June 27, 2017 - Jackie, New York City

June 27, 2017 - Jackie, New York City

I’m in New York for a few weeks, thanks to the incredible generosity and thoughtfulness of two dear friends that live here.

I'm writing this while sitting in the main reading room of the New York Public library. It is a sanctuary of gilded beauty. It has ornate, detailed carving which covers the vaulted ceiling. Fluffy pink, renaissance-like clouds adorn the centre panels. Glorious streams of sunshine pour in through giant arched windows. 

The large, concert-hall sized room, is surrounded by reference books, with a small, wrought iron balcony adding more books to the room. There are dozens of long tables, with intricately carved bases. Four brass lamps adorn each table. The air-conditioning is a life saver! There are a few hundred people in here, and yet, the silence is sublime.  

It’s my fourth time being in the city, and I admit it, I LOVE New York! There is an energy here unlike any other city I’ve been to. 

Three weeks is the longest I’ve spent in New York. There’s a certain luxury in that duration in so far as, I’m able to be more leisurely about doing things. There is no rush. 

"Intentional meandering" I call it - it's something I'm working on; more about that another time.

I even spent most of yesterday hanging out at my friend's place, and not going anywhere, or doing anything, for most of the day. After an intense, action packed first five days, it was grand to spend the day at (their) home and relax.

A couple of things I’d like to boast about at this point. I must look like a New Yorker. Once again, while out for a walk on my own last night, I was stopped by someone and asked for directions. It’s happened twice before on previous trips here. 

Each time, I’m proud to say I knew the answer, and happily pointed out directions to get ‘tourists’ to their destination. 

Another thing I noticed just today. There are of course, copious amounts of people working in the tourism industry here. On any given street corner, people are handing out flyers for bus tours, restaurants, sight-seeing trips, ride-to-the-roof-of-this-building excursions, add infinity. 

Almost none of them stop me. I either look like a local, or a completely unapproachable ass. Either one works for me!

This weekend was the 48th annual New York Pride March. I had the incredibly good fortune to participate in the march, riding on a float with my friend’s employer. 

Truly, a stand alone life event, that I will never forget. 

37,000 people in the march, and another TWO MILLION spectators. 

An energy like I’ve not experienced before. 

I was here in New York during Pride in 2012, two days after equal marriage came into law, throughout NY State! 

Another stand alone moment in time. 

On Sunday, there was an even more powerful sense of connection with spectators, as we travelled along.  Some spectators stood ten deep at points. 

There was a palpable sense of jubilant camaraderie and celebration. Defiance. Definitely resistance and persistance. I've been marching for over 35 years. The love was everywhere. Strangers waving, singing, dancing and blowing kisses.

Certain intersections had pairs of large dump trucks blocking them off. 

Some streets were barricaded with pairs of garbage trucks. 

Everything is impacted by the current political climate. 

I didn’t take any of that for granted. Nor will I - I shall march as long as I can, and hope one day, we won’t have to. Alas, there is still much work to be done.

I had thought about perhaps utilizing some of my ‘luxury’ time, to go out and meet a stranger. I hadn’t really planned on it happening today, and in meeting Jackie, it just seemed natural. 

Strolling down Fifth Avenue, I was first drawn to Jackie's vintage film camera. I’m a hobby photographer and have, over the years had the distinct pleasure of using some quality older cameras. 

A friend once had a Hasselblad camera. It's a large format camera that makes the most delicious clunk-click sound with each shutter release. My first real sense of geekdom. Clunk-click. Ahhh.

Jackie was filming outside a specific 'tower' on Fifth Avenue. Onethat I wouldn’t have wanted to stop in front of, let alone photograph. Okay, I did take one or two shots, which I intend to alter. 

But her camera made me want to ask questions, even though I know very little about the technical aspects.

If you’ve been following this project for any time, you’ll know I speak of self-imposed rules. You'll also know, on occasion, I liberate myself from my own constraints. 

I break the rules because I can. 

Today, I gave myself permission to not be so intent on getting a full life story. It was about connecting with a stranger.

While I didn’t go into the whole backstory of The Stranger Project - est. 2014, I explained the idea. I asked Jackie if it would be alright to ask a few questions, and to take Jackie’s photo, which I would post here. She readily agreed, while continuing to work. 

