Monday, August 29, 2016

The long determined march to autumn

Just over a week ago, I was at YMCA Geneva Park north of Orillia, Ontario, having the time of my life at Mindcamp, Canada's creativity conference.  The days were either torrentially rainy or tempestuously hot.  At night, our room flirted with 30-degrees, which made it next to impossible to get a good night's sleep.

I woke up this morning to a house that was a perfect 20-degrees.  The temperature outside is in the low single digits.

"The leaves are starting to turn," observed Heather, looking over to a tree on the other side of Norm and Sheila's yard.

I feel a sense of relief and gratitude as summer begins to loosen its grip.  Don't get me wrong, I have appreciated the warm days and evenings when using a blanket just didn't make any sense.  But I really appreciate when the air turns crisp, and autumn begins to make its presence known.

This was a busy weekend of painting for me, which started Friday afternoon and continued right into the evening on Sunday.  I had promised to complete the second portrait of Jim Carter and Eric Newell by the end of August.  I started the first one at the We Love the Oilsands Dance Party just before the fire and finished it shortly after re-entry in June.  It raised $5,000 for the cause.  Someone else offered an additional $5,000 if I would paint a second.

I also got out in the yard and trimmed the grass, cleaned off the patio stones in the middle of our raised garden in the back, and fixed the broken soffit on the back wall of my studio.

Shortly after re-entry, I noticed wasps coming in and out of a small gap in the soffit that hangs just over the mural of Elsie Yanik.  I grabbed the rake and ripped it down, hoping to reveal a next that I could safely deal with.  However, getting rid of these industrious insects took several different methods, as they were building a next deep within the insulation.  I sprayed them, smoked them, and psyched them out with a faux bees nest.  While one queen appeared to stick around for months, there was no sign of them this weekend. The soffit is now successfully back in place.

I feel a sense of satisfaction when the yard is neatly tended to and ready for winter.  It feels that we are as ready as we've ever been.  Heather has done a brilliant job with her gardens, and even though the weather is turning colder, she has spent hours weeding and making sure they look absolutely fantastic.

We have been decluttering and putting extraneous stuff out in the garage.  Our intention was to do a big giveaway on Saturday morning, but the weather proved to be uncooperative.  We'll try again next weekend.  Rather than do a sale, we're going to give away books, CDs, kitchen stuff, and various odds and sods.  My primary objective, besides wanting to pay it forward, is to clear out the garage for when the snow arrives.  I need my winter parking spot back.

As spring makes its long slow departure and summer sets in, the days get warmer and warmer so slowly that our bodies barely notice the difference.  The opposite seems to have happened the last week or so.  It will continue to happen as children return to school and the lazy hazy days of summer give way to the frenetic buzz of autumn.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Clearwater Memoirs launches August 31st

Just over 10 years ago, my brother Greg and I canoed the Clearwater River.  John Semple did a lot of work on the river back in those days and he took us, and our canoe, as far up the river as he reasonably could.  It was quite a trip - hours.  We canoed back over the next four or five days, camping in various spots along the way.

This time on the water and on the land gave me an appreciation for the pristine nature of a vast majority of the Clearwater River Valley and why those people most closely connected to it have championed its preservation and protection.

Fort McMurray has such an interesting history, much of which flows in and through the Clearwater.  Blair Jean is returning to the community to launch his book: Clearwater Memories, and hosting a launch event at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library on August 31st.  He will be following that up with book launches in Edmonton on September 9th and Kelowna on the 28th of the same month.  The event in Fort McMurray starts at 6 pm, with the presentation scheduled for 6:30 pm.

I haven't been to many book launch events, but I like the direction that Blair is taking with it.  In the role of emcee, I will read short excerpts from the book and Blair will share stories kindled by the words.

The Clearwater River flows by us in all four seasons.  It is sometimes calm and tender, other times, fierce and unforgiving.  It has great character and myriad stories.  Blair will share several.

According to the byline on the back of the book, Blair "spent over 40 years on the historic Clearwater River as a trapper, logger, big game guide, outfitter, lodge owner and historian."

