John Lent 1

Well tonight was the first experience with John Lent.  He gave an address at the library on dealing with long wandering narratives.  He talked to us about how to handle them and encouraged us to trust our abilities and allow the story to flow.  He suggested that we consider using space in the narrative to give strength.  In short what we don't say is as important as what we do say. 

I was struck with the words that he chose to describe writing. They crossed over to the visual arts strongly.  Create large panels with space in between, apply texture and volume.  It was all very interesting and relates well to the thinking I have been doing in the past couple of days about community engagement voice and connection.  The fluid nature of change and the trust of process, of creating a vision and theme for the piece. 

I am looking forward to my meeting with him next week.  I am inspired to write and can't wait to get back at it.

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Warm weather finally.

The rain ended and there are a lot of people with flooded basements, much worse than ours.  The rivers at full and the worst of the flooding is over… for now.  The sun has been shining and the weather is warm again.  It is nice.

The first two days of my wild week are over.  The Downtown Business Association board meeting was just about what I expected.  That organization needs serious help.  We did make progress tonight even though it doesn't seem like that to some.  Thankfully the board is not meeting in the summer and the executive can just carry on with the work.

Tomorrow I start to write my speech for the CFC panel.  I've got some good ideas, now it is the time to just sit and write.  I think I want to be optimistic with them.  Focus on the great things that people are doing, the new connections that are being formed globally.  Remind them to bring those connection to a community level.  Creativity and giving voice to the community workers.  We'll see where it goes.

Anyhow, that is all I have for today.  I need to do some more writing this week too, and work on this painting that is half done.  Oh boy.  Lots to do.

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Waterworld I

Rain. The Sunworks' building is not holding up well and we really need some roof work.  The leaking is becoming more serious and I believe that this will be a really wet summer.  In the region the ground is already saturated and water is pooling.  This is not that common for Alberta.  I suspect that another week or two of this will cause the rivers to swell and flooding to occur in Red Deer and downstream in Saskatchewan.

Terry spent most of the day mopping up water in our own basement that came up through the sump hole.  Since he landscaped around our sunroom addition, the basement hasn't had water problems.  This is likely the first entry of many this summer that will
be related to the weather and global warming.  It is finally spring in

The rain and wet snow is coming down hard.  It steadily taps against the windows of the
sunroom.  We have a fire burning and are drinking hot tea.  The cats lie
in various positions of repose.  It's during times like these that my mind
connects to memories most easily.

Tonight, I remember when I was 10 years old or thereabouts, my Dad and I would sit in the conservatory that he built.  It was attached to the back of our small bungalow in east Calgary.  When my parents bought the house for $24,000 they talked about my brothers and I not being able to afford a place of our own if prices continued to climb as they were. Behind the house were acres of farm land as far as you could see.  Calgary had started to grow.  Years later I began to understand that this consuming of farm land is the most unhealthy approach to community that cities would ever undertake.  Flying into Calgary now is like diving into a giant scar on earth.  At some point I want to explore the lost connections between people and the silencing of collective voice that has resulted from suburban sprawl.  That's for another day.  Perhaps next week at the Community Foundations of Canada conference.

For now, our suburban home is one of my fondness memories of my Dad.  We never understood each other as I grew up and even in my early adult years.  It is only recently that we are beginning to understand one another.  I've been reminded recently by a friend to cherish my parents while they are still alive.

Then we would build a fire in the wood building stove, leave the doors open, and listen to classical music on a small transistor radio.  On the most interesting nights the rain beat on the corrugated fibre glass roof.  He would encourage me to imagine what scene was unfolding as we listened.  Then I wasn't very good at imagining, but one thing I learned was that our senses are connected.  (Much later I would learn that as many as 1 of 23 people have brains that are wired in such as way that two or more of their senses are connected.  The condition is called synesthesia.  Numbers may be perceived as inherently coloured.  Time may be perceived a spacial, perhaps with older times appearing farther away visually.  The characteristic is quite fascinated.  Days of the week might have personalities.  Some people have extreme sensory interconnections that cause them to be able to perform remarkable mathematical calculations.)