“I’m an only child,” Jackie told me. Of all my ice-breaker, conversation starting questions, this is one of my personal favourites. I'm fascinated by the difference between people who grew up as an only child, compared to those who had siblings.

“No, I don’t feel that I missed out on anything as an only child. However, ironically, I have a nine-year-old son, and he desperately wants to have siblings,” she said.

“I guess it’s because he sees his friends with brothers and sisters. Alas, that ship has sailed.” We both chuckled at that.

As a film maker, Jackie is still using old school film. Each canister of film lasts two and a half minutes, and costs around $25USD to develop, when she’s working with colour film. 

Just thinking of the gamble and cost would be prohibitive to me. In our 'new-age' need for instant gratification, the wait and uncertainty would be an exercise in patience and willingness. To wait, and then discover the work isn't what one hoped for. This could be a grand discovery, or a resolute sense of failure. I’m projecting my own perspectives here.  

It was no surprise to me when I asked Jackie what she does. 

“I teach this,” she says, pointing to her camera.

“I teach film-making,” she said. Jackie is from New Hampshire, in the north-eastern United States.

I found out that Jackie is a professor of film and electronic arts. 

A faculty member at Bard College, founded in 1860, a college of the liberal arts and sciences. Of course, she teaches film making. 

I asked if I would know of her work. “The one piece I’m most proud of,” she said, “is a film I made called ‘The Observers’. 

It's about one of the world’s last staffed weather observatories, at Mount Washington, in New Hampshire.” 

Currently, Jackie is working on a film about the 45th US President’s vast property holdings. I loved that throughout the conversation, not once did we use ‘that' name. 

While chatting, as I mentioned, Jackie continued to work, and as happens, I managed to throw her off, or so I felt at least.
She had opened the camera to remove the reel she had been filming when I approached her. The camera needed a new film reel. Dropping the box out of her hand into her bag amongst other film boxes, which all looked the same to me. She placed a new film in the camera and wound it into it's sprocket.

“I don’t know which film canister I just used. Hmmm. I think it was this one. Or was it this one?” she asked of herself. I knew it was time to let her get back to focusing on her task at hand. Filming people coming in and out of the large tower we were chatting in front of.

“It was nice chatting. Thanks so very much, for letting me ask questions and take your photo. I hope you’ll look for the story,” I said as we shook hands.

“It was fun,” she said. “And now you’ve met a stranger in New York!” #notastranger 

*I’m thrilled to share the link to enjoy the film ‘The Observers’ for free, online! vimeo.com/75149038

 

June 18, 2017 - "Father's Day"

It was still dark.

 

“Hey. Sorry to wake you up, I need your help,” he said, in a gruff half-whisper.

He didn't turn on the light. There wasa silhouette against the light coming from the bathroom, across the hall.

My bedroom was the smallest in our house. It was what the Scots call a box room. Eight feet by ten feet. 

Even though I didn’t share my bedroom, I had bunk beds. Someone my father worked with had given them to me, and of course, I slept on the top bunk. 

As I fought against opening my eyes, my focus still blurred, I could see my father’s face, level with mine, and up close.

“Can you thread this for me?” 

Suddenly, both of his hands were in my face. There was a needle and what appeared to be the thickest, black thread imaginable, right in front of me.  That thread, was thick enough for embroidery.

“What are you doing?” I asked, sitting up in bed. 

“I’m sorry. I just can’t get this goddamn thing threaded. Can you please do it for me?” he asked, his voice raspy in a hushed tone, impatience simmering just below the surface.

“I have to go get some groceries around the corner, and then get off to work. I just need you to thread this for me! Cn you?”

We had been living in Scotland for little over a year. 

My father was escaping his second failed marriage, and as he would teach time and time again, his answer to life’s problems was to leave. 

Literally. 

Just get up, and go. I was ten, and my brother was thirteen when we abandoned everyone else in the family, and took off to the old country.

For the first while, we lived with my grandmother, my father’s mother. That proved unsuccessful and short-term. 

Looking back I guess you could say it was a culture shock. 

While it was without doubt, an exciting adventure, it had, at times, been a difficult and emotional transition.

We moved into our own flat, with little furniture other than a few pieces from Gran. It was sparse, and so far removed from life back in Canada.

