the church, here in the Barbican there are old bits of roman walls.  It’s fascinating to a prairie boy, where the oldest buildings I saw growing up were barely 100 years.  Yesterday we visited a church that was built in 1132.  It’s easy to read the plaque but the comprehension of a building that is nearly 900 years old and still being used is beyond my grasp.  I have absolutely no understanding of what life was like then or even the events that might have been occurring as that building was being constructed.

Yesterday afternoon Terry and I did a little shopping near Oxford Circus.  I was completely enthralled by the amount of people out in shopping. It rained off and on but it didn’t matter.  It’s great to be in a place that is so busy and active.  We managed to find our way back to the Barbican on the bus system in time to meet Alan and Tim at the Barbican Gallery.  We went to see an exhibition on Le Cobusier’s work.  I found it all quite interesting.  He certainly was a visionary and had very provocative thinking.  His theoretically proposal to rebuild Paris with a series of skyscrapers, although interesting to see, seemed to miss the idea of how people move and interact as groups.  He seemed to really push the envelope at the time in terms of personal ergonomics.  I’m not sure that word was even in the modern lexicon then.  His individual spaces were full of light and function.  I love that they seem so ‘modern’ and minimalist; taking simple forms and blowing them up to gigantic proportions.  It’s no wonder they feel comforting and understandable.

He seemed strongly influenced by the cubist movement at the time, many of his paintings and drawings have a strong Picasso-like quality.  I however found myself being very critical them.  From this exhibition it seems like he never really learned how to draw.

I need to and want to study a little more of his thinking.  I’m specifically interested to see if he/how he considered the interactions of groups of people in a space.  He buildings although so beautiful and functional on the inside seem completely devoid of character on the outside.  I’m drawn to form that more closely ties into the landscape and represents a balance with nature, and human nature. Watching people on the streets yesterday move among one another in the business foot traffic I’ve seen in years, reminded me of how we like to be around one another.  People organized themselves in propose, creating loose structure and an organic flow to movement.  I wonder how these might be better accommodated within built structure.

So off we go to one of the older cities in the world. I’ll be watching how things were build, rearranged, recreated, destroyed, and repurposed.  Humanity over time must have a similar effect on this environment as a flowing river does over a landscape.  Structures must adapt to make way how we most intimately and casually interact with our surroundings.

equinox

A girl in a city
A girl in a city

Today is a turning point in the year.  Equinox is one of my favourite days. The days now officially have more light than darkness. It’s a great time to get organized and prepare for the summer. It’s a time for new beginnings as we think about spring soon coming, but it is also a time to reflect on our past.  This week, winter has been putting in a last ditch effort to cling to the landscape.  Even as I write this the snow blows and piles up on the streets and houses.  Still it’s nearly zero and those that did shovel their sidewalks know that the earth is warm enough to melt the snow falling during the day.  In many ways it is quite pretty.  A nice blanket of clean white makes the city quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

Equinox is a great time to consider a little decluttering and organizing.  I hear my grandmother’s voice, ‘a place for everything and everything in it’s place’. Terry and I have plans to sort and tidy up the closets, hide the winter clothes, and get the shorts and sandals out for the warm weather that is just around the corner.  Clothes that I’ve outgrown will soon find new homes.  I’m excited now, I want to put down my coffee and this blog and go sort closets.  Okay, I’m a little weird too.  Our de-cluttering angel, Heather, would be proud.  And yes, there is such a person and she is a great help.

Our plan is that the warm weather will be here when we come back from our spring break in Europe.  I used to tell everyone I know never to let me go to Europe for I feared I would not come back.  Instead we are now visiting often.  All of this cleaning and organizing is quite important to us as we plan a house renovation this summer.  The plans are with the architect and each iteration brings as a little closer to the ideal space that we would love for our lifestyle of openness, entertaining, and gardening.  Lots of light and a more minimalist approach to design.  I’m most excited because I’m getting rid of the 6’5″ doorways that I constantly have to duck under.  Soon the house will have only eight foot openings and sliding walls.  Not that I’m that tall – for heaven’s sakes 6’6″ is quite enough – flood pants and a pointed head.  Poor me.