It was early on that I learned that music could be full of personality, colour, and space.  The important thing for me, whether or not I have any characteristics of synesthesia, was to learn that everything in the world is connected in some way.  Music is connected to mood.  Mood is connected to colour.  Colour is connected to personality.  I am connected to my Dad.

The other important journey I began to take then was to create images in my mind.  As an adult, my work with every group of has been full of imagery that has helped the group to understand the complex nature of a problem or the beauty of a possibility.  It is compelling to me tonight that as I write about the sound of the rain that I would be drawn back to a time in my life when I first started to imagine, and that tomorrow I join a group of envisioners in Canada to learn a series of skills to help myself, and community, create a better future.

So I sit here in the sunroom of my own house, I listen to the rain beat upon the skylights, and I become connected to that wonderful time when my Dad and I sat together and experienced life.  I continue to imagine the interesting times ahead.  Today's experience reinforces my belief that the the past and present and future are intimately connected, just as people are connected.  Ideas and visions are connected.  In fact I can feel it, see its colour and hear its sound.  It is good.

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It's a start.

The meeting today was interesting and for the most part went faily well.  I was really pleased with my presentation and it was well received.  The group unanimously agreed to adopt the upgraded framework and use it for the next stage of work, so it was very rewarding.   I received some nice comments from the participants.

My brain is a bit mushy now and so probably have more to say that I am saying.  There was some discussion about hiring someone to finish writing the homelessness plan.  I've let my name stand and may get the opportunity to bid on the contract.  I'll need to see the terms of reference before I make a final decision.

So tonight I am home and I know that I am going to sleep well.  I don't think I'll wake at 0430 like this morning.  My mind has moved on to next week's presentation in Edmonton with Community Foundations of Canada.  I have a short presentation to make there and then sit with the panel to discuss the emerging leadership crisis in Canada and the widening social gap. 

Essential much of the thinking used today around the importance of connections in a community is relevant to this discussion, but there is the another layer — voice.  How do you give voice this the various communities and organisations to help them be understood in the larger community?  This in many ways has to do with integration of newcomers to Canada and the  connections needed into the larger Canadian community.  We are experiencing a time in our history that people are coming to Canada but because of the internet and communities of immigrants already estalished here, newcomers are not forming the connections they once did.  They maintain strong roots in their country of origin.

This is leading to social issues across the country.  Much of my recent thinking is around addressing a need to create cross cultural connections in our Canadian fabric.  This doesn't just relate to ethnicity but also to marginalized Canadians, which includes low income, invisible minorities, and class.

How does one give voice to such a wide and disparte group, when in many cases are they have in common is the country?  As I mentioned earlier the connection to Canada for some immigrants is not strong to start with.  And now as I write this I begin to think about the work that I need to do around this concept of connection and voice and believe that these questions may be the right way to frame a PhD discussion.

I keep coming back to space, the need for shared spaces that we all own and interact in.  Maybe this is one of the tactics that we use to help create a forum for shared voice.  Must think more about this.

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The universe amazes me.

I had a great meeting with Shafraaz today and I think we have a immdiate plan worked out for Swerve Living.  However, I have a ton of work to do over the next two weeks, and this is no joke.  Added to everything else already on the go, it means that I need to be very good at enabling the team. 

Tomorrow I need to put together a work plan for the next few months.  Starting with the media launch of the sales centre for Swerve.  Presales will begin the week of May 16 or so.  There seems to be much interest and the price in today's market doesn't seem to be scaring anyone so I just we will just go ahead and see how strong the presales are.  Indications are that they will go well.

