Sometimes we get so bogged down in life, that we cannot see the forest for the trees and we lose perspective and our sense of self. Here is a short exercise that I picked up from Scott Dinsmore, founder of LiveYourLegend.net. It is an exercise where you describe yourself, and your life, in "26 Short List Stories" from A to Z. The point being, taking stock and getting to know yourself better by reflecting on your life. You simply take each letter of the alphabet and write a quick 2 or 3 line story from your life based on that letter.
When you go through the exercise you realize that life is fluid and we really are the sum of our experiences. I initially struggled with a few letters but once I got into the groove it was a lot of fun. I challenge you to do the exercise for yourself - you will be amazed at what you have done and accomplished over your life!
Here is my list:
A - Art & Architecture - Since I was 18 years old, I have spent my entire career, working in Architecture and Art. One of my career highlights was designing my brother's house. Doing this little short list stories exercise reminds me, that I am truly lucky, to be able to have not one, but two creative careers.
B - I traded my car in last year for the coolest folding bike ever, made by “Brompton Bikes” in England. This is by far the funkiest piece of engineering that I have seen in a very long time. I love it, and I am much healthier to boot!
C - Cuba - We have very lucky to have travelled to several countries in Central America including 4 times to Cuba. Poverty is a real problem throughout the Caribbean and Cuba certainly is no exception, but there is something truly unique with Cuba. The people of Cuba may have economic poverty, but they do not suffer a poverty of spirit. Cubans are a proud peoples, and they are some of the most highly educated in the world. There is music, art and culture everywhere. It is a truly remarkable place - I can totally understand why Hemingway spent so many years in Havana.
D - Domed Stadium - In 1986 I spent a year working on the SkyDome Project in Toronto. It was very cool seeing the pouring of the first footing of the stadium, which in retrospect was larger than the apartment that I lived in at the time!
E - Eyes - My Dad always told me that the most important thing in life is your health. This became really clear to me (no pun intended) in my early twenties, when I developed a full traumatic cataract on my right eye after being hit with a hockey stick playing pick-up. As an artist and Architect I was pretty freaked out. I am very thankful that I live in Canada with our health care system.
F - Frederick Franke- I stumbled across a book by Frederick Franke in a used bookstore in Burlington Vermont. “Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing” has changed my life!
G - Gallery/Studio - I operated my own studio gallery in Ottawa above a prominent contemporary gallery (Cube Gallery). For the two years that I painted at the studio, I was incredibly prolific. Once a month Janice and I hosted an open house which coincided with a First Thursday Gallery Walk held in Ottawa where I displayed my new paintings from the month before. I loved it - it was a blast. It was a two year experiment, something I had to try. The economics simply didn’t work out as I had hoped, but the way I look at it, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
H - Harlem - My brother Tom, lived in Manhattan in 2008. He called me up one day and asked if I wanted to join him in a hockey tournament in support of minor hockey in Harlem. I jumped at the opportunity and found myself playing with the Queens University alumni team on outdoor ice, at the north end of Central Park. It was truly surreal, hanging out on a beautiful spring day, downtown Manhattan, playing ice hockey. Only in New York can you find Donald Trump’s name on the side of a Zamboni on an outdoor rink!
I - Indy Races -I had the privilege of meeting artist Gerald McLaughlin, purely by chance at the Toronto Molson Indy Race in 2000. Gerald had an art show selling his and severalother artist's work. We immediately hit it off and had a great chat about art in general. I never really thought about it when I returned to Ottawa, but a year later Gerald phoned me and invited me to participate in the 2001 Indy Race Art Show. Little did I know on that first meeting, that I would join Gerald in multiple art shows in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver over the next 6-8 years. I consider Gerald to be one of the truly inspirational people that I have met, and cherish his friendship.
J - Jasper to Banff Road Race - When I lived in Calgary, I used to run. One of the partners in in the office that I worked was an avid runner and we entered a team into the Jasper to Banff and Banff to Calgary 24 hour relay races. Of course, me being me, I always picked the leg that no one else wanted - which meant 20 km up a mountain. I was certainly not a great runner, but my stubborn nature prevailed and there was no way I was going to give up. I ran the races three years in a row and always got stuck with that that same leg up to the Columbia Ice fields.
K - Kimberly - A year end tradition in Calgary was to rent a couple buses go skiing with friends on the final weekend of the season in Kimberly British Columbia. There was one particular morning where I found myself alone, the first of our group on the chairlift, the first run of the day. It had dumped all night so the powder was amazing. It was warm enough to ski in a light sweater, but still snowing huge flakes. Riding the chair lift, the air was so completely still that you could actually hear your heart beat through the silence. It sounds like a cliche, but the silence was in fact deafening! It is funny how such a seemingly insignificant moment can create a twenty year memory.
L - Lahr - I spent my last year of high school in Lahr Germany. It was the height of the cold war, Russia had invaded Afghanistan, Europe was in transition, Punk Rock was king and I spent a lot of time bombing around Germany with my friends looking for the next beer fest and rock concert. I even got to see the Boomtown Rats in a seedy little German bar, long before Bob Geldof was a household name. All in all, I drove my Dad nuts, but it was a really fun year. Funny how karma works - I now have 5 kids between 17 and 23!
M - Cascade Mountain - For anyone that has ever been to Banff Alberta, Cascade Mountain is the peak that dominates the view from the main street. A good friend of mine Chris, an Architect in Calgary, and I, decided to hike the mountain. We actually had only intended to hike to the tree line and certainly were not dressed or prepared for anything higher. We ended up at the summit sipping a beer taking in the most breathtaking 360 degree view I had ever seen. Its not as impressive as the big mountains of Nepal but it was certainly a memorable experience!