So as I considered this week, I’ve started on my goals for the season.  One of the big things for me is to finish off a number of projects.  It seems a big thing every year but perhaps this year I’ll actually get many of them finished. I’ve used the three questions I referred to in my last entry as a basis for planning this week and it is interesting to see what has happened.  I am feeling much more balanced with my life… large and in charge as one friend says.  I have been able to do some things that I’ve put off for months if not years.

My biggest accomplishment this week was going to Calgary on Wednesday and meeting with the printers to have limited edition prints made of two of my paintings.  I’ve shown here two of the paintings that I’ve chosen and there is a third that I’m considering. Now for a shameless plug.  If you would like a print of either of these please let me know, by either emailing me at pharris@sunworks.ab.ca , or by signing up for the blog newsletter.  I’ll be sure to contact you as soon as they are off the press, which will be in about three weeks.

For Nicole
For Nicole

On Wednesday the most important thing for me to do for myself was to go to Calgary have a little space to think and read, as well as to organize getting these prints in the works.  It was so great to have time.  The weather, unlike today, was cooperative.  Winter was losing.  The sun was bright and shining and I was able to walk around Mount Royal with only a t-shirt.  I eventually settled at Steeps on 17th Avenue for a wonderful pot of Lapsang Suchong.  That reminded me of my favourite high school teacher, Sheena.  She was my art teacher and it seemed so appropriate that I would have just come from the printers.  Terry hates this kind of tea, it reminds him of tar.  I spent a while reading the book ‘Wikinomics’ that takes a close look at social networking, mass collaboration and the economy.  I become increasingly convinced that I need to be more involved in this industry.

I stopped at my favourite bar on the way out of town for a couple of pints of beer.  It was really nice to treat myself and gave me added energy for the work that I needed to do the rest of the week.  I’ve been working on a number of small technological issues, from recovering from hacking, to finishing website work for clients.  I’ve been teaching myself new content management systems and it is becoming important to my business to really understand how these work and how I can integrate them with the web design work I do.

The one thing that I have most wanted to work on this week is writing.  I’ve learned that I truly need space for creativity to flourish.  What is interesting to me as I reflect on the amount of work that I have do with clients, and some of the important deadlines, is that it leaves very little time for writing.  Somehow I’m going to need to find space, even if it’s only a few hours a week, to really focus on writing.  Many of the interruptions that happened this week are of the one time variety, to do with domain transfers, email setup, etc.  I’m staring to feel some confidence around handling these now.

On Friday morning I had the wonderful opportunity to be filmed for a video being made on Community Development.  Even though I wasn’t in quite the right space for this video I found it interesting to hear myself speaking.  The experience was good because it reminded me that some of the material that I need for the book can be accessed through this type of interview process.  I’ve asked to for a copy of the complete interview when it’s available.  When Alan and I really get cooking on this book, it will be helpful to remember this interview process as a way to flush out the ideas and thinking.

So what I have learned this week?  It’s been so full of small things that it almost seems like the big accomplishments are hiding.  It’s a reminder to count the small accomplishments.  It’s my observation that many of us discount the small tasks we do, then at the end of the week we question if we have actually done anything.  This week has been full of little things what will all help create a better space for future work.  Since it is equinox this week, and it’s too cold to dance naked around a camp fire, let’s all try to remember what we’ve done with the past six months since the last equinox.  The major accomplishments will all be there, but try not to forget the simple things that are just about living one’s life.  In this 21st century world many travellers tend to think that the important things are those things that we can point to and say… ‘see, that’s what I’ve done with my time’.  I encourage you to think about the other ways you’ve spent your time, from reading to cooking, from hanging with friends to walking in the park, from dreaming about the future to remembering our own heritage… and then there is cycling, singing, painting, listening to music, laughing with friends… drinking great wine.

44 degrees later

It’s Sunday night once again.  I thought I wouldn’t make it through this week with the cold weather, but then as surely as it was -36 on Wednesday it was 44 degrees warmer a day later.  This is Alberta and the weather is especially exciting this time of year.  Another week or two and we won’t know whether to wear shorts or big winter jackets without opening the door and standing on the step for a few seconds.

