Sunday, November 17, 2013

Creative revelation

It always surprising to me how quickly the transition from long days to long nights happens.  It's a crisp Sunday morning, almost 8 am, and the sun is still struggling to make its presence known.  I'm grateful that winter held off as long as it did, arriving much later than the previous year, giving the construction workers a few bonus weeks to make additional progress on our all-important bridges which are finally nearing completion.

We don't have much snow yet, unlike our neighbours to the south who have been pummelled by a number of storms and the requisite havoc they caused on the highways.  Our ground is snow covered, but that's about it.

On Monday, it will have been four weeks since the election.  I want to thank all of you for reaching out in the aftermath of that unexpected result.  Your words of encouragement, your care and concern, were very appreciated, treasured really.  It took a couple of days to work through the emotions, but I quickly recovered and reframed what happened as being a gift.  I know that might sound a little disingenuous, but I really see it that way.  I was given a three year education in municipal governance working with a great team, both on council and at the municipality, and now I get to leverage that learning in a multitude of ways, free of the conflict of actually being a councillor.  I'm excited about the present and the future, full of opportunities and options.

Having time on my hands, I picked up the brush again, after a hiatus of almost two years.  I spent wonderful hours with Malcolm Gladwell, Lou Reed and Ian McKellen.

I went exploring the complexity of a child's grief in the aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines.

Painting again felt like the right thing to do, both as a way to recover my strength and focus my resolve.  It still feels right, as I have a blank slate ahead of me on this Sunday. I feel another painting coming on.  I also know a rather important football game is looming this afternoon, which provides a great excuse to sit at the dining room table and create.

In the process of returning to my painting, I rediscovered something about myself: that I do my best work after a time of personal trauma or loss.  It's a pattern that has repeated itself numerous times in my life, including in the months after Dad's surgery in 2011 when I did a series of watercolour portraits.  It was only during this recent creative explosion that I made the connection between that output, my father's cancer diagnosis, and the emotional impact it had on me.

We tried something fun at the dinner table the other night.  Heather, Ben and I took a photograph from the 1800's and drew it.  The rule was simple: we could use whatever we wanted - pen, pencil, marker, etc. - but we could only draw for five minutes.  It was so interesting how differently each of us approached the same image.

I took the same exercise and attempted to get the creative souls in my Facebook community to try it.  This was all in preparation for an event called "Let's Get Sketchy!" that we're doing at the end of the month, an event where artists of all skill levels sketch actor models dressed in period garb.  I was in the process of designing a poster and needed some inspiration.  It was then that a Troll stepped in and hijacked the conversation (Troll - someone who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, mean-spirited, or off-topic messages in an online community, either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion).

With much credit to my nephew Isaac, and others, this troll who shall not be named was put in his place every which way from Sunday.  Isaac also took up the 5-minute challenge and delivered a brilliant drawing.

On the professional side of things, I'm working toward getting Arts Council Wood Buffalo moving forward.  I'm encouraged by the level of interest we've had from amazing people who want to serve on the board and the energy around the arts in general.  There is no question that 2014 is still going to be a building year, but I'm confident we'll be building in the right direction, with strong governance in place and a collective vision.  I'll have decisions to make in the coming months, as my secondment comes to an end in May. Do I apply for the permanent executive director position?  Do I pursue other opportunities?  Right now, I'm trusting that the wind will blow me in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be doing more facilitation work, delivering a series of workshops for the social profit sector, and potentially building a suite of sessions that I can market to other organizations.  Someone suggested that I should consider motivational speaking as an option.  That idea resonates with me, so it will be added to a growing list of itches I intend to scratch in the coming days and months.

Heather is in the middle of delivering a Reiki, Level One course with six participants, passing along her knowledge and passion to an appreciative and growing learning community.  She is teaching yoga in a number of different facilities now, including newly opened Oranj Fitness, a business that we've made a small investment in.

Dylan has successfully transitioned to Composite High School and continues to connect with like-minded people in the filmmaking and gaming community.  He recently participated in the Extra Life Challenge, playing video games for 25 hours with a couple of friends to raise money for the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, a facility that has factored greatly in his life.  He gets particularly excited about the monthly workshops offered by the filmmaking association, anticipating their arrival weeks in advance.

He also continues working on his singing voice.  He has been listening to a Frank Sinatra Greatest Hits collection over and over again, learning the words, and picking up the fascinating style of Ole Blue Eyes.

When Ben is not running around the yard singing the songs from Les Mis at the top of his lungs, he's inside building these incredible paper gun creations.  He goes through an enormous amount of scotch tape.

"Do you build those guns from a YouTube video?" I asked.

"Well, three years ago when I built my first one I did," he said.  "Now, I create them on my own."

While Dylan, Ben and I are anticipating the beginning of rehearsals in December, Heather is not quite so excited.  She's anticipating a very different household for a couple of months as we dash off on most evenings and weekends to work on the show.  We appreciate that she is giving us this indulgence, as being a part of the Les Miserables experience is going to be extraordinary.  For Dylan and Ben, it will be their first chance to go through a production process from top to bottom.  Trying to quantify the value to them and the other younger members of the cast is impossible.

Over the past two weeks I've been reminded of the preciousness of life, as a long-time colleague and friend struggled to hold on to hers.  Christina's body finally acquiesced last Wednesday night and she went on to a better place, free from the pain she had been enduring for far too long.

As we laid her to rest in a beautiful cemetery just outside of Plamondon, about two and a half hours south of here, the sky opened up and the warming sun emerged.  From a small portable audio unit, the sound of Vince Gill singing "Go rest high on that mountain" pierced the silence, with thousands of Canada geese resting in the adjacent field, as if waiting to carry her spirit away into the heavens.  It was a beautiful moment.  She was 38.

On a closing note, thank you for taking the time to read these Wood Buffalo Updates.  It is our attempt to stay connected over the miles and through the passing months and years.  Have a remarkable day!

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