November 17th, 2016 - Family

Words have a tendency to trip me up. I can get so stuck on a word that it loses it’s meaning altogether. I'm not talking about the big, unknown definitions of words that are new to me. There are certain everyday, common words that I mull over, trying to find my own, personal understanding of their meaning. What does that word really mean and how is it applied to my experience? What else can it mean, perhaps to someone else, or a from a different perspective? 

Words like trust, shame, guilt and battle. Those rattled off pretty darn quickly there! 

Family.

That’s a huge six letter word. Family. There are so many levels of understanding, definition and interpretation of the word ‘family’. So much springs to mind. I'm sure it has a very personal meaning to each of us, based on our own upbringing and experiences.

My parent's divorced when I was about three or four years old. I know that’s not uncommon. That my stepfather is black, and married my mother, a single parent with four children in 1969, wasn’t so common. To this day, he treats my mother like a queen, and they are each other’s best friend, still. 

My father remarried as well. Three more times. I’ve had two additional families with stepbrothers and stepsisters that all ended by divorce, and/or distance. We left one family behind and moved to Scotland. Then we left another behind in Scotland when we returned to Canada. 

I never met my father’s fourth family until after he passed away. He had been married to his fourth wife for 30 years. “Those were the happiest years of my life,” he told me, shortly after his wife had passed away. 

At the internment of my father's ashes, I met this fourth family of his, and I could all too easily see how he would have been happy. They accepted me and welcomed me without any gulf, or judgment. Their hearts and arms were open wide. I’ve never heard so many times, albeit indirectly, how much I resemble my father. “Wow he really looks like Reg, doesn’t he!?” was the general consensus. 

Then there are our ‘chosen’ families. Those from school, or work, or socially. The friends we meet that stick around, and in time become a part of our own life. Our selected and extended families, branching out, over time. It’s commonplace to have circles of chosen-family-friend’s that might not even meet one another. Some family-friends may never overlap, yet know all about each other. Then there are those that collide and morph into a bigger family group. 

I know a lot of people, sure. I am blessed with lots of friends. Good fortune has brought what I consider to be, an abundance of great friends. I also have a very small, intimate group of select friends, that I carry with me daily. We all do. Those that we go to, or think about when things happened that we want to share. Those that are here for the good, the bad, and to tell you when things are ugly. 

Those friends that hear our deepest thoughts, concerns, hopes and secrets. Those that get to hear the madness of my processes and inner turmoils, as I process through every shred of everything. A family. My chosen family.

When my friend Tom, who I met back on Day Ten of TSP2014, went into hospital at the end of June, my first reaction was to be his family. We had such a special friendship and connection, it wasn’t even really a consideration for me. 

Tom had, over the two-and-a-half years I knew him, mentioned his brother, his sister-in-law and his two cousins. He also told me of an older brother who had died when he was a young man. Both of his parents had passed away. I thought Tom had no one else. By choice, and without question, I would be his family. 

During the first three weeks in hospital, a group of people emerged, and to my amazement, a few others had the same impression I had. That Tom made each of us feel so special, and considered him family, doesn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is how many people he had impacted in this way. We each thought we were his closest friend.

Tom’s families, whether by birth or by selection, all gathered. We became another family. In Tom’s death, we are connected by virtue of knowing Tom. We cared for, loved and supported Tom through his final transition in this life. We soon came to comfort each other, as well. 

After Tom died, we had a Celebration of Life, in honour of Tom. He didn’t want a funeral and had made that clear. A gathering, whatever it might be called, after the passing of a friend or family member, isn’t really for the person who died. I think it’s for those of us left here in this lifetime. To seek comfort in our commonality. To share sentiments and our expressions of love and care. To celebrate our experiences with Tom, share his stories, his quirks, his humour and his friendship. 

The coffeeshop that Tom and I frequented, insisted on buying us all our beverages. I had a mocha, Tom’s favourite. Tom's niece brought tasty treats for us to share. Tom’s sister-in-law, and now dear friend of mine, brought a framed photo of Tom, It was a picture I had taken of him sometime last year. His ever-present Tilly hat even made an appearance!