Copies of the book will be available for purchase.  You can like Blair's Facebook page by clicking here.  For more information about his book, you can email

Monday, August 22, 2016

First half of Mindcamp XIV

The forecast for this part of Ontario was rather favourable when I looked at it before I left Fort McMurray.  However, Mother Nature had different plans as just under two hundred people prepared to walk from the Court building to the main theatre in the Centennial building.  The clouds emptied their contents in a way that inspired several of us to go to the windows to capture the beautiful abstracted view of the outside view it created.

"Find someone with an umbrella and make your way over to the main theatre," announced Tim.

I grabbed my bag and made a dash through puddles that were a lot deeper than they first appeared.  By the time I made it to the opening, I was soaked to the bone.  It didn't matter.  I was at Mindcamp, a place where adversity is the mother of innovation, and unforgettable fun.

I've been coming to Canada's creativity conference for five years now.  Many of the faces have become so familiar and instantly friendly.  Hugs are commonplace, as are intriguing conversations and personal insights.

I felt the need to start painting yesterday, so I began my project to paint Mindcamp stalwarts who are not with us this year for reasons related to health.  First of my list was Joe Miguez from New Jersey.  Joe is the annual creator of the Mindcamp "Lab", or labyrinth.  He recently had surgery yet still gave instructions from his hospital bed for Peter H. and Peter Z. to create the lab in his absence. I had a strong sense that I needed to paint Joe before coming to Mindcamp, though I didn't know he was not well.  News of his surgery confirmed my instinct.

Mindcamp, for presenters, actually started the day before, on Tuesday.  We typically arrive one full day before the rest of the attendees.  That evening I participated in an improv session.

"I have always had a fear of improv," I shared.  "It's time to overcome that fear."

For the first time ever I was able to experience the reality that improv is not about performance; it is about being present and reacting in the moment.  I found myself hopping up with enthusiasm with increasing frequency and enthusiasm as the evening session went along, volunteering to be a part of a scene.

On the second evening, I went to a session on creative design facilitated by Cecilia Yau.  I have been coming to Mindcamp for five years and ever so slowly I have become closer and closer to Cecilia.  However, I had not jumped into any of her presentations.  I felt strongly that the time had come.  I also realized why I probably had hesitated for so long.

Cecilia always has these really big textbook-looking books on sale at the Mindcamp marketplace.  I instantly associated her presentations with theory and loads of content.  What I experienced was totally different than what I feared.  Cecilia is a lady, small of frame, quiet and contemplative.  So, imagine my surprise when she lit up the room with passion, enthusiasm, and activities and content that made me wish the session went on all night.

I need to stop and explain something.  The master schedule of Mindcamp XIV can be found in a number of places.  It is on the website, available through an app, and displayed on a huge table taped to the wall in "The Hub", the main gathering place for attendees, and the place from which I am typing this blog post.  In years past, I would meticulously study the program, hem and haw over what sessions to attend, and make a detailed plan.  This year I haven't read the program, nor made any plans.  Prior to each session block, I go up to the wall, glance at the titles and at the name of the presenters, and then tune into my body.  That method led me to Tim and Laura's session yesterday on Leadership.

They spent a lot of time talking about VAE - Vision, Align and Execution.  While Tim and Laura kept talking about it being a "model", they kept using words.  Much like many deep thinking processes that I have been involved in, I translated the "model" into a visual metaphor.  And much like those many deep thinking processes, I eventually reached a point when I had to share it.

They also brought in the CPS model, or CPS.  I didn't have time to turn it into a visual metaphor, but I know I will...eventually.  I enjoyed the discussion and the activities, and I enjoyed seeing Tim and Laura in action.  They are amazing people.

The structure of Mindcamp had changed in a couple of significant ways this year.  First of all, there are a series of concurrent Mind U sessions that start each day.  I am leading one of those; it's called "Painting Your Life".  We have our first 75 minute session yesterday and successfully sketched out a portrait of Albert Einstein on canvas.  Today, we'll spend 75 minutes adding paint.  It should have entertaining.