There was no flooring to speak of.  Just the bare floorboards of construction. 

We had no carpeting or carpets. 

There were no appliances. 

We had no fridge; the kitchen had a built-in ‘larder’ which was essentially a cupboard with a thick, stone slab, and two vents that opened to outside.

We had no television. 

My father compensated for this by getting us a ping-pong table. 

There we nights we played the hours away.

We had a coal bunker; every flat in the ‘close’ had coal bunker.  

Every close, or stairway, in every row of tenements had coal bunkers. 

Street after street, of rows and rows of tenement housing.

I soon learned how to set and light a good coal fire. 

I found it almost magical that having a coal fire burning in the ‘front room’ meant our water tank had hot water too.

There was no constant running hot water supply, and I didn’t understand it was out of necessity. 

We couldn't afford such luxuries.

We couldn’t afford to keep the water tank heated.

Many couldn't.

There were times when we had no coal, and my father would begrudgingly turn the water heater on, so we could have a bath.

Sometimes, we had to share the water. 

 

My father had found an old, torn, dirty parka in the cupboard, behind the water tank.  

The coat was a dusty, almost camouflage-like military green. 

It had bright red flannel lining, which showed through some of the holes where the seams had come apart.

 

That he was attempting to sew it, with thick, black, thread that felt like cord, didn't occur to me, at first.

“Dad. Do you want me to stitch something up for you? I can do it later.” 

No, he wanted the needle threaded.

 

“Look, it’s early. Just do this for me and then go back to sleep. 

I’ll do it myself. 

I just can’t get the needle threaded. 

You’re good at these things.”

 

He turned the light on.

Again, I squinted and blinked.

I grabbed the needle and the thread.

 

Holding the needle up to the light, I took the thread in my other hand, and by way of demonstration, I put the end of the thread in my mouth, licking it.

 

I slowly reached out, and, closing one eye, focussed on the hole at the end of the needle. 

Boom! 

In one attempt, I passed that thick rope through it’s intended tiny target.

I handed the carefully threaded needle back to my father, and lay back down, covering myself with the blankets. 

“It’s cold in here. Can I turn the heater on for a few minutes?” 

I asked him this knowing that he would find it hard to say no. 

It was cold. 

Despite the miracle of a coal fire heating our water tank, and the front room, it didn’t extend to the bedrooms. 

Or the kitchen. 

The bathroom was the coldest.

 

We had small, 'one bar' electric heaters in each bedroom, but my father didn’t like to use them too often, trying to keep our electric bills small.

He smiled at me. 

“Thanks for helping with the needle. I knew you could do it. I’ll plug the heater in now, but you have to turn it off in five minutes, okay?” as he leaned in, kissing my forehead.

“Have a good day. I’ll see you tonight,” he said, after plugging in the heater. 

"You have a good day too, Dad."

 

As he turned out the light, I snuggled down, anticipating the warm orange glow of the electric heater to fill my room with light and warmth.

 

I must have fallen asleep again.

I stirred suddenly, hearing the deadbolt lock ‘click’ as my father returned from getting groceries.

Leaping down out of the top bunk, I unplugged the heater. 

I opened my bedroom door in time to see my father’s arm coming in the front door. 

 

He was fidgeting with his keys still in the lock, and a loaf of bread in that same hand. 

I knew he was about to curse. 

It was just what he did. 

He reacted to everything.

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he barked, as the silver skeleton key came out of the lock. 

The bread, in it’s waxed paper wrapping, fell out of his hand, and in his attempt to catch it, he lurched forward. 

It bounced slightly, and fumbled it's way down the hall.

His other arm got caught on the door handle, or, the sleeve of that dusty green parka got caught on the door handle.

 

As he lurched forward to catch the bread, the pint of milk that was wedged in under his left arm, slipped out of his grip. 

It all happened in slow-motion, as we both watched the glass bottle fall towards the floor. 

My father’s cursing rose louder, ruder, sounding more personal. 

A seemingly direct affront to him, like no other had ever endured. 

 

“Fuck! God damn fucking bastard!” 

“SHIT!” 

 

“That's all the fucking money we have, for fuck’s sake! 

I'm going to be late now. 