It was such a warm, connected and comforting group of Tom’s ‘family’. Those of us who shared in loving and knowing Tom. We each mourn his passing, in our own way. There was comfort, in our mutual sadness. There was lots of laughter and cheer, as well as tears and hugs. It was a good day for hugs. So many were had.

This photo is from that day, back in August. Tom’s Celebration of Life. If you didn’t know the story, it wouldn’t be hard to look at this picture, and, you might quite easily guess it’s a family gathering of some sort. You’d be correct. This is a family. We shared our love, respect, admiration, and gratitude for Tom. We supported and cared for each other. Tom brought us together. 

This is a family. One of my families. By choice, and by nature. Random and select. Family; a gift, no matter the starting point. This group, this family gathered together, are here in part, because I said hello to a stranger. We became friends and now, we are a family. #notastranger

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I’ve been sitting this story for almost three months. I’ve spent a lot of the last three months sitting on my ass, without the slightest sense of guilt, while I worked my way through an difficult summer, and grieving two significant, personal losses.

I’m now feeling like I’ve processed what I can, and am feeling at peace, and content. There’s no completely recovering from the death of someone that is, or was important
in one’s life. Nor should there be. It’s part of the price, if you will, of love. The memories are the long lasting rewards. So are some of the lessons. 

We’ve all had a bumpy ride throughout most of 2016, let’s face it. It’s been a year marked with the loss of personal heroes; artists that influenced our youth, that enrich our lives, with their stories. We’ve had turmoil and sadness. 

While this particular story germinates in loss, it moves quickly to my intended essence; appreciation of the little things. The random moments of beauty and connection, the gifts of gratitude and remembrance, honouring each other. Acknowledgment of our differences, and highlighting, seeking out, our similarities. 

On the morning Tom passed away, in early August, I had planned to meet with his family, at his place, to help sort of Tom’s belongings. We had spent hours together with Tom the day before, and had each said our goodbyes. This was a chance to keep to our plan, and to spend some time together, in the shadows of his death. Going through Tom’s belongings was revealing, I saw a side of Tom I didn’t know. Seeing the things that he kept, that meant something to him. The personal stuff that we all have. The time together was comforting and oddly light. It was so profoundly moving. And sad, of course. It was also beautiful; here we were, three people absolutely comfortable in our shared and individual grieving. Four weeks prior to this, we had never met. This is family.

Tom apparently, was setting in for the zombie takeover. He had stashes of rolling papers, cigarette lighters, loose packets and cartons of cigarettes. Some opened, some not. And enough peanuts to feed the entire population of squirrels at City Hall, through a long winter! 

His Tilly hat collection. Tom’s leather biker jacket. He treasured that. On the last day that Tom was outside, I was walking him home and he had a bad fall. We sat on the sidewalk, me holding Tom up, while we made sure he was okay, relatively speaking. I recall saying to Tom that it was a good thing he had decided to wear his biker jacket that day; judging by the scuff marks in the leather from the sidewalk, it had most definitely limited some of the flesh wounds and road rash Tom suffered in that fall. 

I was gifted the jacket. It sits in a bag, under my bed. Time will decide what happens with this treasured memory.

I asked if I could have the cigarettes. It seemed silly to throw them away. We’re all non-smokers. I admittedly am the worst kind–a reformed smoker. I started smoking when I was 13, and stopped, finally, on my 40th birthday. I find it disgusting now, personally. I also understand addiction, intimately. I digress. 

I thought I’d give the cigarettes away. It seemed to me that’s what Tom would have liked. In all, there were FORTY THREE full packets of cigarettes, once we had collected them, from a number of stashes in various areas of his single room.

Tom passed away on August 05th, just two weeks short of him turning 61. On Tom’s birthday, I decided to go out, armed with this bag of cigarettes, and give them away to honour Tom’s birthday. It was liking spending time, going for a walk, with Tom. 

I was intent on giving them away to people that I felt might be appreciative of a free pack of smokes. Typically, I started to create a series of statements which I used to approach each person. This wasn’t about gathering anyone’s story. It was about sharing with another person. Connecting, however briefly, is a two-way gift. 

I approached folk who were asking for help, or collecting empties, or sitting on benches with what may be all their worldly possession’s, in a few bags next to them, or at their feet. 

