The Music Never Dies

August 29, 2016 § 3 Comments

I’ve written in this space previously about what music means to me. Lately, I’ve also observed how it impacts friends and other people in Canada and around the globe.

Music can get muted on a sound system and performers head to the stage and studios of the afterlife. However, it can never be snuffed out.

In his 1971 song American Pie, Don McLean is said to be drawing reference to hearing of the untimely deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson with the words … the Day the Music Died.

However, even 57 years after their deaths, people who enjoy early rock and roll music continue to play their tunes.

The power of music on a nation was evident on Saturday, Aug. 20. It will go down as a day I will always remember where I was and what I was doing.

Joyce and I were part of the 11.7 million viewers – about one-third of Canadians – who watched what is said to be the final concert of the iconic Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. It was telecast commercial free on CBC, our public broadcaster for those reading from outside our country.

Although there are talented Canadian performers who have achieved greater acclaim outside this country, I can’t think of another band the CBC would interrupt Summer Olympic coverage to present their concert live.

While the band will stop performing now with the announcement frontman Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer, the music of this venerable band will not die. If anything, a new generation of listeners will be created by the outpouring of love and appreciation for the group.

Andrew Jones, Owner of Checkered Owl, media manager for Tasman Jude, Caleb Hart and Black Indie agrees: “There is something eternal about GREAT music. Something that resonates with us for years after it was written. It’s that feeling you get when you turn on an old Ella Fitzgerald record, a Nirvana track, stream some Run-D.M.C., dust off your record where Dylan went electric and something captures our heart. The best music, the music of a band like The Tragically Hip, never dies, its honesty reverberates throughout the culture, it influences the next generation and ensures their music will be at work for a very long time.”

How important was this concert to me? Well, typically when a concert or music special that I want to watch is on TV and the Toronto Blue Jays or Montreal Canadiens are playing, I PVR it for later viewing. I’m also not one to forego a chance for a campfire with friends but I took a raincheck on an invitation.

This time, it was music that had to take precedence. I knew the concert wouldn’t be just the final appearance of The Tragically Hip. It would be a celebration of a band that told the story of Canada and Canadians over the years, References to communities and storylines from across the country are peppered through its albums.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned of Gord Downie’s diagnosis in May, he tweeted: “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years.”

Those words sum up my feeling for the band. Although I have a greater collection of music by several other artists, this band is really the one group that has always spoke the fabric of this country.

I told Jessica Allossery, a singer/songwriter friend in London, Ontario, that I was writing this blog. She was eager to share her feelings about music and the impact of the band.

“The Tragically Hip’s final show brought Canadians together as one. As we paid our respects in gratitude and awe, the band put on their bravest faces, to perform their incredible final show. What a night we will all remember! This is a band that will forever go down in history, as it united Canada with our love of music, story and soul.”

Music evolves. It heals, tells stories, cheers us or helps us understand a situation. It creates conversation.

I used the phrase, “turn the page” with a work colleague the other day and he exclaimed, “Metallica!” I reminded him the song was originally produced by Bob Seger. The workmate told me I was showing my age. I responded that I was simply showing my taste in good music.

How many songs of the Beatles have been remade over the years? Bruce Springsteen devoted a complete album to the music of folk artist Pete Seeger.

Gord Downie himself once said: “Music is the ultimate medium for expressions of love, and those expressions find a beautiful backdrop in the environment. Music is also a popular rallying point — at its central core, it’s a way for people to get in touch with the best parts of themselves and to voice the love in their hearts. And the environment is one of the great loves of our lives — when we think of the best parts of ourselves, the environment is always there, informing us, as a backdrop.”

Earlier in August, we attended the first-ever Bear Creek Music Festival in Grande Prairie. This three-day event brought musical acts from around the world and attracted thousands of music lovers from near and far.

The event was a success on several levels. First of all, we were treated to a first class event. I was introduced to acts that I’d not previously heard of and as much as fiddle music is not my favourite, I couldn’t help but tap my toes and join in on a standing ovation when a set featuring a collection of artists came to an end.

That’s the thing about music. Just like millions of Canadians were moved to join together for a televised concert, it has the power and energy to get us to do things we might not normally do.

The Beatles penned a song titled While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This final concert of The Tragically Hip had many Canadians doing just that.

Thank you, Gord and bandmates for all you have done to entertain and move us.

 

Giving The Gift of Music

July 27, 2015 § 1 Comment

“Just take those old records off the shelf
I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock ‘n’ roll
Don’t try to take me to a disco
You’ll never even get me out on the floor
In ten minutes I’ll be late for the door
I like that old time rock ‘n’ roll …” – Bob Seger, in his hit Old Time Rock and Roll

The Detroit rocker is one of my favourite performers of all time and I’ve seen him in concert twice. In a recent visit to our son, Peter, in Kelowna, I did something better than enjoying music on my own.  I delivered some iconic records from my own collection as Peter has a fondness for playing vinyl recordings.