Fuck, fuck FUCK!” 

 

He was spitting angry, and red with rage.

As the milk bottle tumbled in slow-motion, I noticed that the sleeve of my father’s dusty green parka was adorned with perfectly placed, equally sized, thick, black stitches, almost puckering the seams they held together, pulled so tightly.

Blanket stitches.

I spotted another wound on the sleeve that was now firmly jammed up against the door handle. 

It was like a battle field, that jacket, with it’s trench-like stitching. 

 

Utilitarian without concern for aesthetics. Yet, warranting full marks for the uniformity of stitches. 

I’m sure over the years, memory has coloured the story somewhat. 

I’m not so sure my thought process was that sophisticated at eleven years old. 

I do remember those stitches, though. 

Clearly, like I had just seen that parka hanging in my hall closet.

 

In that moment's infinite timespan, I knew what was going to happen. 

And it did.

That milk bottle shattered upon impact. 

 

The glass and milk and cursing splattered all over the floor, pooling, then running in-between the floorboard crevices. 

Splashes of milk trickled down the wall. 

 

The sound of the bottle breaking was like an explosion, only slightly less far-reaching than my father’s violent outburst of swear words. 

Each curse, singularly pronounced, as if to inflict damnation upon those milk-soaked floorboards.

His furiously loud voice ricocheted through the cold, empty stairwell of the close.

“Fuck it! FUCK IT!”

 

“Fuck.” 

 

He sounded defeated now.

“Dad, it’s okay. I’ll get a…”

 

“NO! Go to your room. Leave it!” he yelled, not even looking at me. 

He was watching the milk run through the cracks, leaving puddles cupped in some of the pieces of broken glass scattered across the hallway. 

 

"Just fucking leave it. I’ll clean it up. I don’t want you to cut yourself. Go back to bed, please.”

I don’t remember what happened after that.

 

I remember the shame I felt when I saw him wearing that parka, with it’s rope stitching. 

Those tears in the fabric that would never heal. 

The wounds. 

I was embarrassed that he had to wear it. 

 

We never spoke about it, but I know he wouldn’t have asked me to wear that coat. 

The hand-me-down, found by chance in an empty flat. 

Yet, it didn’t bother him.

 

We were that poor. 

I don’t remember the next couple of days, other than knowing that we didn’t have any milk.

That really had been the last of the money my father had. 

There wasn’t another pint of milk to replace that one. 

Not that day. 

 

I’ve carried this story with me for over forty years. 

 

I’m pretty sure I might have told one person, some of it, but I don’t remember who.

I’ve certainly never written about it before. 

 

My brother has never mentioned it. 

Not this particular instance of going without.

Not the cursing, not the sound of that bottle, smashing it’s way into the floorboards. 

 

I don’t remember even talking about not having milk for a couple of days.

 

We never really got along, my brother and I. 

We fought like cat and dog, constantly.

But we were in the same ring. 

Two brothers, each other's keeper in the battlefield. 

Often unspoken, if not, pared down reassurances and comforts.

We were child soldiers in the same war.

 

My father passed away last year, and this is the first ‘Father’s Day’ since his death.

 

Almost, a year of firsts.

 

I don’t remember the last time I gave him a card. 

Not for his birthday, not for Christmas or any occasion like today, another hallmark moment. 

 

Years had gone by without my father and I even talking. 

Nonetheless, I did think of him, every year, on Father’s Day, despite myself.

 

We didn’t speak last year, at all. 

I'm pretty sure I called him the year before that, as a gesture of friendship, not love.

To let him know I was thinking of him.

 

I didn’t hate him. Nor do I love him. 

I don’t know the last time I felt love for him. 

 

I’m okay with that. Now.

 

I have a few fond memories; standing on his feet while he danced, passionately talking him out of opening all the gifts on Christmas Eve. 

He taught me how to skip stones on water.

 

For me, there aren’t any of those often quoted 'Thanks to my Dad', or 'Dad, I’m so grateful you taught me X, Y or Z’ moments. 

 

I still carry bits of anger. 

I still grieve. 

I understand it never fully ends. 

 

As I’ve told a few close friends, 

"We just learn to drive differently." 

Over time, it finds a groove, and settles in.

 

I can say this, though, with insistence, ironic happiness, and profound honesty.