When I found someone who smoked, and not everyone did, I asked if I could tell them a quick, short story. Not one person said no to hearing my story.

“My good friend Tom passed away recently, and today is his birthday. I inherited a bunch of cigarettes, and I wanted to celebrate my friend’s birthday by giving away the smokes to people that could do with a gift from Tom.” 

The smiles and instant, authentic connection was palpable. 

Then I made my the rest of my pitch. I explained that I wanted to do a small tribute project to Tom, and asked if I could take a photograph of just their eyes. Nothing else would be in the image. Only one person turned down my offer at that point. I get it. 

I gave each person a pack of smokes and then asked to take a photo of their eyes. In most cases I only took one photograph. I told each person “When I take your photo, I’m going to say something, and the picture will be only of your eyes, reacting to what I say.”

As I was about to take each photo, I said what I’ve come to believe, are two of the most important words we can use. “Ready? Thank you.”

Packet 01 - I approached Henry, who was pushing a buggy with empty bottles and cans. Much to my surprise it turns out, Henry knew me, and remembered my name. We had met way back on Day 32 of TSP2014. I wish I could say I recognized him first. That said, it was so incredibly delightful to have the first person I approached, be personally connected to this very project about connection! So random!

Packet 02 - Eddy seemed unsure of my intentions. I showed him Henry’s photo to offer some validity, and sure, they know each other! The world is a series of circles, after all! While Eddy himself doesn’t smoke, his girlfriend does, and so I gave them to Eddy to gift to his girlfriend. We both walked away smiling from ear to ear!

Packet 03 - I was sitting at Tom’s Bench, when Bob, a man that I’ve seen around the neighbourhood before, approached me. He said “Hey, you wouldn't have a cigarette to sell would you?” That got him a pack! *A few days later, I saw Bob again. “They sure were strong cigarettes! It was like smoking a cigar, took me three days to get through the pack!”

Packet 04 - Dave was sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling on Burrard St. He had just come to Vancouver a few days ago. Originally from Halifax, Dave had spent a few months on the Island, in Victoria. “I liked how friendly the city of Victoria is. It was like Halifax. It reminded me bit of home. Not like Vancouver. This isn't like Halifax. Or Victoria.”

Packet 05 - David and his friend were sitting outside a restaurant, singing somewhat incoherently when I walked past them. His friend, Bassi, was laying down, with his head in David’s lap. When I gave him the cigarettes, David smiled. “Tom is with us in many forms.”

Packet 06 - Bassi was lying on the sidewalk, with his head in David’s lap. He tells me he thinks his names is Dave, which is also very funny to both these guys. Bassi laughs so much I have to take several photos to get one with his eyes open.

Packet 07 - Even though JoJo had a cast on his arm, the smile on his face was infectious. His grin literally went from ear to ear, his entire face smiling! I asked how he broke his arm. “I caught it in an automatic door that was broken and it slammed closed on me and broke my arm. But that’s okay,” he says, widening his smile again. “I prevented it from slamming on some frail old guy that was behind me. He didn't get hurt. And man, he would have!”

Packet 08 - Sean was standing in the middle of a busy street, at an intersection. I crossed half way to join him on the boulevard. He had a handwritten cardboard sign with “Spare change” in bold letters. I didn’t want to get in the way of his mission, so I quickly told him my proposition. “Sure. I’d love that. I could really use a smoke myself right about now!” I took his photo and reached into my bag, and handed him a pack of cigarettes. “Oh,” he said. “Just one pack?”

Packet 09 - When I gave Jordan the cigarettes, he smiled and started to say something, then stopped himself. I asked what he was going to say. “Well, I don't mean to be rude. That’s why I stopped myself.” I assured him he could say what he wanted. “I’ve had these smokes before. They’re popular on local reservations.”

Packet 10 - Ron was in a wheelchair, panhandling outside a transit station. He was a happy man of few words. ”Absolutely.” After I gave him the smokes, he reached out to shake my hand. “Thank you very much!”

Packet 11 - Peter leaned in close and said, almost in a whisper “I mean this not as a joke. Even though I never met your friend Tom, my most sincere and heartfelt condolences.”