The other structural change is an additional day to the conference and a daily "Open Space", when attendees can do whatever they want to do: swim, kayak, sail, paddle board, etc.  I chose to finish my painting of Joe Miguez.  It was time well spent.

Mindcamp ( )* Reflections

According to the little television screen embedded in the seat in front of me, I am 10,363 metres above sea level, somewhere in northern Ontario.  I am enroute to Fort McMurray from Toronto after a full week away.  It was quite a week.

I was feeling all kinds of stress in the days before leaving.  Work pressures combined with accumulated tenstion from a bruised community made the question whether I should be going to Mindcamp at all.  Though I knew it was the best thing in the world for me, it was tempting to pack it inn and acquiesce to the demands of work community, family and my painting life.  If I ever feel hesitant again about Mindcamp, all I will do is take a deep breath in, and slowly let it out, feeling it down through my core, the bones in my legs, through my feet and into the earth.  That's all it will take.

Mindcamp was EXACTLY what I needed to reset some things and remind myself of others.  I'm returning home with a new facilitation process that is adaptable to organizations, families, business, and individuals.  I largely made up "Painting Your Life" - including a guided meditation (my first) that was apparently rather effective.  Toby, Sarah, Nadine, Erik, Karina, Julia, Ashley, Kristina, John, Bob, Janice and Sam gave me a tremendous gift with their courage and vulnerability, sailing through uncharted waters and revealing the personal power of this workshop.  I had to wipe my eyes several times as they shared their paintings and the stories of their lives.  They they released their attachments to their creation and gave it to over to the group.  It was a transference (release), and a ceremony, that was overflowing with meaning.  As they selected a work of someone else's to add something from an appreciative perspective, they did so with intention and resolve.  The results were truly beautiful and affirming.  For more than several, it seemed to be hugely important within the context of their journey.

I'm also coming back with ideas and tools about resilience from Greg Z and strategies for creative leadership from Tim and Laura.  Additionally, I have some homework to dive into:  books from Cecilia Yau ( gracious gifts: Creative Geniuses and Breakthrough and Beyond) and Marc and Samantha Hurwitz (Leadership is Half the Story).

What I'm really coming back with is a stronger sense of "tribe".  I feel a part of the Mindcamp community in a way that is different than before.

The painting of Joe Miguez had an impact, in a way I wish it had not.  At first, it was a get well card and gift.  In the end, it was a memorial.

"Several people have commented that it is the best thing you've done," said Tim Hurson, the amazing man who invited me to Mindcamp 5 years ago.

The paintings of Alberta Einstein and Bruce Baum solidified my role as "The Painter" and probably will result in a few commissions, though that is not why I did them.  Painting at Mindcamp has become an integral component of my journey.

On of the many highlights of Mindcamp was our Kaleidoscope group: Open Space Stars.  Each afternoon, seven of us - Vesna, Peter, Deborah, John, Catherine, Michelle and myself - would gather under a tree next to the water and adjacent to the Labyrinth and debrief about the day.  We formed a special bond and looked forward to our time together, as the breeze made the flags of the Lab dance and the squirrels and chipmunks ran up and down the trees.

I connected in a deep way with a number of people:  Cecilia, Jeanne, Vesna among them.  I strengthened my connection with many more Mindcampers and discovered new resources that might serve our community in the future.

I told the Fort McMurray Fire story during a night flight - workshops spontaneously offered after all the scheduled ones were over.  I shared the Fort McMurray Fire story with Lee Dunne after the closing lunch and brought her to tears several times.

There were many hugs and moments of connection that I will hold in my heart until Mindcampers reassemble in August 2017.  My hope is that Heather and Dylan can join me next time.  Perhaps we can entice Ben to sign on too.

I'm convinced that the extra special magic of Mindcamp (   )* was a gift from Joe.  It was like he was there with us, dancing on a breeze, doing the "Hokey Pokey" in the centre of the Labyrinth under the stars and a brilliant moon.  Thank you Joe.  Thank you Mindcamp.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mindcamp XIV, Walking the Camino and remembering Joe

Last night, Mindcampers walked the Camino - a series of stations where other Mindcampers were performing, giving advice, doing whatever their hearts inspired them to share or do.