I am glad the meeting went well, it has been seriously stressing me out.

also mentioned that he and I have been asked to speak at the solar
conference in Edmonton this fall.  He has had no word from the Green
Build conference regarding our proposal to speak there.  He did hear
that it has been moved to Chicago, so that probably accounts for the

Then I went to meet with Donna Cardinal at noon today.  She was the facilitator at the envisioning workshop about the museum, that Terry and I attended about a month ago.  Today's meeting was very inspiring and slowly the pieces are starting to place themselves with regard to my career.  The picture is becoming more clear.  Donna was a big help and gave me great advice. The meeting went like this:

I walk in and find Donna waiting, we go to the counter and I tell her where I have come from — seeing our architects.  She asked me about the project while we are standing in line.  The owner of the restaurant overhears the conversation and tell me he is looking for condo projects to buy into early in the project.  Tells me he just bought 10 not far away from the shop.  I tell him about our intended launch date.  He immediately gets excited, thinks the price is reasonable, and gets me his card.  That is cool enough, and the meeting with Donna hasn't started.

Donna and I talk about connections, envisioning, the museum, the mayor's task force, and a bunch of other stuff from voice to methodologies around community engagement.  We have a more lengthy conversation about connections and voice, enabling collaboration and change.  The end of which she says, "It sounds like you have a PhD in the making."

I didn't tell her about a PhD, nor any conversation that my friend Aln and I have had about it.  I look at her in amazement and think to myself how odd it is these two things would happen.  I talk to her about Action Research and she suggests a couple of possibilities.  The most obvious is the University of Portland, but she said that the universities here are fairly progressive and there may be a possibility of doing it locally if the idea is well presented.  So I have some steps to take along this path.  Very interesting.

She tells me that there is a gift from each envisioning session that she does.  That the day with the museum group I was the gift to her.  I certainly learned a lot from her that day and even more today as we talked.  She has been a gift to me.  Donna invited me to join a group of envisioners that meet monthly.  It seems like the right thing to do, the connections are being held out for me, so I will go.

As we prepare to leave she encounters a client from whom she will be facilitating a session on environmental curriculum.  I have know doubt that I will cross path with her client in the near future.

So tomorrow is the big joint Mayor's Task Force meeting.  I am fairly prepared.  I got great comments from Mark, Aln, and Janice, all of which helped me to formulate the presentation in the right way.  I'll get up early tomorrow morning and finish working out some of the notes on the slides.  I feel confident and ready to present.  I hope that it goes well.

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It’s a circle.

I spent the vast majority of the day working on my presentation for the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness.  It is very important to me to do a great job.  The more I work on this project that more that I am convinced of the power of relationships and connections in healthy communities and organisations.

I remember a time that I could have easily been homeless, and by some definitions I was.  I was living in the middle of the winter in Calgary in a house that I owned, the mortgage was behind, the power and the gas had been disconnected.  I was doing my best to run a failing business and my so-called business partners had skipped town.  It was an interesting time and one that I will never forget. I had quit my job with because of the allure of this business.  In the process I lost it all.  My house, my car, my roommates, my way to make a living, and some friends.  It still makes me sad when I drive by that house.  I had worked so hard to get that far.  Being gay in the mid eighties, with the AIDS hysteria in full swing caused further isolation.  Imagine, like many of our homeless in Red Deer must feel, the isolation that comes from complete misunderstanding and fear.

As I think about important relationships to my survival then, family came first.  They didn’t abandon me when I told them I was gay, and if they hadn’t
then they certainly wouldn’t at any other time in my life. I was able to sell the house, pay off the mortgage and the some of bills that accumulated.  Others I paid over next several years.  I had nothing left at all. I borrowed an old van, pack the few things that I had and move back with my family for a while.

If my family hadn’t been there for me then I suspect that I still had a number of friends that I could have reached out to and stayed with until I got back on my feet. In fact I do remember staying with a couple of people during that time.  My memory is fading so I am not sure of the timing on any of it.