Packet 12 Allan - “That's just beautiful.”

Packet 13 - Ralph was one of the cheeriest people I met that day. He was sitting on the ground, in the shade of large tree near the bus depot. I sat with him and we chatted a bit about friends dying and the valuable lessons we can carry from them. no problem! I'm a smoker. They're all mine!

Packet 14 - I was waiting at a crosswalk when I saw Nick asking a couple of people if they had a smoke they could spare. Neither person even stopped to acknowledge him. Admittedly, he seemed surprised that I just walked over and offered him a packet of smokes. “Really? The whole packet? No, I just take one.” As I walked away, I think he was waiting for me to turn around and come back to get them. I crossed the street and turned around, and waved.

What a gift. #notastranger

November 07, 2016 - the short documentary 'Not A Stranger' is now online!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that KGP Films award-winning short documentary about my experience in the first year of TSP2014, 'Not A Stranger' is now available online!

It's been a long time coming. I know I'll never 'get over' the death of my good friend Tom, and later on that same day, the death of my father. Here we are, three months later, and I'm at peace today.

I know without a doubt that the love, care, kindness and support of many kind hearts, made the dramatic weight of this summer bearable. 

The Stranger Project has had so many powerful ripples come back to me; becoming friends with Tom way back on Day 10. Two years later, walking Tom home in his final transition from this life. The comfort that brought me, the gift, which then softened the edges of the sudden and unexpected death of my father. 

People I've met, once strangers, are now solidly ensconced in my tribe. Loving and hugging and caring all the way. Without this project and all the many wonderful connections I've made because of TSP2014, right now, my life would not be what it is today. I am humbled, grateful and blessed beyond imagination. I am inspired. Thank you.

Throughout the summer, while I've been mostly absent here, I've written notes, thoughts, process, poems and ramblings! Suffice to say, I hope you'll stick around - there's more stories and experiences still to share!

'Not A Stranger' is now available online gaia.com/films-docs/shorts 

#notastranger #HereWeGrow

Reel Causes - 'Not A Stranger' screening Vanc., Oct 20, 2016

I'm thrilled to share that 'Not A Stranger' has another Vancouver screening! Next Thursday, October 20th, 7pm at SFU Woodward's campus. The short documentary, by KGP Films, explores my experience with TSP2014. I hope to see you there!

"COMMON THREADS: Short Films from the Heart of our City.

Come and celebrate some incredibly talented local filmmakers at Reel Causes’ first ever program of short films!

This evening of film is dedicated to the intersections of our communities and we are thrilled to support and highlight the work of Intersections Media Opportunities for Youth Society. This event is in conjuction with the DTES Heart of the City Festival. 

After the films, join us for a conversation about the Common Threads that bring together these diverse communities at the heart of our city." #notastranger

Sunday, August 21, 2016 - 6:05am

Sunday, August 21, 2016 - 6:05am
Yesterday I said goodbye to my father, who passed away on August 05th, the same day my dear friend Tom passed away. 

My father and I, while not close, had spent time over the last ten years or so, working on a friendship. No apologies, or reparations, no arguments, or accusations. There were some challenging conversations, on both sides. We had one three hour conversation that I never expected, and will never forget. We made a conscious effort to connect, and to build on the present, not the past. 

It had been a few years since I had seen him last, but we had talked on the phone, up until the end of last year. I didn't know he was ill - a choice he made to not have anyone contact his children. He had remarried almost 30 years ago, and I've never met any of his family. I was filled with trepidation yesterday, being his only child to attend, and stepping into my father's life, a circle of people I had never met. 

I considered not going. I told a friend the feeling in my stomach was like that of going into hospital for surgery. Voluntarily.

My father's family welcomed me with open arms. They were kind, gentle, and full of grace. Everyone spoke of how much I look like him. There was not a moment of feeling like an outsider, not even an awkward silence. I was not a stranger.

I was asked to read a poem that someone had brought along. I choked out the words, in between pauses, gasps for air and a firm grip of my tongue between my teeth. Then I completely broke down, in front of everyone assembled. With dignity, they held that space for me. I was safe, and felt the loving and deeply connected care from every single person.