The Ties That Bind is a tune from Bruce Springsteen, another treasured artist. Music is one thing that connects Peter and me the most.

While our son has expanded his tastes well beyond what I encouraged him to listen to, sharing a variety of music was something I made a priority early on.

Over the years, Peter accompanied us to concerts ranging from B.B. King and George Thorogood to the Rolling Stones, Jonny Long, ZZ Top, Seger, and the Boss himself.

Fostering an appreciation of music is important. From the earliest days of mankind, it’s been considered a vital art form.

Philosopher Plato said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Just as we teach our young to talk, read and write, music is another way to express ourselves. It can reflect our moods or get a message across in ways simple words cannot. It can buoy us when we are cheerful or soothe us if we’re down.

Five years ago, I wrote a blog in this space about what music means to me: https://themuseandviews.wordpress.com/?s=music

I’ve been to a few more concerts since then, including shows by Elton John, Steve Miller and John Fogerty.

The latter performer, as part of his band Credence Clearwater Revival, has long been part of my musical history and brings back childhood memories.

I recall Proud Mary belting out of my older brother Bob’s bedroom along with Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, Mother in Law by Herman’s Hermits and We are Very Sorry Uncle Albert by Paul and Linda McCartney.

I grew up in Dawson Creek, B.C. where the country music fare was the order of the day on CJDC.

Although not a favourite musical genre, I do appreciate that Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams, Sr., Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, George Jones, and Willie Nelson were giants in the industry.

My own musical tastes range from rock and roll to blues, folk and jazz and I’ve been influenced by friends and colleagues over the years.

I’m glad Peter chose to explore music well beyond what I shared with him. But it was a proud moment when he asked to have some of my records.

These included albums by Elvis Costello, the Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, and ELO.

Here’s Peter’s take on the passing of the musical torch:

When you take a look at my most recently purchased records, the influence of my parents on my musical taste is hardly evident.

Last week I picked up Run the Jewels’ second LP Run the Jewels II, and a few weeks before that, my haul from the local independent record store included The Roots’ …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, Canadian punk-rock outfit, Pup’s first self-titled full length, and Modest Mouse’s Building Nothing Out of Something.

That said, others in my collection represent a heavy influence from the music that was directly passed down to me (the guys from Gaslight Anthem might as well be Bruce Springsteen’s kids) via the stereo on the Saturday and Sunday mornings of my adolescence.

Nostalgia plays a big factor in some of the music that I like. I still think of those aforementioned Saturday and Sunday mornings whenever I hear a CCR song and a lot of the bands that I like pull influence from a genre I like to call “Dad-Rock.” But that doesn’t account for my love of Hardcore-Punk, my appreciation for Hip-Hop, my proclivity for Death Metal.

This is because the significance of what you pass on is inconsequential; it’s teaching how to like music that is focal to a shared generational appreciation for music. Sure, my dad instilled in me a love of Springsteen, Warren Zevon, and Thorogood, but it was far more crucial that he nurtured in me a penchant for the eclectic.

I have been to hundreds of concerts ranging from Pop-Rock acts like Bedouin Soundclash to Black Metal ones like Behemoth, from the Punk Rock of SNFU to the folky strumming of Dave Hause.

Some of my fondest memories are of concerts, punk shows, and festivals and I can’t say that a love for live music, no matter the genre, would have been sparked had it not been for my parents bringing me along to concerts when they could have just as easily hired a babysitter.

I look forward to the days when I can pass on a wide-ranging love of music to my future child or children as it is one of the most powerful things you can do as a parent.

While I enjoy sharing my taste in music with Peter, my own musical horizons have been broadened through him.  Some of my collection includes artists Peter recommendations such as the Black Keys, Mumford and Sons and Seasick Steve.

Peter’s desire to carry on our tradition is music to my ears.

Music Makes the Moment

May 31, 2010 § 14 Comments

It was a typical Saturday morning as I was getting ready to walk the dog.

Our weekend morning ritual begins with sitting in the hot tub listening to some tunes and guzzling some freshly-brewed java. The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun came on as I re-entered the house for breakfast before hitting the trail.

What a perfect song to begin the day! Mr. Sun smiled down on a great trek.

And who better than the Beatles to provide the background music to an uplifting day? They are arguably the most important band of all time. Their music is timeless – often imitated, never duplicated.

As I walked, I began musing about how important music is to me, either making my day when I am already happy or helping me come to terms with life when I’m down.

It’s only natural that either Wendy or I would write about music in this blog. We often use a lyric from a song or the name of a tune to describe a situation or an idea when we speak. I began an earlier blog with a lyric from Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway.

My wife says I use musical lines at the drop of a hat.