I was at a picnic table just outside the hub, exactly where I was last year, getting people to sign the back of Joe Miguez's portrait.  The plan was to have Tim, Matteo and Franca to deliver it to him personally at his home in New Jersey as a Mindcamp get well card.  Joe had a different plan.

John, a long-time member of the creativity community and one of the amazing folks in my kaleidoscope group, came up to me and it was clear that something was wrong.

"I don't want want to spoil the party, but...," he said.  At this point, he broke down.  I pulled him close and he quietly said: "Joe died."

At first, it didn't compute.  Here we were, getting so many people to write messages of love and hope on the back of his portrait.  How could he be dead?

John held up the message that had just been sent to members of the creativity community from around the world.

A small group of us formed a circle and wrapped our arms around each other and held the space, and Joe.

Someone suggested - I think it was Laura Switalski - that we go walk the Labyrinth.  It seemed the most appropriate, and perfect, thing to do.

I was a little shaky, shaken really, walking through the circular path as the flags fluttered, children laughed, and the Camino continued....drums beating a beautiful heartbeat rhythm.

We met in the middle of the Labyrinth, held each other, held space and convened with Joe, who was among us one year earlier and now was within in us and around us, dancing on the breeze.

"In some crazy way, it is perfect that Joe passed on this day," I offered.  "We are all in this place, in the heart of Mindcamp, in the Lab, on this most beautiful night."

Joe Miguez had been part of the creativity community for the better part of 40 years, according to William Sterner who shared stories of the early days, Joe's personal struggles, and his beautiful brilliance.  We sat under the stars until late in the evening, laughing, debating, and dreaming of how we will change the world...exactly what Joe would have wanted.

Two days before I left for Mindcamp, I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to paint Joe.  I now understand why.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Parallel Lives

I was listening to CBC Canada Reads when I first heard about Terry Fallis and his breakout novel The Best Laid Plans.  Ali Velshi, a correspondent with CNN at the time, was defending the selection that went on to be the winner in 2011.  I bought the book and found myself lounging by the pool at a resort in Mexico laughing out loud as I read it.

At some point, I reached out to Terry on Facebook and he accepted my friend request. Our initial loose connection strengthened over the years, we finally met in person yesterday.

I arrived at the pub early, as I often do for meetings, and selected a booth directly opposite the little stage in the quiet venue on Yonge Street.  When Terry arrived, it was with a bright, beaming smile.

"It's so bizarre that you picked this booth," he said.  "This is where I usually sit to meet people for lunch, the only exception is that I sit where you are, so I can see them coming in."

Terry is my favourite Canadian novelist/humorist.  His novels - five have been published so far - always draw me in and provide a marvellous reading experience.  He wasn't always a writer though; he started out his career by earning a Bachelor of Engineering degree.  A passion for student politics at University - he was elected President of the Students Union at McMaster - led to a full-time posting with Jean Cretien's political staff in 1984 followed by a legislative assistant gig with former Premier David Peterson's Liberal government in Ontario.

He translated his invaluable experience working within federal and provincial political machines to an 8-year consulting job with a leading government relations and communications firm before starting his own company, Thornley Fallis, with Joe Thornley, in 1995.  He still spends four days a week contributing to this firm.

When Terry discovered his passion for writing novels he was in his forties.  While he has achieved great success, it didn't come easy.

"I sent the first novel to multiple publishers," he shared.  "The silence was deafening.  I literally didn't hear anything back, not even a rejection letter."  With this strong encouragement of his wife, he self-published his debut novel.

He decided to submit The Best Laid Plans for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2008, which he ended up winning.

"The application required that I submit 10 copies of my book," he recalled.  "I had exactly 10 copies left that I had self published.  Had there only been 9, you and I would probably never have met."

An agent and a publisher (McClelland and Stewart) soon followed and Terry's writing career went from a flight of fancy to the real deal.

