Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Good Bones

I do a lot of editing work in both my professional role and as a freelance writer. People will often send things they have written to me with an almost-apologetic note downplaying their writing ability or suggesting it is just not very good. The reality is that often all it needs is a bit of clean up and some enhancement, as what they have written usually has what I call “good bones”. It has the right information and content, and a good foundation…and lately this is what I think a great deal about when I drive around my community.

We have good bones in Fort McMurray. Our riverfront area downtown is this incredible gem, the kind of property most cities would die to have as it is a natural and unique focal point. Our surrounding boreal forest is amazing at this time of year, green and lush and beautiful in every respect. We have outstanding facilities, like those at MacDonald Island Park where I am so fortunate to be employed and the Syncrude Health and Wellness Centre at Keyano, the two serving as anchor points along our long downtown corridor. Most of all we have phenomenal vibrancy and energy in this region, most of it found in our most precious resource: our people.
What we need is just some cleaning up and enhancement, I think as I drive around. The ever-present graffiti mars far too many surfaces. Despite the demolition of the doomed condominiums at Penhorwood there are far too many desolate and vacant buildings. There are areas where a deeply troubling dispirited feeling have set in, places for which there were once grand plans but which now sit quietly and in anticipation, waiting for something – anything – to happen. Willow Square is just one of those spots, a place where great hopes and dreams now sit idle and where weeds and dust gather now instead.
I do not pretend I have the solutions to what we need to do or the path forward on this. I know that when I drive visitors around the community in recent months I have felt far more defensive than normal, feeling as if I have to explain the vacant lots, empty buildings and graffiti. Some from otuside choose to interpret these as signs of some sort of downfall of my community, a harbinger of things to come as the price of oil dwindles and an economy based on it falters – but I do not see that. I still see a community in transition.
We have come a long way since I arrived here almost fourteen years ago. I still see the community as it was then, smaller and still prone to the cycles of boom and bust, but no less robust or resilient. Many things have already changed significantly in my time here and I have no doubt things will continue to change – hopefully always for the better, seeing new growth and new opportunities come to our community.
I know one thing for sure, though. We have good bones, Fort McMurray. All that remains to be seen is how we edit our masterpiece.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Deep in the Heart of Wood Buffalo

It wasn't because I had oodles of free time, as anyone who knows me knows I am busier now than I have ever been. The challenges of being a single parent, holding a full-time and fulfilling professional role, working as a freelance writer and the daily tasks of life are really enough to keep me quite occupied - and yet in 2014 I decided I would get just a bit more involved in my community, and I applied to join the committees and boards of two local organizations.

The Communities in Bloom Committee was one that had caught my interest some time ago, as it is about so much more than "pretty flowers" and instead about the concepts of environmentalism, sustainability and neighbourhood cleanliness as well as encouraging horticultural pursuits. Joining the committee is my opportunity to not only learn more about what the organization does but to help them achieve their goals. The second organization I joined was the Board of Directors of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, a group that has been close to me since this blog began and that is likely where I truly began to understand the nature of social profit organizations and their fundamental value in our community.

I thought a great deal about my journey of learning about social profit organizations when I attended the Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards this week. I was honoured to present an award as part of my role on the board at the Food Bank, but even more so I was honoured to be in the company of the many people who work tirelessly in our social profit sector.

There were apparently dozens of nominees for the awards, narrowed down to a select group of nominees in each of the six categories and then finally, as announced on that night, the winner - but the reality is that while some won an award that evening and were recognized for their hard work I think we should take the opportunity every day to acknowledge the work of those who volunteer for boards and committees, those who work directly in and for our social profit groups, the businesses and companies who commit their resources and employees to social profit causes and those who spend their precious free time volunteering.

The busiest people I know are volunteers, you see. They don't do it because they have tons of free time or because they have nothing else to do - often they are going flat out in their jobs and lives but they volunteer because they know it makes a difference, both to others and themselves. The people I know who work in social profit organizations don't do so for the pay cheque, which is often far less than what they could earn in similar positions in industry; they do so because they believe in their cause, their organization and the need of the community. The businesses and companies who donate their time or money to social profit organizations do so because they know the organizations improve the quality of life for those in the community where they operate their business. Those who serve on boards and committees give of their time to provide support to the organizations because they know they can offer their collective skills to help make the organizations even stronger.