She’s right. Where better than stories told through the lyrics of music to find a handy comparator? Over time, every conceivable situation has been described in song.

Although I’m a good old time rock and roll fan, the blues and jazz are also favourite genres.

Different music suits varying situations.

While a pop tune from the Fab Four is perfect to spring out the door on a walk with the dog, I prefer nothing more than the gritty, cutting words of Warren Zevon in songs like Lawyers, Guns and Money while cleaning up in the kitchen. Not sure why. Perhaps getting involved in the late singer/songwriter’s ballads is a good way to forget that I’m doing a task that no one relishes.

I have seen many of my beloved performers in concert, including Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Healey, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, and Colin James.

Some of my favourite lyrics have come from these artists.

When I say or do something on the irreverent side, Thorogood provides the perfect line … Bbbaad to the Bone.

Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac bring hope with Keep Your Eye on the Prize (The Boss did a remake of the Pete Seeger song on his tribute album to the folk legend) and Don’t Stop (a song from the 1977 Rumours album) respectively.

Taking care of Business from Bachman’s BTO days was a perfect anthem for my time operating a communications firm.

Other songs have even deeper meaning.

Simon and Garfunkel’s hit Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a song I think of when I’ve brought peace to a situation or helped someone in need of a friend. It was also chosen by my Grade 7 class for confirmation.

My eyes well up when I hear the Beatles Let it Be because of its gripping inspirational quality.

What could be more heartening than John Lennon’s Imagine? Ironically, this peace-preaching musician would die at the hands of a crazed gunman.

Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s Complicated song reminds me of how I’ve put up barriers at times with new people in my life.

Billy Joel’s Innocent Man was important to me when I began the relationship with my best friend and now wife.

I’ve used the Trooper song Raise a little Hell to remind people who are bemoaning their lot in life that it is up to them to take matters into their own hands:

If you don’t like

What you got

Why don’t you change it?

If your world is all screwed up

Rearrange it

Raise a little Hell …

There is no better way than music to pay tribute to someone you care about. We recently said goodbye to Frank Drodge of our Facilities Department at the City of Grande Prairie. He died far too young at age 50 on May 10. Frank was also known as the drummer and promoter of the local band Anywhere But Here.

Frank was remembered for his hard work, kindness and good cheer and I loved exchanging yarns of favourite concerts and bands.

I bid you adieu, Frank, with a favourite song title from Bob Seger.

Rock and Roll Never Forgets.

Other songs bring back happy memories.

My father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I can remember him often reciting a favourite song written during the First World War, There’s A Long, Long Trail – A Winding.

I remember little from my high school graduation – come on now, it was 32 years ago – but recall vividly Queen’s We Will Rock You belting out at the bush party I attended (I wonder if my Dad ever discovered that I lifted a bottle of rum from his liquor cabinet for the occasion).

Nothing is more memorable than the prank I pulled on my wife-to-be at the 1983 St. Paul Journal Christmas Party. I bet her dinner that the “next song” would be Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.

Little did she know that the DJ was also the bus driver for the hockey team I covered for the paper, and I’d rigged the wager. Mmm, that was good Chinese food. I later reciprocated with a spaghetti dinner.

There are campfire songs to enjoy with a bunch of friends. Show tunes such as those from the Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island are fun to sing along to while making a long trip and needing to stay awake.

That was a fun memory during our overnight trip to the West Coast from Grande Prairie in 1987.

It was time to pull over for an early morning meal when we started into Raffi’s Down by the Bay!

So, music really does make the moment – sometimes it makes a sad moment happy. Other times, it helps makes sense of a situation.

At other instances, it is good just to take away the Sound of Silence.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

June 1, 2015 § 3 Comments

Desk 1I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks, but the timing is best now.

Tuesday would have been my father’s 93rd birthday. He’s been gone for 26 years but a surprise reminder occurred when my older brother, Bob Jr., delivered our dad’s rolltop desk from Canmore, Alberta, recently.

The old piece of furniture has endured a tough life. When I first grew up, it remained at the old farmhouse where my father was raised in North Rolla, B.C. It was moved into Dawson Creek, thankfully, before vandals burned down all the buildings at the farm.

Once at our house, the desk, probably more than 100 years old, proved to be a landing spot for my father’s paperwork. I think I inherited my lack of filing prowess from him.

My father willed the desk to Bob and I snapped up the opportunity to take it when my brother began downsizing.

I remember always being fascinated with the desk – its many cubby holes, the deep drawers, the handiwork behind the rolltop, and the solid oak structure.

The arrival of the desk was an opportunity to connect with Bob, my sister-in-law, Louise, and their son, Logan. I hadn’t seen my nephew in a few years and memories of my dad rushed back into my head.

I’ve been without my father almost as long as I had him – I was 28 when he passed away.