I feel comfortable saying it was a lovely afternoon, ugly crying in public and all! 

In speaking with a friend later in the day, I said I was the only one to 'ugly cry' and that I wasn't concerned about it. He challenged me with, "Why is it UGLY crying?" I replied that I don’t want anyone to see me with my face contorted like that - and that it was a good question. I pondered this a while. It was pure raw emotion. Going forward, I'll see if I can use that when next describing my 'pure raw emotion cry face'.

Today we celebrate Tom's life, and personally, I'll mark today as the end of a swirling chapter that has gone on for the last two months. Dying and death have been a daily focus. It's a conversation I'm determined to keep going. I've been exposed to, endured and made it through every, single, moment. To close on a celebration of life seems only fitting. 

The lessons. Long may I continue to receive them. Celebrate love today. Take a moment to connect, or reconnect with someone that might just benefit from knowing you're thinking of them. Just because. 

Rest well, gentle men. I love you. 
#notastranger #RIPDad #DayTenTom #GriefFog #SelfCare

AUGUST 13, 2016 - Yes, my WEBSITE NEEDS UPDATING, I know!

Not A Stranger screens TONIGHT,

August 13, 2016
Vancouver Queer Film Festival
SFU Woodward's 8:45pm
‪#‎VQFF2016‬ ‪#‎notastranger‬

queerfilmfestival.ca/blog/the-coast-is-queer-2016/

 

Hello! It's been a bumpy ride this year, and lots has happened, changed, been improved , learned and celebrated. there e have also been a few really hard and challenging life lessons come my wa y as well. As always, I'm a storyteller, and willingly share it all, in the hope that my story, can make difference, just as all the other stories collected here, have changed my life.

Please bear with me, as I undergo revamping this site, bringing it up to date, easier to navigate and easier to use. It's all an organic, learning process. I hope you'll stick around for more stories, mine and the stories of others, currently unknown, one day to become #notastranger

be well

Colin

 

 

May 07, 2016 - NorthWestFest "Best Made in Canada Short" NOMINATION

Not A Stranger nominated for ‘Best Made in Canada Short’ at NORTHWESTFEST

 (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada): Can one man’s journey to connect with 365 strangers in one year bring him happiness? Not A Stranger is the story of one man’s pursuit to find happiness through real world human connections with complete strangers and the results are life changing. Directed and produced by Kate Green of KGP Films, Not A Stranger is an official selection of Northwestfest 2016 and Best Made in Canada Short Nominee, screening on May 7th 2016, 3:15pm at the Landmark Cinemas City Centre.

PRESS RELEASE

May 05th, 2016 - Vancouver SOUP

Vancouver SOUP is a public crowdfunding dinner that supports people who are making positive changes in our city.

I'm 'pitching' The Stranger Project - est. 2014 at the next Vancouver SOUP on Thurs May 05th, doors open at 6:00pm. Pitches around7pm, then soup, salad and conversation, plus voting. Of the four pitches for the evening, one winner takes the money collected from the door! $10 minimum donation, for dinner and ONE vote! 

PLEASE COME AND SUPPORT ME! I hope to get business cards, and a few other items should I win - to continue pushing out the ripples from this amazing project! Kindly RSVP here

EDMONTON, Alberta - NorthWestFest May 05-14, 2016

EDMONTON, Alberta! I'm just taking a writing break to share some wonderful news that was announced this morning! (Really, I am writing again, with some Yo-Yo Ma soothing me along the way!) 

Not A Stranger, the short documentary about my experience with The Stranger Project - est. 2014, is coming to the silver screen in you!

Congratulations to Kate and everyone involved at KGP Films

Get your tickets now, before it sells out. ‪#‎notastranger‬


Kindly support NorthwestFest!
*May 07th 2016 at 3:15pm as part of the Shorts Package: Humanity

April 03, 2016 - The toughest story, perhaps

April 03, 2016 - This is probably the toughest story I've written, in quite a long time. Most of it is about me. Except for the powerful parts where I've learned from others. Isn't that how it happens? (Rhetorical question...)