It was a bit remarkable for me on Thursday evening to realize I knew or at the very least recognized almost every single person who filtered into the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity. These individuals, who serve on boards or work in our community social profit organizations, who work for the companies that support them and who volunteer every time the call to action is heard, have become part of my life over the past 4 years as I have developed more and more respect and admiration for each of them. I have come to realize that they serve as the backbone of our community, and they are the organizations and people who are there both when times are good and when times are challenging. And in the end I suppose that is why I decided to use some of the little free time I have to serve two such organizations, because I wanted the chance to be among that group.

I extend my congratulations to all the nominees and winners at the Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards this year - but more than that I extend my sincere gratitude to them and all our local social profit organizations, volunteers, boards and committees and supportive partners in industry and business. It is a genuine honour to not only know you, but to stand among you at events like this and know I am with the heart of our community and with those who give so much of themselves simply to make the world a better place for others. You are truly the Heart of Wood Buffalo.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Is It Time to Address School Dress Codes?

Once upon a time, in a country not far away at all, the sight of a woman's ankle was considered both shocking and provocative. It seems a woman's ankle, when displayed openly to the world, was feared to be tremendously distracting to men and those men, completely unable to control their carnal appetites, could not really be blamed if they were so overwhelmed by the sight of an ankle that they were unable to continue to function as respectable men do. And so women, in deference to this, acknowledged weakness on the part of men, kept their ankles covered - and the rest of their bodies, too, hidden behind long skirts and shirts with arms that went down to the wrist and collars that buttoned under the chin. It was necessary, you see, to keep civilization going by covering up so that women did not show any skin and inadvertently distract men from the busy business of being, you know, a man.

And then, over the course of a few decades, we woke up and realized what utter bullshit this was. We began to realize that men, far from being some weak gender who lived only on their instinct and impulse, could see an ankle without swooning. We began to realize that women didn't need to cover  every inch of flesh to protect men from themselves, and could instead expect men to behave in a civilized manner regardless of how much skin a woman showed, because in civilization we expect other people to behave in certain ways. We stopped assuming that showing a hint of female skin would lead to the downfall of the world as men would be so distracted they would stop doing things like running governments and businesses (and oh yeah, we realized women could - and should - be running those too, and we started electing them and they began to do things like become CEOs). So the question that begs to be asked is if we woke up to this some time ago why do we still have dress codes in schools that treat young women - and I mean elementary school girls - as temptresses who might wear spaghetti straps and throw young men off their game by showing them a hint of shoulder?

I am the parent of a young woman. She is almost 16 now, and we have discussed the subject of dress codes pretty extensively. Now, her fashion happens to run more towards vintage dresses from the 50's and things like crinolines, but the discussion we have often had centres on why these dress codes we often see in schools specifically refer to how young women are allowed to dress but say little about their male counterparts.

The standard for most of these dress codes is no spaghetti strap shirts or dresses, no shorts or skirts shorter than fingertip length when your hands are at your side, no midriff-baring tops, no cleavage - all aimed at preventing young women from showing the modern equivalent of an ankle as it seems shoulders are quite distracting to young men.

It all flared up again in our country when a young woman went to school in a spaghetti-strap maxi-dress and was called on the carpet for breaking the dress code. There were those who said she should be as if rules exist you need to follow them - but the reality is rules need to be revisited and revised on a regular basis as the world often changes far faster than the rules do. Those dress codes in place in schools are the very same ones I saw in my educational life - and I graduated decades ago. The world has changed, and I believe it is time we revisit the subject of dress codes and exactly what these codes are saying to young men and young women.

Here is what I think they say to young women:

Your body is a tempting thing. Your skin should be kept covered to avoid distracting young men who cannot control themselves and their impulses. If you show skin you should expect that young men will react to you in ways that you do not want but that you have invited because you have showed your skin. You are to blame if you are treated this way because you showed too much skin. We created these rules to protect you from young men because young men cannot be trusted to behave properly.

Here is what I think they say to young men:

Women are temptresses who should not show this much skin. We don't expect you to control your impulses or your behaviour because we do not think you can. We do not trust you to behave in a civil manner if you see the skin of a young woman and should they show you this skin we know you will behave badly. We created these rules to protect you from yourself, because we know you are unable to control yourself.