The desk is a reminder of my father, beyond its physical presence. It is strong. It has character. Its dark stain makes it appear stoic. My father had an enduring quality, though he passed away much too young at age 66.

Although it needs some tender loving care, the desk is reminiscent of my dad’s relentless drive to excel as a highways foreman, a position in which he rarely missed a day’s work, even when seriously ill.

Dad might have been called a workaholic though that term wasn’t used widely in his generation.

I believe we share a lot of the same qualities – caring, compassion, generosity, a sense of fairness and justice, and a wry sense of humour. He was shy until he got to know people. I am the same, though my career choice has found me coming to grips with public speaking and schmoozing upon occasion.

He preferred talking one-on-one to people, often workmates about a project. Through practice, I have learned to be comfortable in crowds, though I like smaller groups, talking about shared interests like sports or music.

I gained my work ethic from Dad but also learned the value of playing hard, something he was just figuring out how to do when he passed away.

Ironically, he died on the way home after watching his first NHL hockey game in person. I have been to many professional sporting events live along with going to numerous concerts, another love of mine.

Dad’s idea of going on vacation was to get from points A to B as fast as possible. I enjoy compiling hordes of information and then plotting out a general plan, with room to be spontaneous.

I’m thrilled the arrival of the desk provided a new opportunity to think about my father.

Happy Birthday, Dad. We’ll take good care of your desk and continue thinking of you often.

Where Are We Meant To Be?

August 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

I was at a party recently where one of the attendees was turning 30. He told a group of us he wasn’t where he’d imagined being at that age in terms of achievements, but that he’d come to terms with it.

It was pleasing to hear this fellow had found perspective, especially since he’d just landed a new job and has a lovely girlfriend. He has lots to look forward to.

This is not an uncommon scenario. Whether it’s our own expectations or those of others, there are threshold ages at which certain achievements are supposed to have occurred. I realized long ago there is no set time for things to happen. We should avoid comparisons between generations.

I remember once sitting with a guy on his 30th birthday. He got totally wasted feeling he’d accomplished little worthwhile in his life. He’d somehow overlooked that he was a part owner of a business and had been married in the previous couple of years.

Needless to say, when I reached that age, I was waiting for the sky to fall. It didn’t. Nor did it when I reached age 50.

When I turn 53 on Aug. 28, I will be at a baseball game in Seattle while on vacation. No chance of the blues on that day, either, unless there are some musicians playing one of my favourite genres of music.

Goal-setting is a great tool toward reaching objectives but we can get so consumed with what are “supposed to do” by a certain milestone, we forget to enjoy the journey.

I told an outgoing colleague that I was writing this blog. I just had to include her reaction.

Lucy Ramirez began as a City of Grande Prairie Municipal Intern and left last week as the Education Co-ordinator in the Environmental Sustainability department. I had always found Lucy to be mature beyond her years and admire her for doing things in her own unique ways.

When I learned she’s going to pursue further education to transition to a career in planning, I was not surprised. Lucy has always been her own person.

“Age 30 is the right time for me to be returning to school,” she proclaimed in our parting chat.

Lucy will go as far as her ambition takes her, following her own cues as to the right time to do things.

Our current Municipal Intern Divine Ndemeye had some great food for thought when I told her what I am writing about.
“I wonder if the pressure or excitement, in some instances, is our own choices or if it’s purely societal expectations,” she says.

She notes where people are at by certain ages can be influenced by family, religious or cultural traditions.

“So I suspect that those emphasis put on certain ages are just ways for all of us to feel validated in society and not necessarily always to ourselves,” she added.

“We all know the questions and comments that we get asked at some point in life:

  • “When are you going to settle down?”
  • “You should think about buying a house”
  • “Your clock is ticking”

“All those are associated with a time constraint or some ‘deadline’ to be met. Individual deadlines and targets aren’t usually as expressed as the societal ones. Most people speak of external pressure to be ‘somewhere’ in their life, according to whatever age they are.”

Emilie Lepage, a friend in Quebec City going to medical school to be a doctor, says it’s true how a lot of us have a mindset that at a certain age we should be somewhere in our lives.

“For myself, I imagine being 30 and starting to feel comfortable with my work and hopefully with a man I love, starting a family. But who knows? I can’t predict my future.”

She says it’s most important to focus on happiness and being open to various experiences, including the potential to travel.

“I just don’t have any set goals in where I want to be. I want to see what life has in store for me.”

I was initially inspired to write this piece when Alina, a Canucks fan in Vancouver who follows me on Twitter, shared with me her thoughts in June about graduating from high school and what might lie ahead.

Her outlook is refreshing. I hope others look at what they are doing as worthwhile and not be totally consumed by timelines set by themselves or others.

I’m reminded of the lyrics from Garden Party, a 1972 song by Ricky Nelson: “Ya can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.”