Not everything is ‘just like riding a bike’. I can only speak for myself when I say there are lessons I’ve learned, that I seem to enjoy repeating. Even if I didn't enjoy the lesson the first time around. Some lessons that are so mammoth, you’d think I’d learn that first time around. Nope. While this has weighed me down lately, I’ve come to recognize that I am ready now, to learn more. The next stage. Another fork in the road.

There are good days, and there are not so good days. Sometimes, it applies to weeks, and others, it goes for months. In reflection, it’s a historical pattern. In 2014 I was determined to practise yoga, as a part of my well-being and self care. Once I started, I was hooked. I even challenged myself to go ninety, yes 90 days consecutively. A few times I even did TWO classes in one day. I went ninety days in a row. I haven’t been back since.

“We thought we could find, an easier, softer way.” I learned this in AA meeting rooms. And yet, here I am. The work for me, truly to stay on a path that keeps me well, is this project. Meeting strangers and connecting with them. Hearing their stories. Listening. While I still meet people frequently, I’ve not consciously gone out with the intention of meeting a stranger, in a long time. It’s a working tool in my life, that for me, I know is one of the most beneficial. Yet, I've been resisting it.

In some ways, right here, right now, I feel like it’s Day One, all over again. In some ways, it always is, or can be. Like new, and fresh. The difference being the knowledge, experience and growth that I’ve gained through this project.

The vast number of experiences it’s brought me to. This connection. The difference being that sitting on my ass doesn’t get it done. The difference being that I know this. Occasionally, I want to ignore what I already know. The difference here being that I’m not foggy like I was three years ago. Once again, I am my biggest obstacle.

Two very dear friends were recently visiting from out of town for a week. They paid for all of our meals out, everyday, for their entire trip. While I absolutely know they are more than happy to have me join them, and I know they can afford it, it left me feeling uncomfortable. It was my discomfort, not my friend's.

A few weeks later, I was having coffee with another close friend, a life coach, and I told her about feeling uncomfortable that they paid for everything. I felt uncomfortable that I didn’t have the means to pay for anything. I made myself feel 'less than'. In her response, she asked “I wonder when you’ll start to value yourself, and know your worth.” I'm still ruminating over that one.

The curse of being a people pleaser?

My truth is that I have chosen to do what I can, to follow my passion, and my heart; continuing with The Stranger Project - est. 2014 (TSP2014).

By following this passion, and to be a voice for those who might not otherwise be heard, has continued to feed my soul. The ripple effect drives me.

I quit my 'job' to do this. It's that important to me. The reality of that, is that I choose to live frugally, and most times I can’t join friends in doing all the things they want me to. Yes, there are plenty of ways to have fun without having to spend lots of money, I know. Which is good, because I have none.

I’ve never wanted to be cash rich; I’m beyond happy having a roof over my head, enough food to eat, and to pay the bills of life. I already am rich, beyond my wildest dreams.

I’ve been fortunate to have incredible friends, and complete strangers supporting my endeavours. It has enabled me to feed my soul and continue with what is my passion project. My work. My purpose.

I’ve fallen off my purpose.

Once again, I’ve wondered off track. This is where my learning happens. The variables being: how long I stay off track, how long I resist seeing the lesson, and how much I resist by trying to find that easier, softer way.

Asking for help is hard.

Sometimes we don’t know how bad a storm is until the rain stops, and the sun breaks out again.

The next steps.

I have one story that I've been carrying around for months, that I still want to finish. Then, I’m heading back out to connect with strangers again. It’s like a muscle, it needs to be exercised, or it retreats… I’m aiming to gather at least three stories a week, and see how that goes for me.

My website needs some serious love and attention.

I have two monologues I want to write, after them living in my head for years.

I want to write a book, a collection of personal short stories.

I want to put a collection of TSP2014 stories into a book. The story of my growth, the falls, the stumbles and yes, the amazing opportunities that have been presented through all of this.

I want to broaden the reach of my personal story, about how I'm learning to live with depression. If sharing my story, of my own mental health considerations, empowers someone else to find their way out of the darkness, then I want to be heard, loud and clear.

I’m looking at various support partnerships, funding and grants to allow me to continue what I’m doing, and dedicating myself to my passions, full-time. Money is not a measure of success for me. I’m richer in my life now than I ever dreamed of being. I also need to survive. Life costs money.