Sound familiar? It is the type of thought process that leads to victim blaming in sexual assault cases, where the woman is to blame because she dressed provocatively and the hapless male could not control himself because he was so overwhelmed by his impulses. And if we don't buy it in a court of law why are we buying it in our schools?

Shouldn't we be teaching our young women and young men that proper conduct is based NOT on how someone else is dressed but on the standards that dictate how we behave in a civilized society? Shouldn't we be showing them that we are all - every person of every gender - more than our body parts and that how we dress our body parts has nothing to do with how we are expected to treat each other? Shouldn't we be avoiding sexualizing children in elementary school by implying that their wearing spaghetti strap sundresses is in some way provocative behaviour? Shouldn't we be treating our young men with respect and acknowledging that not only can they control themselves but we expect them to, and shouldn't we be showing our young women that how they dress should not dictate how they should expect to be treated? Or are we actually trying to educate our children that men are animals with no self-control and that women are far too provocative and tempting?

Are you a parent? Ask your school if they have a dress code in place. And if the dress code seems outdated or unreasonable to you ask if it can be revisited, and ask your kids what they think of the dress code, as they have great input on the messages these dress codes send to them. And if you are inclined to think the dress codes are a-ok as they are, just remember there was time when the sight of an ankle was considered quite shocking and provocative, and ask yourself if the world is the same as when you were in school. Ask yourself what message we want our young adults - both male and female - to receive from us on this topic, and act accordingly.

This song was running through my head when I was contemplating this blog, reflecting on a time when a "glimpse of stocking was something shocking". It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it complains that "anything goes", in the way that those who abhor change often deride the changes they see in the world. The world has changed - and it is continuing to change. In my opinion it is time for things like school dress codes to change and better reflect our youth of today and not the youthful years of their parents. I don't believe that "anything goes" - but I do believe that as a society we need to stop often, ask why we are doing things and reflect on if this is the right path for the future. And school dress codes that fundamentally teach our youth the exact lessons we don't want them to learn? It is time for them to simply go.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Extending a Challenge to Find Hope in the Dark

“Two tarps this year,” she says. “Duct tape for my box, of course. And mittens.”

We are starting to prepare our list for an event we attend every year, one that does not require fancy shoes and glittering gowns but tarps and sleeping bags and duct tape.
Once again we are headed to a park downtown to sleep outside as part of the Centre of Hope’s homelessness awareness event “Hope in the Dark.”

I have been part of this event since the inaugural year, one night annually in which I freely give up my bed and sleep instead on a bench or on the ground. The Intrepid Junior Blogger has joined me for the last two years, sleeping outside in a park in an adventure designed to help us understand the nature of being homeless.  Exposed to the elements, we have discovered the value of things like two tarps and duct tape and fuzzy mittens or even socks to keep your hands warm.
Hope in the Dark is an opportunity to understand something that most of us will likely never experience. There are many beliefs about homelessness and those who are homeless, and many ideas about how to solve it. I know that for the last three years these beliefs and ideas have danced through my head at 3 am as I lay in a sleeping bag in a park. For the past two years I have done it with my child beside me in a cardboard box, and felt something tugging in my heart as I realized that there are many homeless youth in our country who are the same age as she is and much the same as her in many ways.

It is the night every year when there is a moment, after all the others have gone to sleep and the noises from the box beside me have quieted, that I find myself feeling more alone than I have ever felt in my adult life. It is a moment of total solitude and quiet, just before the birds begin to sing, far too early for my liking, and the first rays of sun begin to shine. It is a moment I have come to both dread and treasure as it brings me close to the core of who I am.
It is tough to explain this moment, and I can see why people would want to avoid it as it is troubling to experience yourself with honesty and clarity, but every year I find myself learning more about myself – in the middle of a park, in the dark of night, far from my warm bed and my complacency about the world as I want to believe it to be.

Homelessness is one of those topics uncomfortable to discuss. It taps into our deepest fears and often our strongest opinions as we believe we know the answers as to why homelessness exists and the nature of those who are homeless. It is terrifying to realize that those who are homeless are not so different from ourselves, and that their road to homelessness is not so different from the roads we have travelled. We do not want to believe – not for an instant – that we could ever experience homelessness.
This year once again the IJB and I will pack up and head down to the park. We have a rhythm now, a strategy to combat the cold and the dark and the rain. We know how to handle the logistics of this temporary homelessness, but we still struggle with the emotions and the sensation of being alone in the dark. In the morning we cling to each other, as while she pretends she has not felt it I know she has her own moment in the dark when the truth sneaks into her box, too.