I’ve spent a good part of this week establishing a website, this one in fact.  I can feel it starting to grow and I’m sure it will get its own legs soon.  I’m interested and curious where it is going to take me.  Tonight I’ve begun to send out the link to friends.  I’m done for the most part with the intense fiddling of the past week and will turn my attention to content.

My colleague, Alan Taylor and I spent many hours in Montreal talking about community, community change, and the factors that enable change.  I feel a lot of our discussion and thoughts still rattling around in my head begging to appear on paper.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see my notebook opened on my desk tomorrow ready for me to engage with.  It’s time to begin the steady writing of this book.

So with the disasters and challenges of the past week over, which included flooding tenant spaces and hackers in my website, I’ll get down to writing this week.  Terry and I set up a home work station this weekend.  It will be so nice to have a proper place to sit and work.

As I think about it I was able to accomplish a lot in one week.  I usually do accomplish a lot, but often I forget this until I sit down to remind myself of what I have done.  Sunworks is looking great and the sales have been fairly steady.  We are just  managing to keep up with the bills from the new  incoming spring stock, which is great for this time of year. We have so much space to fill now, with the second floor. Terry and I have booked a quick trip to Spain for a week break right after he finishes at Olds College this year.  We are joining our great friends Alan and Tim in London, going to the BBC Symphony and to see Ronnie Burkett, Theatre of Marionettes.  It’s the closing performance of Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy.  We absolutely love his work and it will be so great to share.  Then it is off to Spain, to Sitges for four days and Barcelona for three, where we are staying in the historic part of town.  Which sounds like a joke when I say it.  All of Barcelona seems historic to an Albertan.

It was the first week back to the gym since my Montreal trip.  It was harder than I thought it would be but it feels great to be back.  I can feel gains already, or at least feel the droop stopping.  So with all of mucky stuff out of the way last week, I’m going to try hard to hold a space open for myself to write.

At the beginning of this week I wrote and posted on my mirror:

What is the most important thing I need to do for myself today?
What is the most important thing that I need to do for others today?
How curious do I feel?

I’ve read them many times this week, and they are useful in framing the day.  Last week I wrote about space.  The first of these questions reminds me that I must before all else make sure that I have space for myself to just be… evolve perhaps.  It’s helped me think of what activities are self nourishing.  This week that question gave me time to read, to sort out my desk completely, to set up a home office, to get back to the gym, to have some art framed, think about love, and simple things like laundry.

The second question was interesting and I’m curious to see where it will take me in the future.  It can be read in two ways.  What do ‘I need’ to do for others?  Also, what do I… ‘NEED to do for others’ today?  I think it is a good reminder that we have needs as they relate to others.  For example, we need to help our friends feel good about their work, but at the same time others may have needs of us, such as I need you to do X; fix the printer, respond to an email, pick up some groceries, or scoop the cat box.  There seems an interesting balance between what others need of us, and what we need to do for others.  I took much more joy this week in writing a thank you card for a friend who said kind words when I needed them, than I did doing a task that she needed to me to.  Both are important and have different effects.  I would be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on these ideas of needs.

The third question, came from a course I took nearly a year ago.  Alan and I spent five days together at Schumacher College, where Meg Wheatley was the guest instructor.  There is a complete other story about the whole Schumacher experience. For now back to the question, how curious are you today?  She posed this question at the beginning of the course and I found it most intriguing.  It invites me to look at everything from a ‘why?’ perspective.  As my life unfolds, and in some weeks unravels, right before my eyes, carrying curiosity allows me to stand beside myself – to play second witness – and watch and question what is going on behind the scenes.  It compels me to look closely at my own reactions and that of others.  It helps me to be in the moment and yet not be trapped by the moment.  It seems like a beautiful way to maintain a constant state of reflection about myself and about the world around me.