Check out Alina’s story:
“So I just threw my graduation cap in the air yesterday, and watched as people who I have known since my childhood leave the auditorium to every corner of the world –California, Hong Kong, Toronto, France, and even Russia.

It’s a weird feeling; it never really hit me until I was sitting in the car heading home from the night. Everyone is going down their own separate paths, with each their own aspirations and dreams without the security of a group of people who were essentially like their second family.

“What does my future have in place for me? I really don’t know. Signing up for courses at university, I did know ‘Yeah, I love science’ and that somehow I will manage to incorporate that in my life.

However, university is just another step in education, and since I was a child I was already aware that “Yeah, I’m going to go to university!” and would even answer the home phone calls with “Hi, Dr. Alina here’.

“I think I’ve come to realize that I spend a plethora of my time on textbook knowledge and not enough on true life knowledge – about what it means to challenge yourself, test yourself, do more for people who are always by your side and for people you know that need it.

“When in life am I going to need to know who Arthur Miller’s father was? I mean, it’s interesting to know about the lives of others but maybe – just maybe – I should be spending a little more time on my own?

I want to look back and tell myself that “hey, I actually did go zip lining” even though the thought of being high up in the air puts my brain at unease.

All I know about my future is that I do not want a cookie cutter life. I do not want to graduate high school, then graduate from university, then get a boring job sitting at a desk all day with ugly grey walls swallowing me up followed by getting married and having two kids as well as a dog named Rufus in a home surrounded by a white picket fence.

“It may be the American dream, but if there is one thing I know it’s that it’s definitely not my dream. You only get one chance. Why not leave a meaningful – even if small – mark on the planet?”

Alina has her eyes on being a biologist, a haematologist or a genetics researcher. She will shine at whatever she sets out to do – and whenever she does it.

Embracing Culture Enriches Community

December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

I love my job with the City of Grande Prairie, but rarely touch on it here. That’s mainly because this blog is intended to develop content toward an inspirational/motivational book(s) and part of my work-life balance – exploring my creative side.

This time, I’ll make an exception.

Two amazing experiences this past week underline why I love promoting my community and working to make it a better place to live while on the job and as a volunteer.

First my colleague Chelsea Lewis, our Communications and Research Co-ordinator, and I met with the Grande Prairie Centre for Newcomers.

The agency wanted our input on how it can help immigrants get more involved in the community. What a joyful group to connect with – people whose native lands are as diverse as Lebanon, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Mexico, and our own homeland.

We’ve already been working with this organization as part of our Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP. Earlier this fall, we also had the delightful experience of speaking to an English-as-a-second-language combined class through the Council for Lifelong Learning where we encountered a veritable United Nations of students.

Our meeting last week with the Centre for Newcomers was truly inspiring. While we were there to help them assist their clients, a lot of the richness of the discussion was really around how connecting with the traditions from other countries will add a special flavour to our community.

This will be mutually beneficial in a city represented by at least 100 cultures.

We heard about how having celebrations involving music, food and dancing would resonate with people from other parts of the globe.

My favourite part was when the Centre’s employee from Lebanon spoke up and said, “In my homeland, you don’t need music to get us dancing, you just have to start clapping.”

The next day, it was off to the Grande Prairie Aboriginal Circle of Services. We were using this organization as a focus group as part of our research for the Citizen Engagement Program.

Although I have lived near First Nations reserves almost my entire adult life and have worked with various Aboriginal leaders, I’d never participated in a smudging ceremony. It was a first for Chelsea, too.

Smudging is the use of smoke to cleanse the mind and create a positive, peaceful mindset. Various herbs can be used. In this case, it was sage. I chose to accept the smoke so that I could truly share in the learning and reflection of the moment.

I was honoured to connect with members of the Aboriginal community in this manner. How could you not feel at home when you exchange hugs as part of the welcoming ceremonies.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Darlene Cardinal, who led the group in prayer. I learned there is even a right way to hold hands with the people next to you during this ritual.

It was also interesting participating in some of the other Aboriginal traditions during the session. One notable aspect was how a feather was passed around and held by each speaker in the circle.

This demonstrates respect for the person talking at the time.

During the meeting, we had a lot of great dialogue on how the municipality can benefit with a stronger partnership with the Aboriginal community.

Reflecting on the outcome of both sessions left me with an incredible feeling of excitement.

On one hand, I saw how Grande Prairie has much to gain by embracing the traditions of other countries. On the other, we have much to learn from the descendents of peoples who have occupied this land for thousands of years.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to embrace the cultural fabric of the city as part of promoting citizen engagement. Knowing what makes its people tick will help me do a better job of connecting to all people.

Maybe I’ll be an improved dancer to the music of another nation. On second thought, I’m better off sampling different cuisines!

Listening To Internal Voices?