You see the truth is homelessness is not the sole territory of any one group. It can – and does – affect those from a variety of walks of life and does so through different paths: mental illness, physical injury, domestic violence, substance abuse and more. We all have the potential to be homeless, and that realization is one of those fundamental truths that once you know you cannot unknow. It is that moment in the dark when you find this truth that you realize two things: that you are not immune from this experience, and the importance of hope should it ever happen to you.
The Centre of Hope, that humble once-blue building on Franklin Avenue, is a beacon of hope for those who are experiencing homelessness. It is a place that reminds them of their value and of the hope to which they can still aspire. But it does more than that, too. It serves as a beacon of hope for all of us, a sign that hope does exist, even in the dark.

This year I will not ask you join us at Hope in the Dark. I am instead challenging you to do it. I am challenging you to have your own moment in the dark and to find the truths that lurk inside us but that we like to silence because they are far too uncomfortable to face. I am offering you the opportunity to seek that truth and to find the hope it brings with it.
We will have mittens and duct tape and two tarps. We will be the mother and daughter who have the logistics of sleeping in a park down to a science, but who still experience that moment and wake to the world filled not only with new truth but with renewed hope.

Join us on May 30. I challenge you. Join us to find Hope in the Dark.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Being the Change: Thoughts on Mother's Day 2015

When I first began to write this blog I found myself in tears often. There are many reasons for that, I suppose, from being on an already emotional personal journey at the time to encountering stories with an impact for which I was not prepared. And then there was the belief that the tears were almost genetic in nature, as my mother, the most deeply compassionate and loving person I have ever known, cried freely when I was growing up, and I learned to never fear tears.

In recent years I cried less often, though. The tumultuous nature of my personal life settled down considerably and I developed a pattern and rhythm in my life that was less prone to sudden emotional occurrences. There is no doubt, too, that hearing more and more stories makes you a bit less subject to the tears, as you would spend all your time crying in your car (as I did a great deal at the beginning) as opposed to writing, and so I learned to put the tears aside for the most part, still feeling the emotions but putting my energy into writing about them and not the tears. On occasion, though, I find something that still makes me cry, like I did early on Saturday morning.

It was a video, just a simple video from our local Shaw TV outlet. You see they had been in cahoots with the Fort McMurray Fire Fighters and cooked up a little surprise for some local non-profit organizations. The firefighters - you know, the people who risk their lives for us on the regular as part of their job - had spent their free time and energy fundraising cash for local groups, and having collected $75,000 they decided it was time to give it away with some help from Shaw to capture the reactions.

And so away they went in those big red fire trucks that usually signal trouble when you see them, pulling into parking lots with the air horn blasting, and then when arriving at the local non-profits (the SPCA, the Centre of Hope, the Boys and Girls Club, the Wood Buffalo Food Bank and Unity House) pouring out of the trucks in a tumble of fire fighters and a large mascot and an equally large cheque in the amount of $15,000 for each organization.

I admit it. They weren't even finished with their first stop at the SPCA before I began finding tears running down my cheek. You see my life has been touched by every single one of those organizations, and I know the people behind them who work so hard to serve this community. In our house we have three adoptees from the SPCA, my connection with the Centre of Hope goes back to when this blog began, I have interviewed Howard Rensler of the Boys and Girls Club many times, I serve on the board of directors of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank and I have friends who have been kept safe at Unity House. As I watched them at each stop the tears flowed freely for me, especially as I watched the tears of happiness and gratitude from those people I consider friends and truly valued community members.

As I sit here and write this on Mother's Day I reflect on my own mother, gone for several years now, and the impact she had on my life. My ability to feel that compassion is not innate, but was learned from her. She taught me to love and to feel, while my dad taught me to think and to act. It was a remarkable gift they gave me, a combination of traits destined to serve me well in life, and ones I hope I have passed on to the Intrepid Junior Blogger.