So, I invite to you try these questions out this week.  Post them on your mirror. Notice what is different, what is the same, and how you change.  I would love to hear your thoughts, please feel free to post comments.

thinking about new home space

I’m about to start another work week.  We moved the clocks an hour ahead so we have lost one hour of sunlight in the morning.  It’s still bright enough when I wake up though, so it will just seem like more daylight this afternoon.  I’ll enjoy that.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the renovations of the house.  For those of you who don’t know me that well, Terry and I live in a small bungalow built in the mid 1950s.  We renovated the kitchen some years ago, added the sunroom that I love so much, and now we are looking to renovate the other end of the house.  We are in great need of a new bathroom and a bit more, and better appointed closet space.  I would also like a work station at home, and so we are going to reconfigure the three rooms into two, and create a large bathroom.  I’m hoping that the new office space will be filled with light, be quiet and yet connected to the rest of the house.  This week Terry and I will meet with our architect again and continue to develop the design.  After nearly 20 years together it is time to get rid of the pink bathtub and the rotting walls, put in a proper size shower, and a wash dryer on the same floor as the closets.  What a novel idea.  It’s all strangely different to how we configured our space 50 years ago with separate rooms, when today we prefer more open space and a more minimalist approach.

I think this relates to the idea of space.  We need space that is not filled with things, that feels open and bright and airy.  White space for us to live in.  I’m of the belief that as we do some of these changes it will change our relationship as well.  Perhaps not during the renovation process, but once things are completed.  It’s important that the house has all of the functions that we both need in order to live our lives.  Terry enjoys cooking, and watching television while he does that.  I enjoy reading in absolute silence.  There is a challenge for us in design.  Meanwhile, we both enjoy entertaining, so an open concept is much more interesting.  Some of the changes that the architect proposes for the kitchen and the living room are brilliant.  It will be exciting to see this happen.  I thought I had enough of renovations with the store last year, but now we are moving it into the house.  I must like pain.

space

I’m sitting my sunroom surrounded by things that I like and art that I’ve created.  This room is probably more a reflection of me than any other room in the house.  One thing that I learned so clearly this year is the important of space.  It is really becoming a theme for me.  I need space in which I feel comfortable, both physical space and inner space.  This year I talked many times of white space.  In the world of art and design white space is the negative space around the subject and within the subject itself.  When you get the right balance of white space to the graphic or image, the impact of the image itself is heightened.  As I look at the my own paintings, I see bold blocks of colour and stillness which offset the busyness of the composition.  So it is in the design of this room, when it is tidy and things are put away there is enough space around the beautiful things to help them be better than they are, and the whole presents a much more unified image. At the very moment I then want to get up and tidy a few things away so that my experience in this sunroom is better.  So that I become the complex busyness around which the white space exists.  So that the room itself enhances me and my performance.

White space exists in our inner worlds as well.  It may well be part of what sleep is about.  We spend much of our days doing things, interacting with people, solving challenges, creating, communicating, and becoming.  Do we create enough white space around our activities to really enjoy them?  Is there time for personal reflection or activities that invite personal reflection such as gardening, cooking, and exercise?  For me, the greatest troubles I have in my life occur when I am not allowing myself enough inner space for reflection and quiet. It’s interesting because these times also coincide with a cluttered physical space.

My grandmother, Mary – with whom you will probably become familiar if you continue to read my writing – used to say,  “Just sit still and twiddle your thumbs”.  She would make us sit on the sofa for what seemed a long time. Maybe she just wanted some peace and quiet herself, instead of grandkids running all over the house, or maybe she knew that reflection and inner space is a skill that we need to develop, and the younger the better.

Today as I start this new adventure, the creation of this web space, this virtual white space, I hope to share and find interesting insights into our personal worlds. I hope you come with me in a spirit of questioning and discovery.

Restart and new chapter.

I’ve just returned from Montreal where I spent 10 days with my best friend, Alan.  During that time I was able to think about my life, the directions it is taking, the important things to me, and smaller things like the meaning of life and the universe.

As I come back to Red Deer and am very much ready to change directions, finish up some of the projects that I have been working on and seriously consider the new directions that will take.  Unfortunately, I managed to get food poisoning the day after I returned and it has taken the bounce out of my step the past couple of days.  I’m 40% now and by tomorrow I’ll be coming around to half capacity or more

One of the things that I’ve really missed is writing in this public blog, and so I’m ready to begin that again.  I’ve been studying carefully social networking tools and considering how they relate to career and life and I hope to offer interesting insights and observations about life and the way we all are with one another in this time.

I’m especially excited about my current writing project and the shape that it may take.  I’m hopeful that some of this material will appear here.