July 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

My wife came home from a recent psychic fair to advise me the psychic told her that I’d been ignoring my internal spirit for the last 25 to 30 years. As someone who’s done a lot of self-assessment, I was intrigued by this.

In fact, I saw a strong connectedness with some other thoughts I’d had recently.

You see, I’d considered reflecting on a related topic for the Grande Prairie Public Library Writing Competition this spring in which the theme was Home. However, I chose a different tact and entered my first-ever piece of fiction. But I digress into a future topic.

This blog is an opportunity to explore both what the psychic said and my own sentiments about what the word home actually means to me.

Aside from the obvious clichés like, home is where the heart is, I’d originally thought about expressing my feeling in the writing competition about that word – a place I haven’t been yet in my life journey.

I’ve continually felt there’s always something more – knowledge and skills to gain, new accomplishments, higher personal satisfaction, deeper relationships, and more meaning in life, in general.

In my career, I’ve always recognized for myself that while you never stop learning, there can become a time where the potential to get flat outweighs the ability to grow significantly. As a result, I’ve explored several positions along a continuum in the communications world.

Away from work, there’ve always been additional volunteer opportunities, more places to travel to, new music to check out, and I could invest more time in rooting for my favourite sports teams. Co-writing this blog developed out of an interest in publishing a motivational/inspirational book(s) and I’ve entered three writing competitions.

I can also always strive to be a better husband, friend and father.

Will I ever have a sense of arriving home? I don’t know that I won’t feel driven on a personal or professional level, that there won’t be another “adventure”, as my wife’s cousin, Nancy McGuire, described it the other day in a Skype conversation.

So what about what the psychic said?

Like I mentioned earlier, I do think a lot – sometimes too much – so I’m very familiar with an inner voice.

Have I been ignoring mine, as the psychic said? If she is on to something, I would say it is more likely a case of not recognizing what the inner voice is saying.

Could it be that my continued thirst for knowledge and readiness for change are attempts to satisfy a voice I do not understand?

I mentioned this dilemma to a couple of people who know me pretty well for their thoughts.
Friend Hope Maurice said while I’m clearly not dissatisfied or lacking in contentedness, the psychic’s comments could mean that I don’t live enough in the moment as a result of constantly striving for something beyond today.

Hmmm. Interesting.

I truly do get fixated on a great hockey game and love to rock out at concerts. There’s nothing like hiking to a spectacular viewpoint.

I recognize I have yet to reach my full potential.

Although my motivation is always high, I don’t have long-range plans or specific goals to reach. Many people my age are already contemplating retirement and I continue to think that there are still many more possibilities – more to do.

Chelsea Lewis, a colleague at the City of Grande Prairie, says this contemplation I’m writing about is something she can certainly relate to – though she is just beginning her career.

She wondered: “Is this a case of “the grass must be greener on the other side” or perhaps a feeling that you deserve more than what you currently have – that you were destined to achieve something greater and won’t settle for less?”

Perhaps Hope is right, she says.

“Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t enjoy the moment enough because you are caught up in the ideal – the notion of self-realization/inner peace that hasn’t been achieved yet – that you don’t find the current moment fulfilling enough.”

Could all of these thoughts be partially right? Is it possible that I have simply not recognized what that spirit is saying? Are all these thoughts just a sign that I am still just trying to figure out everything?

Perhaps I really haven’t determined what I want to do when I grow up.

Maybe there are many competing voices in my head and it’s resulted in scrambled messages.

It could be that while I do have moments and enjoy them at the time, my mind is already conjuring up the next possibility.

What’s that you say, Spirit?

Keep the Passion Burning

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

This favourite quote by author, humourist and lecturer Mark Twain came to mind when I read blogmate Wendy’s recent post about turning 30 and how she’s determined to go for it all.

Wendy once paid me a great compliment by acknowledging that we’re very much alike, particularly in terms of our outlook, though I’m nearly 22 years older.

She will live a dynamic life and flourish at whatever she sets out to do. But then Wendy’s no slouch now, whether it’s the enthusiasm for her job at Yelp Calgary, her passion for ultimate Frisbee or the emotion her writing exudes.

I can predict this with certainty because the one advantage I have over my younger friend is experience.

I’ve seen how attitude drives altitude in life and I thrive on being connected with driven, ambitious people.

Now it’s true that I’m not a millionaire yet. While a paid off mortgage would definitely be great, I’m rich in many other intangible and important ways.

For example, I take great comfort in knowing the phrase “I’m bored” has never crossed my lips and never will.

It’s also exciting to realize I’ve yet to reach my own potential, Far from it, though I have no regrets. In fact, I know I’ve mentored and inspired others to reach greater heights. That is a powerful feeling.

There is always something more to accomplish, whether in relationships, hobbies, careers or self-improvement, in general.

The key is to continually stoke the fires of passion in all aspects of life – whether that’s examining new employment prospects, taking on volunteer opportunities or finding activities that broaden your friend and interest bases.