For the past few months, I’ve survived on the kindness of people who believe in what I’m doing, and who have made generous donations. I’m challenged by this, of course. I’m working toward accepting the offers of kindness and support. They are another way of continuing this circle of connection and community, and to keep this growing.

I am humbled.

This past week has shown me that I’m still on the right path. Not ironically, that's based on a few things that have come from connecting with strangers. Listening to how their stories have been impacted by mine. We all grow from sharing our personal stories. This is how we overcome stigma.

On Tuesday, I received an email from a gentleman I’ve never met or spoken with. Five sentences that I have read over and over again. He shared that he too lives with depression. He wanted to thank me for making a difference.

Last October, I wrote about a young man, McKenzie, who had contacted me. He wanted to ask a few questions about a project he planned for school. He heard of TSP2014 from his mother.

He took my suggestion to let his project become whatever it would, and to be open to it unfolding along the way. McKenzie’s project, ‘My People Experience’ grew organically.

This resulted in amazing stories, and not only from strangers. McKenzie included people he knew; a long time neighbour, even his own grandfather. He had never before intentionally asked them to share about their lives.

I can’t imagine being comfortable in approaching strangers when I was 15! Certainly not with the intention of chatting with them about their lives! Edit - at 15, I was too busy being Ziggy Stardust!

McKenzie even recorded a video interview with me, to include in his final presentation. The project culminated in an exhibition at school, where the students shared their completed projects. This all stems from that ripple effect that I cherish and feel so blessed by. Although, truth be told, McKenzie took a ripple, and created his own circle of change.

I treasure words. Yet I feel a lacking of any that capture just how proud I am of McKenzie’s work. He has charm, determination, drive, and a willingness to feel uncomfortable, in the spirit of learning. McKenzie also has wisdom beyond his years, that allows him to stand out and lead by example.

I’ve met with McKenzie and his Mum for tea. I’ve had dinner with McKenzie and his parents, who I feel have also become personal friends. (Yes, his father paid.) McKenzie also celebrated turning the BIG sixteen recently, too! He instills me with faith and hope for humanity!

I was at an event on Friday morning, and a young woman came over and introduced herself to me. Ninon said that she had been following TSP2014 every day, and that she was inspired by the project. Ninon has started her own project, ‘Smiling at Strangers’ and asked if she could take a photo with me, and write about us meeting! It was delightful, and odd and lovely and so tender. Ninon warmed my heart, and lifted my spirit. We never know just how important, a few simple words might mean to another human.

Sure enough, later that afternoon, I got an email from Ninon with a link to her blog! Another ripple coming back full circle, to enfold my heart.

Prior to this, at the very same event, a charming gentleman stood by and waited for me to finishing a conversation I was having with someone about depression. He introduced himself, telling me he had seen a presentation I did last year, at Interesting Vancouver. Jordan is new to town and wondered if he could buy me coffee and chat about strangers and projects and art. Three of my favourite things! And coffee! He also emailed me that afternoon to make arrangements to meet. 

Life really is beautiful when we need it to be. It really always is beautiful, if I look for it. Again, another repeat lesson. Stop. Breathe. Gratitude.

There is no softer, gentler way. Living with depression. It’s work. Every day. It becomes second nature, and the growth builds, layering strength upon strength. In order for that to happen, I have to continue doing the work that feeds me. Or I become complacent, and slowly start to retreat. Bit by bit. Then it starts to get grey, and the storms role in. I isolate. And repeat.

I can make difference. I have already made a difference in my life, and apparently, in the lives of some others as well. I’m challenged acknowledging that. Sometimes it feels boastful. I believe in quiet, anonymous random acts of kindness. I’m a people pleaser. I get a thrill from helping others, making people laugh, listening, sharing a trouble, being the one that friends turn to for advice, for comfort, for solace. It's easy for me to give. So very difficult to accept.

Accepting it's okay to ask for help, when I need it. 

People want to help.

If you’re wearing a really nice sweater, I have no problem asking if you’ll give it to me, ‘cause we all know it’s not likely going to happen. Surprisingly, it has worked twice! I still have one of the sweaters to prove it! So I’ll keep on asking.