If my family and friends hadn’t been there, I frankly have no idea where I would have been. I am not sure that the agencies would have been.  A month or so later, I remember applying for a job that I was qualified to do, but I didn’t have the right clothes to wear.  I got the job and quickly got the clothes.  But what if I hadn’t learned interview skills in school and from other opportunities in life.  Would I have been employable, certainly I could work, but could I get the job.

My celebration party.
From left to right. Marian a dear friend from Calgary. Me in the centre, one of my very best friends Leslie on my right. In the back my dad.

So as I think about the Task Force on Homelessness now and all that has happened in the 23 years since I was nearly homeless, I realize that I must instill in this plan the most important of the principles — people must have connections with other people.  It is people helping people, not institutions helping people, however great they may be.  We must find a way to enable people to make connections and build relationships, so that they then have the skills they need and the support systems around them to enable them to live healthy lives.

As I write this now and think back to that time when my family shared my hard times, I also sit and think about how they were in the front row of the hall when I received the Alberta Centennial Metal last year.  We held a celebration afterward at a small restaurant in Calgary.  Besides my family I was joined by some very close friends, any of whom I know I could call on and would be there for me, and I for them.  Those good times are shared as well.  Who knows that they any of them may have needed that particular occasion to give their lives meaning, or just to lift their spirits.  Think about the relationships that are important in your life and be grateful for them.  It is a circle, this life.  We must remember to always try to complete the circle.

Good News

So today I heard that I was accepted to the Writer's in Residence program and with that I have the opportunity to have a consultation with John Lent.  So this compels me to write a lot over the next couple of weeks.  Which of course is going to be a challenge.  Oh well, I need a challenge right?

I got a lot of work done today and still had some time to work on establishing new contacts for possible work.

The Sunworks' staff is amazing as usual.  The store is just ticking right along.

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Final Concert

The day was just.  I managed to get to the office at a reasonable hour and worked on the accounting until 6:00 p.m. GST reports.  Groan.

Dennis and Alan came for dinner tonight and then we were to the symphony's final concert.  For the year.  It was great, but it is time they retire the old piano.  It needs to go to the grave soon.  We've got out tickets for next year, the credit card didn't have a melt down. 

Tomorrow we have a couple of friends coming for breakfast and then I go off to the shop for the day.  Tomorrow evening Dennis and Alan are coming back to pick up a couple of things they are taking out to their condo in Victoria.  When they leave I get to paint for the rest of the evening.  I am looking forward to it, but wonder if I'll have any energy left in me for it.  We'll see.

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The weekend is here and the week has been interesting.  The snow is gone, finally!  The parks are turning green and the trees are just about to leaf out.  It is a great time to live in Alberta.

WatchingRight after work yesterday Max and I went to the Velvet Olive to meet friends.  Just about everyone we know and like was going to be there.  So we sat at a table with Blaine and Leslie, Ron and Darold, Krista and Chad, and a few others.  People popped in and out the the conversation.  Then Erin Boake appeared, she is one of two tenants in suites in our home.  A few months ago, she had been on a trip and found herself a little short on cash at rent day.  So she joined the long line of artists that paint for money.  We commissioned her to paint for us.  Yesterday she brings it  to the lounge.  It is quirky and fun.  We absolutely love it.

Friday was also the deadline for my submission, that you have read so much about.  I managed to get the thing off after a lot of work this week.  Then I sabotage myself by sending the the wrong file and have to call and ask them to delete it and accept the the real file.  I felt like an idiot.  I wonder how often I do this kind of stuff to myself.

While I was trying to sort all of that out, I get a phone call from Alan the only tenant at 5201 Gaetz Avenue, that some drunk is kicking in the front door of the building.  He was pulling up right when it was happening.  He yells at the guy to stop who turns around a grunts at him.  The calls to a man sitting in a truck nearby to call the police.  Just then one drives up.  Alan flags the police down and tells them what has happened, points to the perpetrator.