Although they never said it my parents were the embodiment of the phrase: "be the change you want to see in the world". Were they still alive today they would not be the kind to hang out on social media complaining about the world, pointing out all the things that are wrong and done badly, attacking other people (often those working to create change) in an attempt to make themselves feel better about their own lack of action. No, they would be the ones out doing things to make the world a better place, small things perhaps but the things they could do while knowing that while they could not change everything they could change some things. They knew that positive change does not and cannot come from a place of anger and bitterness, and so they focused on doing good, not doing harm. They taught me that if you want to see the world change then you must do it, because you cannot expect others to do it or complain about those who are not doing it the right way if you are not willing to do it yourself. If I have learned nothing else from them at least I have learned that, a lesson that is perhaps the most valuable I have ever been taught.

I thought about them a lot while watching the video, because they would have loved it too. They would have been as delighted as I was, my mother crying and my dad simply sitting there with that smile, as they watched fire fighters coming to the rescue of local organizations who are struggling right now during a difficult time in our community. I want to thank the Fort McMurray Fire Fighters for not only putting their lives but their hearts on the line for us. I want to thank Shaw TV for being there to capture these moments. I want to thank all our local social profit organizations as they are the true heart and soul of this community and I am so grateful to them. But I suppose most of all I want to thank my mother today, on Mother's Day, for being one of the two people in this world who really guided who I have become, and who showed me that love and compassion are qualities that can not only save lives but save our world. Happy Mother's Day to her, always in my heart and soul, as she is a fundamental part of me.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Brave New World of Alberta

Tuesday evening I sat quietly in the ballroom at the Radisson hotel, glued to the television with an ever-changing cast of fellow political junkies and people I call friends. We watched together as the election results rolled in, a history-making, history-breaking kind of election that changed our province. I sat there, not speaking for the most part, not tweeting or Facebooking, but just being in the moment and letting it all wash over me.

When I got home I got several messages from friends - ones asking if I was still alive, as I had been so silent, and others trying to initiate conversations about the results - but I wasn't ready to discuss it yet as I needed to sort it out in my own head first, one of the things I have learned over the past four years when I leapt too fast into something before I stopped to think first and lived to regret my haste.

I think I slept for about two hours, still wired on the events of the night and trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings on it all. Finally I realized the only way to do it was to break it down into categories, and my reaction on each one. These are my thoughts from a long night, and you may or may not agree with them. Undoubtedly you have own, just as this province is made up of individual stories, viewpoints and perspectives. These are mine.

My reaction as the president of the newly formed Alberta Party Constituency Association for Fort McMurray - Wood Buffalo:

What can I say? I am so proud and pleased to see Greg Clark elected into office, as he has worked hard and long to be there. I have had the privilege of speaking to Greg on a few occasions, and he, the others in the Alberta Party and my knowledge of what it stands for are why I agreed to help build the party in our region.Yes, there are challenges to starting a new party, but we would do well to remember that every single party in existence was once new, and that's simply not reason enough to doubt it, and with this win the Alberta Party has gained a toehold in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. We did not run a candidate here this time, a conscious choice based on wanting to find a candidate that was local, credible and electable, but I have no doubt that when the next election is called we will be ready, with Greg leading the way. Wanna learn more about the Alberta Party? Fire me an email and let's talk, because now is the time to begin to build.

My reaction as a former resident of Saskatchewan:

Cut me deep enough and I suspect I bleed orange, the residue of a childhood and young adult life spent in the province where the NDP has long been an important player. I have no fear of the vibrant orange and instead a genuine weakness for it, and so the election of an NDP majority government in the province I now consider my home might have been a surprise, but did not throw me into any sort of panic.

My reaction as a political junkie:

I worked on the 2012 campaign for Don Scott, serving as his communications manager. I was proud of it then and I am proud of it now, as regardless of what anyone else may suggest I know that Don and Mike Allen worked incredibly hard to represent the people of this region. They spent three years of their lives serving us in a job that is often thankless and always open to scrutiny, and I doubt many of their critics could achieve even a fraction of the things they accomplished in that period of time. They not only did the large things but the small ones too, like coming to speak at schools and inspiring students to get engaged in politics, and answering emails and phone calls from pestering constituents like me. I am so grateful to them for their service,  but it is no secret that I had a "falling out" with the PC party this year when they went in entirely the wrong direction on an issue the Intrepid Junior Blogger holds dear: GSAs. My rift with the party, one that began months before, was fundamentally sealed with their treatment of the issue of student run organizations for LGBTQ students and their allies, and it was irreparable. Add to that the IJB's evaluation of our Premier ("I don't like him and he has weird eyebrows" she said), and I realized that while I supported Don and Mike I could not and did not support their leader and the path he was choosing. It was a difficult place to be for me, as I saw two good men tied to one broken party.