 

For at least the last two decades, I’ve acknowledged this to myself, time and time again.

It was just what I did.

It's just what I do.

 

No matter how often, I always smile. 

No matter how unfortunate, I always smile.

I’ve even laughed out loud, ridiculously, while others scurry around in anxious despair. 

 

Every time I spill something, I think of you.

 

March 01st, 2017 - "What are your hopes for health care?"

"What are your hopes for health care?" 

This Wednesday, March 01st, 7pm, I'll join a group of speakers, each sharing our hopes for healthcare. We'll be using the 20x20 format; 20 photos and each photo is displayed for exactly 20 seconds before automatically advancing to the next one!

The evening will be streamed LIVE via #FacebookLive at facebook.com/bcpsqc

Thanks to the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council for this great honour and privilege! #notastranger

January 25, 2017 - Let's talk mental health

I offer my gratitude and thanks to Clara Hughes* for being such an outspoken, proud and loud champion (Olympic and otherwise) for Mental Health Awareness. 

I have an 'invisible' mental health condition that I live with, everyday. I live with depression. Depression is not easy. Some days, getting dressed is an almost insurmountable task. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Pretending to be 'well' when I'm not is exhausting. Depression can be like the weather, unexpected and unpredictable. Some days, standing before a sink full of dishes is just as consuming and foreboding as climbing a mountain. People living without depression in their everyday lives, find that difficult to relate to, or believe, even. 

I'm learning how to live with depression, and proud to add my voice to the conversation. You're not alone, ever. I will always have an ear to listen, or support anyone in finding resources to offer support. 

If you or someone you know is needing support, there's great information here: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca

Don't ever feel, think or believe you're alone. You're not. #notastranger#BellLetsTalk #MentalhealthAwareness

*originally posted by Clara Hughes on Facebook in November, 2015

January 06, 2017 - Reflection

January 06, 2017 - Reflection.

"The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality." 
Andrew Solomon

Three years ago today, I posted my first five stories to my personal Facebook page. Just a little thing I was going to try in order to dig myself out of isolation. If only just to get outside, every, single, day. 

I could never, ever have begun to imagine all the magic and comfort that would come my way. In abundance, unexpected, unconditional and authentic

I've made friends with so many wonderful supporters of TSP2014, some digitally, and some in-person, all equally genuine. I'm even looking after Day 269's fig tree, while Adam is off on a journey. 

Today, as I sat on the proverbial couch, settling in for an afternoon nap, i was snapped wide-awake in realizing that in some ways, I've come full circle. Albeit with a vastly different perspective and experience base. 

I live with depression. For me personally, the last year was a rollercoaster, and once again, a life changing ride. I'm still not sure I've stopped spinning. I know for sure, I'm nowhere near done unpacking all the lessons that come from embracing vulnerability, speaking my truth, and living out loud.

There's always work to be done. Our wellbeing, in part, comes from connection and community. In no small manner, the connections I've made here, with you, reading this here, have been a staple in my growth and reflection. 

I'm in a deep reflection right now. I'm being as present as I can. It's good, it's natural and it's how I process and grow. These last three years have changed me in ways that are profound, ethereal and sometimes overwhelming. All thoroughly permeated with gratitude. Eventually.

This project isn't over, not by a long shot. It will continue and will be informed by my observations, lessons, and learns. And listening. Truly, listening. My wish for all is goodness, peace, and love. Connection and community. Grace and generosity. Stillness, happiness, contentment. Boldness, bravery and intention. Strength, character and heart. Love. So much love. 

Thank you. #notastranger

December 25, 2016 - Crows Know Love

2016, has been such a powerful year. Filled with ups and downs, lessons, love and losses. For me, and the essence of TSP2014, has always been about connection and conversation, ultimately leading to growth. 

Throughout these past fews years, I've been blessed to share my experiences here. Whether chatting with strangers, or just me, thinking out loud, this 'project' has been a gift beyond anything I could have ever even imagined. 

I look froward to the next chapters; the still untold stories, and those I keep threatening to write! 

Whatever you may or may not celebrate, today, and every day; celebrate each other. Connection and community are vital to our well-being. 

For that, we are each responsible. 

be well, 
Colin
#notastranger

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