N - Naval Reserves - As a teen I entered the Canadian Naval Reserves. I spent a summer in Victoria British Columbia and even spent 4 weeks on the Canadian Destroyer HMCS Yukon. At 16 years old, I thought this was pretty cool time - even if I was sea sick for most of it!
O - Octoberfest - 1979, a friend and I, hitchhiked to Munich for the Octoberfest only to find ourselves without a place to stay - so we slept two nights on the train station floor with hundreds of other teens from around Europe. So when my daughter took off to Vancouver at 17.....who was I to criticize!
P - Provincetown Massachusetts has become one of Janice and my favorite places to visit. Cape Cod is a truly magical place, so much so that it is the only place that I have seen Janice cry when we left. P-Town is a truly eccentric place, home to generations of artists, playwrights, musicians and of course fishermen. It is the most liberally minded place I have been, where just about anything goes. You have to see it to believe it, but you must have an open mind.
Q - Never Quit - Sometimes life throws wicked curve balls at you which make you want to just give up on your dreams. As I was working on my web page last evening, I was quite surprised at just how many paintings I have done over the years. I filed photos of close to 300 paintings completed in the last ten years. This does not include the dozens that I have sold, given away or donated that I no longer have photo records. Life as an artist is tough - you need a thick skin to deal with the critics and well meaning people telling you that you are dreamer, wasting your time, that you should be doing something more productive, that you will never make money at art, blah blah blah blah blah! Well, I never quit, and as I reviewed the 300+ paintings completed, I got an immense sense of satisfaction. Even if I never make another nickel from my art, I will still paint. Painting is simply what I do.
R - River Tour - This is a small world story. On one of our trips to Cuba, we went on a jeep/river excursion where we toured around a fairly remote jungle. We were grouped with another Canadian couple in a small speed boat for the river tour. As usual, conversation went to careers, where we live etc. etc. It just so happens that the husband was a Canadian Engineer, working for a Russian Oil Company in the oil patch in Western Siberia. I immediately found that really interesting and stated that when I lived in Calgary (another oil town), I once worked on the design of 600 bed Children’s hospital for the City of Niznevartovsk in Western Siberia. It was a time of transition in Russia, when many Canadian Engineering and Architectural firms were building infrastructure projects. So the small world part of the story - here I am, on a speed boat in the jungles of Cuba, talking to a complete stranger who happened to live in Moscow, about construction processes in Western Siberia, and he throws out a name of an Architect he knew in Russia, who just so happened to be my boss in Calgary when we designed the hospital. There truly is only six degrees of separation!
S - Skokie Lodge, built in the 1920’s is a back country ski lodge, located near Lake Louise ski area. The only access is by horseback or hiking. I went with friends on an winter hike to the lodge, 5-6 hours over two mountain passes. What struck me about Skokie Lodge were the night stars. Being so far from civilization, there is no light pollution. Growing up in cities, I had never seen the milky way in all it’s splendour. I have not seen it since. Vincent Van Gogh captured the stars perfectly!
T - Trenton - I spent my pre-teen years in Trenton Ontario, an small town on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I think everyone has a place from their childhood that resonates with them for life. It was a time of innocence. I only lived in Trenton for a short time between Grades 5 and 8. Interesting that 40 years later, I am still in contact with those same kids that I hung out with when I was 10.
U - University - I spent two stints in University, first at Carleton University in Ottawa and then at the University of Calgary. My years spent studying had a profound affect on the way I think and go about my life. I became a life long learner. No piece of paper can ever replace that.
V - Val D’Isere - I spent New Years in Val D’Isere France with my Dad and step mother. To this day, Val D’Isere is by far he most amazing ski hill that I have been on. Our New Year’s dinner was quite the event. It was a ten-course meal with the main dish being wild boar. As part of the ceremony, we all stood on our chairs, and lifted our tables high over our heads while the chefs paraded the wild boar platters, complete with apple in mouth. It was a feast to remember!
W - West Block - For the last 5 years, I have had the privilege to work as the Site Architect on multiple heritage restoration projects on Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, including the West Block Rehabilitation and Restoration project. The Parliament Buildings are the most important heritage buildings in Canada and I have to pinch myself when I think that I have a key role in these projects.
X - Xativa - I was going to write about our trip to Xativa Spain, but Janice told me she got that story first and would expose me if I plagiarized her version of that trip! I will say however, that Xativa Spain is spectacularly beautiful.
Y - Yoga has become an important part of our life and Janice and I have been blessed with the opportunity to go to two yoga/meditation retreats in Costa Rica. The retreats were at the most southernly point in Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula. When you are on the beach you look directly across the bay directly at Panama. If you want to experience a truly blissful state, take a week and go on a retreat. It will change your outlook on life.
Z - Ray Zahab - Occasionally in life you cross paths with someone who is truly inspirational. Ray Zahab is one of those people. Ray is an extreme ultra marathoner. He has run across the Sahara Desert, Baffin Island and to the South Pole. Ray and his business partner Bob Cox have created a foundation called Impossible2Possible (I2P), a non profit organization that inspires educates and empowers youth to take a leadership role to create massive change in our world. I have had not only the privilege of meeting Ray and Bob, but am going to participate in a fundraising capacity using my artwork to help their foundation. This is a really exciting opportunity for me to help out an unbelievable organization.