I knew in my heart it was time for the PC party to go, a decades-old dynasty that had become filled with hubris and almost entirely deaf to the people shouting at them with pleas to be listened to, but I was saddened to see many very good people, both in our region and across our province, go with the party. And Prentice's resignation on the heels of his crushing loss? Indefensible, and, as the IJB pointed out, cowardly. I thank Don and Mike for their service, as I am so grateful for all they have done for us, but as for Jim Prentice? Thanks for nuttin', pal.

My reaction as a resident of Fort McMurray:

While we lost Don and Mike in provincial government we gained two members of the official opposition in Tany Yao and Brian Jean. I suspect they will have a tough time ahead of them, as they are a small minority in a sea of orange. I have no doubt they will do their best to represent us, and for Brian it will be even more challenging as he will need to be leader of the Official Opposition as well as represent the people of Fort McMurray-Conklin. I don't know Tany Yao, but it is no secret that in the past I have not always been fond of Jean's strategies for communicating with his constituents. Hopefully though we can now move into a future free of crossword puzzles of dubious value and instead into open, honest and frank dialogue with the people of this region, discussing our needs and our expectations. I congratulate them on their win, and I truly hope they are successful in their representation of us as when they are able to represent us well we all win in this place we call home.

My reaction as an Albertan:

The sky is not falling, Chicken Littles. We have a group of novice MLAs moving into office who will take some time to find where the bathrooms are, let alone understand how caucus and cabinet work. They have a steep learning curve ahead of them, and I hope we can grant them some leeway as they get their feet under them. I also hope our new government chooses to implement any changes slowly as opposed to doing anything of a sweeping nature right away, as you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, and we have just given them one helluva chance to make a first impression on the people of this province. I don't think our province is going to go bankrupt, I don't believe they are going to turn us into the haven of hippies and I have zero plans to pack up the Ford Explorer to get outta Dodge - in fact I want to see what they can do, because what we learned in the last three years is if you always do what you've always done you will always get what you've always gotten. I think we are ready to get something new, don't you?

My reaction as a parent:

This is the most complex and yet the most simple, perhaps. The IJB has known for some time that she leans left, much like her left-leaning mom, and the election of the NDP in Alberta in her lifetime is undoubtedly a remarkable thing. We were texting back and forth as the results rolled in, her texts revealing both excitement and surprise as even she did not expect the outcome. After watching our next Premier's victory speech with her quip about math the IJB turned to me and said: "I like her, she's sassy!", and I could see a new hardcore member of Notley Crue had just been born. You see the IJB has dealt with some serious political disappointment over the last three years, particularly in the case of a Premier that she had admired and saw as a strong female role model but who failed her (and all of us, too). The IJB firmly believes we should drop the voting age to 16, as it is the future of our youth we are deciding. I think it only dawned on her today that should this new government fulfill their entire mandate she will in fact be old enough to vote in the next provincial election, a prospect that makes her practically giddy as she often expresses her desire to have "us people" get out of the way and allow her generation to take over and get it right already. Her reaction to this election has been perhaps the most incredible moment of all for me, as it was a confirmation for her that democracy is real and it works, hopefully restoring some of the faith she lost over three very tumultuous years in our province, the one that will always be the place where she grew up.


After categorizing them all late into the night as I lay in bed I began to realize why it was taking me so long to sort out my feelings on this. There were so many angles, so many nuances and so many facets to consider and explore. There were highlights and low points, moments of pride and moments of sadness. It is no wonder I lay there staring into the dark for hours, working it all through but finally falling into a deep and sound sleep, content that the world, while it might have shifted slightly, was still spinning just fine. The phrase that kept coming to me was that we are now in a brave new world, one that we can fight or embrace, one we can avoid or one we can explore. I am, at the end of day, one of those people who always chooses exploration and as such I am thrilled that I woke up in a different Alberta, one every bit as wonderful as it has always been but this time with a fresh start and a new beginning for all of us. I don't know about you, but I like new beginnings and so I welcome this brave new world of ours, one that I think will at the very least be interesting and has the potential to be truly quite remarkable. I have never been one to reject an adventure, and friends, we are on one now.

It all comes down to this, I guess: Bring it on, Alberta. I'm ready.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What Would You Do With One Million Dollars?