I draw energy from people like Wendy who strive to live life to the fullest. That’s easier said than done at times. On the other hand, have you ever noticed how much life is sucked out of you by people who are constantly negative or miserable?

Any sustainable life success is bound to occur by surrounding yourself by like-minded people.

Sometimes you can’t control these factors, particularly in the workplace. It’s certainly a rush when you provide someone with an opportunity to work on a project and they react with excitement.

As legendary football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

I recently received a random jolt of inspiration when I spoke to Vanessa Besharah, a summer student at the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association office, for the first time.

She’d turned down a previously held job to take on this one because of her passion for it.

Her words resonated with me. Not too many others speak about their employment in that way.

I’ll share some other comments. They were a breath of fresh air.

“My outlook in life is that people need to stop, breathe and realize there are so many things in the world that are more important than their career and money,” she says.

Vanessa completed her business studies at Grande Prairie Regional College this spring. She believes a job should be taken because it provides happiness and enjoyment.

“To me, family and my relationship are more important than work and I would drop anything to help them because they’re the ones that are going to be there when you need them.”

Finding balance is quite simple, but it takes effort, she says.

“A lot of people stay in their comfort zone and do not take chances,” she says. “There are so many places to see in this world; people just have to jump in their car and start to drive. We need to get away from work and try to find that balance in life. On a day off, just jump in your car and explore. I was surprised how many people have not even been to many places that are only two hours away and they’ve lived in Grande Prairie their whole life.

“What inspires me so much is when you realize that it’s the small things in life you do for other people that makes them so happy and thankful.”

Vanessa leads a running group in Grande Prairie and helped members reach their goal of achieving a 10 km distance.

“I never knew it meant a lot to people, just the small things and time spent helping people. So next time just say ‘hi’ to someone or lend a helping hand or just hear someone out. It means a lot to people in ways you will never know.”

Vanessa plans to take some time to travel this fall and discover more about herself before pursuing Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association training.

“This will allow me to teach fitness and get paid for what I enjoy doing.”

She also plans to take human resources courses online.

“My life isn’t mapped out but I have come to term with that. I think that it’s fine not knowing what’s going to happen so you are more likely to take chances and experience what life throws at you.”

I’m certain Vanessa will go as far as her ambition takes her.

Music is often a topic when Wendy and I speak, so I can’t think of a better way to end this blog than with lyrics from Fleetwood Mac’s song Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow:

 Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow

Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be, better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

Don’t you look back, don’t you look back.

Encounters of the homeless kind

November 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

A man rummaging through a skip at the back of ...

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Over the summer I spent some time with someone who lived on the streets for a few months of his youth. Talk about time spent expanding my comfort zone. That experience challenged me to look at the streets of Calgary in a new way, and at the people who currently occupy them, from people in suits walking to work to people pushing shopping carts from one dumpster to the next.

It’s true that we’re afraid of the things we don’t understand. I don’t understand the world of the homeless, and admittedly, on the whole, it frightens me. I have a hard time even beginning to wrap my head around how they got there and why they’re choosing to stay there (there’s an entire other argument to be made, I’m sure, on whether or not it’s a choice).

Today I met one of the nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever met on the streets of Calgary. Yes, on the streets–that is, after all, where he lives. Well, technically he calls a city park home.

I’ve spoken with him before. Last time he was telling me about how lucky he felt because someone thought to drop off a new blanket for him. I didn’t think to ask him his name at the time.  Just politely conversed in return while I finished transferring my recyclables from my car to the large green bins. I remember him also saying how he had found a radio. The music was playing from somewhere nearby where I imagine he had found an outlet to power it. When I was done, he bade me good day and off I went without another thought to this man by the recycling bins.

I was out for lunch at Local 510 one day over the summer with some colleagues. We were eating on the patio and this guy walked up to our table and asked us for some money. He was near tears and told us he had HIV and that his parents had kicked him out onto the street. He was trying to raise enough money to find shelter. Skeptically, we all fished out some money for him. After he left, one colleague leaned in and said “I’m pretty sure I recognize that guy. He hangs out around 17th Ave a lot.” Is his story true? Who knows. Maybe parts of it are.

There’s also the guy who sits on a crate downtown day in and day out. I’ve passed him several times, but I’ve never stopped. The last time I walked by him, I spotted a loaf of bread tucked under his crate. Is that what this man eats every day? Where does he come from? Where does he go at nightfall? And why does he do nothing more than sit on that crate? Only in my last couple of trips by him did I make eye contact and smile. Why was that such a hard thing for me to do?

Today, I was back at the recycling bins. As I opened the door to my car, I heard a radio playing. I stepped out and saw someone rummaging around the bins like last time.

As I approached with my recycling he turned around and said “Hello! How’s your day going?”