It’s easy to ask for that which we think we’ve no chance of ever getting. It's what we actually need, that is apparently harder to ask for. I’d sooner go hungry though, than ask for help.

Why do we feel awkward asking for real help? This is something I’m going to start asking the strangers I connect with. I want to get a sense of other people’s feelings and perspective around asking for help, financial, emotional or otherwise.

That next BIG step: Learning to be comfortable asking for and accepting offers of help and support. #notastranger

February 14, 2016 - Official Selection - Roma Cinema Doc

What a ride it's been, and will continue once again, I promise!

In these, my first days (Day45) that I don't eat chocolates or cookies, this news more than makes up for it all and then some, with ever-lasting sweetness! 

Congratulations to KGP Films and especially to director/producer Kate Green, for her loving portrait of this story. Of course, we'd be nowhere without all of YOU, my TSP2014 friends and family. All of you who have helped shape this once 'personal social experiment.' Those of you who believed in this story, and supported it, and contributed to the funding - to all of the 171 donations! 

If today is about hearts and feeling love and loved, then, I'm sitting in a (imaginary) waste field of discarded red chocolate foil, and Kisses wrappers!

Gratitude for a very full heart today!

January 30, 2016 - Audience Choice Award, Vancouver Short Film Festival

*WINNER* Not A Stranger, the documentary about my experience with TSP2014 won the 'Audience Choice' award on Saturday at the Vancouver Short Film Festival! Congratulations to KGP Films, Director Kate Green, and everyone involved in the making of this incredible film. A huge thank you as well, to everyone for the continued on-going support! We've started a movement! ‪#‎notastranger‬ ‪#‎BIGthings2016‬ ‪#‎VSFF2016‬

VancouverHeroes.com INTERVIEW

KGP Films - Not A Stranger OFFICIAL TRAILER

January 11, 2016 - one of my lifelong heroes...

Photo: uncredited

I'm thrilled that I had planned to do nothing today after a busy weekend. Turns out today is a day of reflection for me, of just how deeply David Bowie is woven into my life. 

He helped me feel comfortable about feeling different, at times when I felt I didn't fit in. His voice was always familiar and soothing. It felt like he was always reaching out to me personally...

When I was 14, living in Scotland, I hacked at my shoulder length blonde hair with scissors, dyed it fire-engine red, shaved off my eyebrows and declared to my family "I AM Ziggy Stardust." 

He's one of my heroes. And lived a rich, exalted life, with freedom to create and always push, and found true love and happiness and seemed, while reclusive, to be happy

I've realized that David Bowie was always immortal to me, from like age 12 or so... There's times in my life where I remember what I was doing solely based on his discography. I stayed up 'til very late going through some of the older music. I listened to 'Golden Years' at 4am, and recognized that was a decent period in my youth, where I actually felt good, and happy and somewhat content. I forgot I had that time.

In 1987 I moved to Brixton, in South London, coincidentally Bowie's place of birth. I knew the bandstand in this photo was in Clapham Common, which, by memory, seems to have been about a 30 minute walk from my place on Acre Lane. I would go for walks and hang out here, soaking in the vibe that I was at a place that Bowie had actually been. 

He will always be with me, and us. That he made BlackStar, his just-released-last-week 25th album, on his 69th birthday. Knowing he was dying, he worked diligently to leave one last gift. 

My life has been nothing but enriched, guided, soothed, elevated and greatly influenced by his brilliance. I'll not mourn, but celebrate. A light so bright it will never dim. #WeCanBeHeroes

**I'll be working on updating my website in the coming days. Please bear with me!

UBC Student Leadership Conference

I'm so amazed with how much my life has shifted in the past two years, through meeting strangers. I give thanks and gratitude.

2016 is going to be another big year, starting with an invitation to speak at the UBC Student Leadership Conference. The Opening Keynote speaker is Rick Hansen! Another of my personal heroes, Wab Kinew is delivering the closing Keynote. 

http://students.ubc.ca/featured-presenters

I'm humbled and honoured to be presenting with such an incredible roster of speakers - this has become my passion, and I intend to have this be my life's work. I hope you'll follow along! ‪#‎BIGthings2016‬ ‪#‎notastranger‬