Terry is at home in Toronto; it is the city that he has called home for most of his life.  His office is located just around the corner from the pub, and his home is a 12 minute walk away.  He has established a healthy balance of doing public relations work for Thornley Fallis and writing on weekends and holidays.  His next novel, set to be released in June 2017, is all finished and he will soon begin working on a new one.  Apart from writing, he invests a lot of time and energy making speaking appearances; there were well over 100 last year.

Everything changed for Terry when he decided to podcast "The Best Laid Plans".  He started receiving feedback from around the globe.  Those positive affirmations, along with the Leacock medal, and publishing deal have resulted in a mid-career shift that was both unexpected and delightful.

As I admired and appreciated Terry's novels from a distance, he did the same with my paintings.  Several caught his attention and many others inspired likes and comments.

"Two that really jumped out to me were the Henry Ford one you did and the Gandhi portrait on that black background," he said.  "And, of course, that Robin Williams."

At that point, I held up my iPhone and showed him the back of the case that protects it.

"Yup, that's the one," he said.  "Stunning."

I even painted Terry's portrait at one point.

The fact that I was sitting having lunch with my favourite Canadian novelist was amazing; that he had specific memories in his head of paintings that I have done was inexplicably cool.

Finding creative success mid-career after decades of doing marketing and communications work, is one parallel between the two of us that is striking.  That we are a similar age and share a mutual appreciation for each others' work is another.  We each have sons that are deeply interested in theatre and wives that are hugely supportive of our creative pursuits.

In my older years, I've learned to follow my instincts and "listen to the wind", as I like to call it.  I'm eternally gratefully that I reached out to connect with Terry on Facebook all those years ago, and that he accepted my invitation.  I'm also grateful that he had exactly 10 copies of his debut novel to submit for the Leacock Medal.  I've had a sense for the last couple of years that we would eventually meet.  Now we have, and I get the sense that this mutual admiration society and friendship is just getting started.  Thanks Terry!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mindcamp XIV - between the parenthesis

In a couple of hours, Heather will drive me to the airport and I will begin my journey east to Toronto, the first of several legs to get to Mindcamp, Canada's creativity retreat.  This will be my 5th pilgrimage to YMCA Geneva Park; it has become my personal and professional recharge.

Organizers released the program last night and I quickly printed off the two pages of attendees that are expected to participate in the sold out conference.  Going through this list has become part of my Mindcamp tradition.  I go through all the names and highlight the ones that I can picture in my head.  Over one-third of the names are now fluorescent yellow.

The theme of Mindcamp XIV is a symbol.  It suggests the unknowable and the exponential power of coming together.  What lies beneath the parenthesis?  How will those activities, workshops, interactions, relationships, and moments of creative insights change the world?  I don't know, nor does anyone else, only that they will.  I've seen that change in my own life and in the lives of so many others who attend this marvellous coming together of idea explorers.

I'm excited to facilitate "Painting your life" as part of Mind U this year.  A portion of my brain, in wake and sleep, has been shaping the time that about 10 of us will have together starting next Thursday.  Although there will be some structure (parenthesis), we truly will be sailing into unknowable waters.  The exponential (*) part of this will be the energy we create together.  It should be colourful, surprising, and illuminating.

I have to sign off and finish the packing process.  I'm a traveller that leaves things until the last possible minute.  The last fews days have been incredibly busy and have included:

Two minutes in the octagon with my friend Don Scott (the longest two minutes in my life).  The event raised $20,000 for charity.

Painting a dear uncle, father and friend to many people who mean the world to me.  Rossi passed away far too young just over one week ago.

Finishing a painting of a lovely couple, Tyler and Melinda, as a wedding gift from their friend Kim.

Doing a live painting of a laughing horse at a fundraising event for the Clearwater Horse Club.  These men and women are doing an incredible job raising money for the rebuild of their facilities.  The fire was not kind to the horse lovers in our community.

What is between the parenthesis for me at Mindcamp?  Great question.  First of all, it is an opportunity to mindful, curious, and present with some incredible people from around the world.  What that means or what discoveries will be made, I can't begin to guess.  That's the beauty of Mindcamp.