SUDBURY, Ontario: Another screening for KGP Films award-winning short documentary, Not A Stranger, about my experience with TSP2014. Not A Stranger has been selected to screen at the Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival. Screening on Sept 25th Silvercity Sudbury 4:30pm tickets on sale now!! Please tell your friends! #notastranger
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.
Not A Stranger screens TONIGHT,
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
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.
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! 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!)
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 - 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
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!
*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
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!
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.
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