What would you do if you had one million dollars? What if you could enter a competition to try to win one million dollars in funding so you can try to achieve your dream? And what if to make it happen you needed the support of your family and friends, and heck, the entire community? Sound far-fetched, perhaps? Well, not if you are the local gang behind Comic Book Wednesday.

First let's cover the details as given to me from that local gang:

  • CineCoup is a national film competition where teams develop their film concept with weekly missions designed into interact with fans
  • Fans need to vote for their favorite project in order to advance the team into the next round
  • Teams will advance from a Top 60 to a Top 30 then to a Top 15
  • Out of the Top 15, CineCoup will pick 5 finalists to travel to Banff in June for the World Media Festival to pitch their concept to CineCoup in person in front of a live crowd 
  • From there 1 team will win $1 million to create their film and have it screened in Cineplex theatres across the country 
  • For the last 8 weeks, one team from Fort McMurray (Tito Guillen, Steve Reeve, Ashley Laurenson and Todd Hiller, plus a large number of other community members) have been evolving their film idea 
  • Comic Book Wednesday currently sits active in the Top 30 with the Top 15 Voting Period opening from May 4 @ 7pm to May 8 @ 7pm. 
  • Fans can RATE, COMMENT and SHARE our weekly mission content in order to gain more votes that they can put towards their favorite project
  • Comic Book Wednesday is 1 of only 2 Alberta teams left in the challenge
  • We NEED everyone's help to get us into the Top 15! 
  • We need to bring this competition home to Wood Buffalo as this is where we want to shoot our feature film!

Now those are the details - but let's talk about why this is important. 

Almost every single day I get a phone call or email, either personally or professionally, from people who are coming to work on "projects" in our community. Sometimes they are film projects, documentaries often, and sometimes they are magazine articles or newspaper pieces. They are coming here for various reasons, but almost every single one wants to develop some sort of relationship with this region in order to further their own careers or dreams, and pretty much unfailingly I, and others in this community, agree to help them. This time we have an opportunity to help a group of local residents and film makers not only pursue their dream but to bring it home to our community as they do so. They have the chance to put Fort McMurray on the map as the home of the CineCoup winner, and showcase the work of some of our talented community members on screens across the nation. And they need our help to do it.

I know Tito, Steve, Todd and Ashley personally. They have been part of my life for over four years now, and I have been incredibly honoured to watch them develop as podcasters, filmmakers and community leaders. There are a lot of people who talk about the things they "want" to do, but often following it up with inaction - but whenever this group comes to me with an idea I know that they will not only dream it and talk about it and plan it but execute it, too. I have had the incredible privilege to be there for some of their special moments, film festivals and the like, and I have been proud to have been able to help them in small ways along their journey. 

And this is the next step in that journey. This is their moment to shine, when the lessons they have learned, the successes they have found and the hard work they have accomplished comes together to present them with an amazing new opportunity - but they need our help to get there. In this community where we have shown time and time again that anything - truly anything - is possible we now have the chance to help a group of local filmmakers bring home one million dollars and a chance to not only live their dream but make us all intensely proud to say that they are from Fort McMurray.

We are region that is often known for the films made about us, the ones that call us things like "Fort McMoney" and that prey upon us to advance the dreams and careers of those who do not, have not and never will call this place home. We now have a chance to instead be known as a community with talented filmmakers like this collective and to see them represent us on a national stage.

How can you help? You need to visit this link and vote for Comic Book Wednesday. Our group of local filmmakers is already one of only two Albertan teams in the running, and we now have the chance to help them get into the final fifteen. I believe they can do it - in fact, I believe they can achieve their dream and be the last team standing, and the one with a film featured on screens across Canada.

On a final note: I am so proud of Todd, Tito, Ashley and Steve. I will be proud of them regardless of whether or not they are the finalists who come home with one million dollars, because I know they pour their heart and soul and a helluva lot of hard work into everything they do. Even more than that, though, I am proud of them because they are the essence of what makes this community special, a group of friends who become family and who form a bond strong enough to accomplish amazing things. Comic Book Wednesday and the team behind it is a quintessential Fort McMurray story, the kind I have been writing about for over four years now and that never diminishes with retelling. I am proud to call them fellow community members, proud to call them local filmmakers, and even more importantly so damn proud to call them friends.