British Airways – January 11, 2009

On the early evening on January 11, 2009 we landed in Calgary on a British Airways flight direct from London, Terminal 5.  We cleared customs and made out way to the baggage carousel to collect our luggage.  We usually travel fairly lightly and don’t have checked baggage but with a wonderful Christmas holiday in the London and other parts of England we had checked baggage.  We took our Christmas presents for one another from Canada in Terry’s new Carhartt bag and returned home with them and other things.

We stood at the carousel for quite a long time while a friend waited for us outside to give us a ride back to Red Deer.  The bags stopped coming and Terry’s Carhartt bag, the one with Terry’s gifts, some clothes, chocolates for friends, and a few other important things wasn’t there.  It was then that we noticed at bag at looked almost identical to Terry’s still going around.  We checked the tag to be sure.  It belonged to a person with the last name of Higgins, who was on the same flight as us. The bag had Trinidad 2006 stitched on the side, was not as new but besides that was exactly the same shape and size.

We took this bag over to the lost baggage centre and explained that although our bag could have been lost or stolen it could also be possible that Higgins, presumable Mr. Higgins had taken it by mistake.  We suggested that they phone him before he got to far from the airport.  In stark contrast with the in flight service, British Airways staff were very unhelpful, saying that they didn’t have access to that information and only their supervisor could look up the information but that she was closing another flight. They gave us a business card to call back in the morning on the 1-800 number with the file number.  They just shrugged their shoulders and said that they could do nothing.  They said the customer would call and return it likely.  We had our doubts.  People working in drilling on the rigs could travel 100s of miles to their jobs.

So we filled out the missing bag forms as instructed, knowing full well that the all that was in between us and the path to getting out bag and gifts back was a simple phone call.  We would have been quite happy to go and collect it ourselves.

The alarming thing about this is that our bag potentially left the airport with someone else.  In this time of high security is that something that should be happening?  We would like help in retrieving our bag and possibly seeing changes to the way security is handled.  Does anyone have ideas about what we should do next?

Universe unfolding.

Why do I blog tonight?  It was a brilliant day all round.  I suppose that I just want to share some of the goodness with you, or perhaps just had too much coffee in the morning.  Thanksgiving has just past and although I’m not terribly religious I am thankful for the wonderful life that I have.  Filled with lovely people and interesting projects.

The store is doing really well, all of the hard work is starting to pay off.  We’ve finished a large part of the renovations and are doing the rest in well quoted, well timed chucks.  I’m just no longer capable of uncertainty around any of the projects.  A colleague of mine has taken up the ball and is running with it.  He’s organized the railings, windows, stairs, firedoors, and a few other bits that yet need to be done.  It won’t be long and we’ll be thinking about the listening music bar on the second floor — which we’ve be trying to get big shiny Brian to come back to town for, but which is probably a hopeless thing.  And then it is onto designing and renovating for the coffee bar on the second floor.  The team is going away for a day, and I’m looking forward to it in a big way.  We are going to have time to spend with one another to be in nature.  We are thinking about going down to near Rosebud, Alberta.  Everyone it seems if looking forward to it.

Swerve Living is finally coming along.  We’ve been working with architects that believe in the project and also understand what a budget it.  That is a long story, too long to tell, but the ground breaking is a few months away now and we’ll be building in the spring.

Love and friendships are absolutely wonderful.  Terry and I are going to England for Christmas to spend time with Alan and Tim.  A few days in London and then some time in the country before we return to work in January here.  There is no doubt that we’ll be spending more time with these lovely friends.

Body building is going really well.  I’ve gain about 10 pounds and have slimmed down at the same time.  I’m having such at hard time with sticking to the diet, but what is amazing is that when I manage to eat all of the food (the right food) I seem to lose fat, and become more muscular.  It’s amazing how the body works.  I’m going to make a valiant effort to stick to the plan for the Christmas season.

Life seems to be going well, but I am also very clear that it is what you make it.  It’s tricky to remain grounded in reality, be fluid in your thinking and in your willingness to adapt to changing circumstances in your life, positive with people that throw all kinds of baggage your way, and trust the universe to unfold as it should.  Sky’s the possibility.  I suppose I’m having a good day in being healthy and dealing with the issues and opportunities that have recently appeared.  Horizons look great and I know that I’m daily becoming a better person.