“Fantastically! Thank you. How is yours?” I replied.

“Oh, I’m having the most amazing day! I slept until 2:10 this afternoon.”

“Really? That must’ve felt nice! I haven’t been able to sleep that long into the day in quite some time.”

“I don’t usually get that much sleep either. This was the first time in five years I’ve slept that long! And man did it ever feel great!”

And so on we conversed while I finished unloading my car. Another fabulous thing about his day was that one of the garbage men had given him a garbage picker. It was a metal rod with prongs attached to the end and a handle he could squeeze to bring the prongs together. He even did a demonstration of it for me, picking up bottle caps, bottles and bits of paper from the ground. Works wonders for reaching inside the bins too.

It was at this point that he paused long enough for me to ask him an important question.

“What’s your name?”

He looked up and said “My name’s Bart.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Bart. I’m Wendy.”

He smiled and kept talking. I learned that the park is his home. He takes great pride in keeping it clean. “You won’t find any garbage around here, no sir! I make sure I pick up every last bit of paper to keep the area looking clean. I hate dirty things. It’s not like the recycling centre over by the grocery store. That one’s a mess! People put stuff everywhere,” he paused. “Well, actually, it’s not the people bringing the recycling in. It’s all the pickers. They just don’t care. But me? I care.”

Last summer I went to find a geocache with another friend of mine. The one we picked to search out was in this very park. As we explored the shrubbery along the backs of the houses, I remembered seeing a sleeping bag up in a tree. I wondered now if it belonged to this gentleman.

After a spell, he said, “Well, you’ve probably got other places to be. I’ll let you go. Have a nice day!”

I got into my car, drove home, and haven’t stopped thinking about the whole encounter all evening.

I can’t get it out of my head just how happy he was to have a tool that made his job easier and how proud he was to be keeping the park clean. As I was pulling away, another man drove up to bring in his recycling and Bart started up again and asked “Hello! How’s your day going?” All with the same warmth and another big smile.

*Names used in this post are fictional… well, except mine.

The Power of the Human Spirit

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s a balmy Thanksgiving Saturday in Goderich, Ontario. I’m on holidays. We’ve just finished picking wild apples near my brother-in-law Jim’s house. Many family members would be gathering for dinner the next day. Life couldn’t be much better.

Yet my eyes were welling up with tears.

Joyce and I’d just toured the renowned town square where the majority of the damage occurred during the Aug. 21 tornado, which miraculously left only one human casualty. We were in the community to attend the Out of the Storm concert, an event to raise funds to support rebuilding efforts.

It will take years for the town to return to its full former splendour. I’ve always thought of it as a most charming place. Goderich was long ago dubbed the Prettiest Town in Canada by Queen Victoria.

It took just seconds to wreak havoc in this community of 8,000 residents on the shore of Lake Huron, leaving many businesses out of commission for an indefinite time and leaving numerous century-old buildings in ruins.

Lots of grand old trees were uprooted and had to be removed.

Only 45-minutes’ drive away in Ripley, my mother-in-law reported seeing only a few rain drops and a dark cloud.

Elsewhere in the path of the tornado, homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

This was the second tragedy I’ve had close contact with this year. In mid-May, a wildfire destroyed about one-third of the Town of Slave Lake, Alberta, and threatened other nearby communities, prompting response by the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership, of which I am a member.

My demeanour picked up as the music began.  Rock and roll and blues are my two favourite genres of music so while the circumstances for the concert were unfortunate I was glad to be there to support the cause.

I also couldn’t help feeling uplifted when I saw the spirit of the volunteers and the T-shirts being sold as part of fundraising efforts.

One read: FU F3, representing the resolve of residents to reconstruct in the face of Mother Nature’s devastating winds.
Another proclaimed: Twisted … Not Broken.

The concert drew thousands of locals and visitors and featured 12 hours of music with scheduled acts including the Downchild Blues Band, the Arkells, Matthew Good, Salads with Choclair, Serena Ryder and Texas Flood. The Province of Ontario is matching funds raised on a two for one basis.

There were numerous vendors, a silent auction and a children’s area.

Organizers did an incredible job in pulling the concert together in such a short time. An event of this kind would normally take months to stage.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate to have never faced tragedy such as what occurred in Goderich or Slave Lake first hand. I’m amazed at how the human spirit can respond in the face of adversity.
It’s inspiring how people in these two communities are picking up the pieces – literally.

During a video tribute at the concert, Mayor Delbert Shewfelt proclaimed: “We will rebuild. We will be stronger than ever.”
There is no doubt Goderich, Slave Lake and other communities struck by catastrophes will be like phoenixes rising because of the determination of people to overcome their circumstances.

One of the songs during the Downchild Blues’ set was, I’ve Got Everything I need (Almost).

With the drive behind the people of Goderich and Slave Lake, all they need is time.

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