The officer takes Alan’s name and number, and tells him that he can’t do anything because he is on another call, then he drives off, leaving him standing there on his crutches looking at the door smashed in.  He calls me angry and nearly in tears.

When I hang up from him I call Ed our downtown coordinator.  He is our direct connection to the City.  I respect and admire the work he is doing.  He and I felt that the police should have handled the request differently.  He calls the RCMP Superintendent.  We’ll see what comes out of this.

I go down and visit him after I am finish dealing with the manuscript fiasco.  We walk the streets around the building with him.  He tells me where people shoot up and the trouble they are having.  I watch a couple of drug deals take place.  I see that someone has set up a place to shoot up under the stairs of the building.  I wonder how to clean it up and board it closed.  I worry about dirty needles.  Most of the HIV cases in the city are users.

I think to myself that there must be more that can be done.  Must be something else I could do to help end the problem.  I walk back to Sunworks past ‘Potter’s Hands’, a supposed outreach and low income housing complex.  It is filthy on the streets near the front door.  There are old clothes laying around.  Cigarette butts everywhere.  The streets are stained with, piss, coffee, beer.  It stinks of stale beer as I pass.  On another day I watch a crack heads smoke up in the entrance in plain view.  I want to scream at them to look at their lives.

Policing is of course only half of the battle.  The property owner, the building manager, and the tenants need all to take pride in the corner.  Frankly I don’t know what to do.  The crime prevention people with the City tell us not to engage the addicts for our own safety.  I get that I’ve seen the desperation in the eyes of an addict.  Some would do anything.  Still it is hard to be 6 foot 5 inches and then not at least tell these people to move on.  Yet I can’t watch the down town deteriorate as this problem gets worse.  My life is full of paradox right now.

I hate that this is happening to our city.

So all of this happens the hour before I am suppose to meet our friends for drinks.  The Velvet Olive is off the same laneway as ‘Potters Hands’.  From the patio we can see what goes on there in the back of the building.  Thankfully we can’t smell it from there.  Max and I talk about the problem and have decided to carry our cameras with us.  We are going to take picture of every incident we see.  What we will do with the pictures we are not sure yet.

It occurs to me just now that with the main floor of our building empty until deconstruction that we might be able to lease for very little an office to the police, a community outreach place.  This corner and three blocks either way are some of the worst in the City.  The affordable housing ghettos are across the street.  Potter’s hands is one block down.

The evening was fun, a nice time after a hard week.  I have my writing done for the week and think that maybe I’ll finish  the painting that is here in the sunroom.  I look at it every day and I think I know know what I need to do.  So that will be a wonderful right brain activity.  I’ll be interested to see if once I get into the flow of it, if ideas and thoughts come for my writing project.  I suspect that my brain may be wired this way, and so I ‘ll keep the laptop on the table behind me just in case.

Life can be so fun sometimes.


Well here it is hours before the deadline to get my manuscript into the writers in residence program.  I sure hope I get a spot.  My good friends have been such a help.  Taking a serious look at the work and providing positive feedback and constructive comments that truly have helped.  I've worked at this all week.  It really feels like the piece is starting to get wings.  So tomorrow I will write some new sections to fill in the blanks and then off it goes.  I keep my fingers crossed and hope that I get a chance to discuss this with John Lent. 

Meanwhile, it doesn't really matter since the act of making the submission may be more important than the conversation that I may have with the author.  So thanks for all of you Max, Leslie, Aln, and Blaine.  Egg me on to keep writing.  I would love to get this short piece done and perhaps find a publisher — the next big challenge.

I have received information on the Appreciative Inquiry Summit and plan to attend.  It conflicts slightly with our travel plans this summer, and so I will see how to make this work.  It is something that I need to do, I must do.  It feels right.

It will lead me down a path I think that will help me actually get the non-fiction writing out.  I have a lot to say about community engagement and fostering change within organizations.  Aln and I are talking now about doing some joint writing and will look more closely at this when he gets back form Italy, lucky dog.  I love that man's brain.

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