Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea


Feature writing my favourite

Ever since learning to read and write, I knew that I wanted to live in the world of words. As a child, I wrote stories on my mother’s typewriter, kept a journal, made mini-newspapers, and loved to visit the library.


As a teen, I wrote newsletter blurbs and edited my high school yearbooks. At university, I co-edited the tri-weekly student newspaper and worked as a summer reporter at The Edmonton Journal and The Vancouver Sun.


 Today, I have published in more than 50 books, magazines and newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, The Georgia Straight, Sierra and BC Business magazine. Yet, as a reporter, I soon realized that “hard” news or daily reporting of events didn’t excite my heart. I preferred feature writing, which offered more depth and creative options as a writer.


 Early in my career, at age 21, one small reporting assignment shaped my future work decisions. While at The Edmonton Journal, I was supposed to do a story about a baseball coach who became paralyzed after a member of his peewee baseball team had thrown a bat in anger. The bat had bounced off the ground and hit the coach’s spine, leaving him permanently injured.


 When I phoned the coach for an interview, he selflessly pleaded with me not to pursue the story, insisting that the boy and his family had already suffered enough. His grace and consideration in crisis touched me.


I discussed the situation with my editor, who relented; he said just to include a short paragraph on the incident as a matter of record. I did so and in the process, learned that my priorities would never make me a hard-nosed reporter: I would always place the human factor above getting a story at any cost.


When interviewing people as a professional writer today, I have found myself more intrigued by their personal tales and inner struggles than just recording an external event.


I like to extend compassion and a soulful connection to the people I write about, rather than only find a story angle and maintain so-called objective, professional distance.

November 30, 2009 at 5:49 pm Comments (0)


Whatever happened to free speech?

Detention and interrogation. A vehicle and laptop search. Riffling through reporter notebooks. I found Canadian border officials’ recent treatment of U.S. journalist Amy Goodman a disturbing threat to free speech. 

Host of Democracy Now, a public radio show in the States, Goodman was stopped in a vehicle with two assistants at the Washington-B.C. border on Nov. 25. Visiting Canada to promote her new book, she was en route to Victoria for a speaking engagement. Yet the border guards kept grilling her about the 2010 Winter Olympics, afraid that she was coming to Canada to criticize this world event. What if she was? Is freedom of speech the new contraband?

The guards  interrogated her for more than an hour, reportedly demanding to know the details of Goodman’s planned speech. They asked her at least six times if she was coming to Canada to speak about the Olympics. One border patrol agent looked through her book, Breaking the Sound Barrier, and made notes from it. Goodman said: “I was totally shocked . . .It sends a message that we’re being monitored, watched. . .It sends a message to other journalists to watch what they do.”

Fear of such reprisals might indeed result in unnecessary self-censorship on the part of reporters, both locally and those visiting from around the world. Are we heading for a Big Brother world of Government Think?

We’ve already seen the fallout in Vancouver from “free speech zones” designated for protesters during the Olympics. A gag order targeted for the three-week event prevents the display of any commercial signs that  might compete with the corporate logos and messages of official sponsors like Visa or Royal Bank. Whose interests are we protecting, anyway?

This makes me think of practices by companies like Coke and Pepsi that try to muzzle negative comments about their products. In many cases, they make any school or university that carries their bottled water sign an agreement saying that they will not publicly criticize their products.

November 30, 2009 at 5:01 pm Comments (0)

A dog’s breakfast

No, this isn’t a rant about pet food. It’s my potpourri category for comments that don’t fit under my other posted themes.

I first heard the term “a dog’s breakfast” while working on The Ubyssey, the student newspaper at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. (I served as co-editor with Tom Hawthorn, now a Victoria-based author and Globe and Mail writer.) Staff editors used the term to describe some awful-looking layout spread or a disjointed story.

Recently, a friend of mine had some cancerous cells removed from her nose, requiring some skin gouging by a plastic surgeon and garish-looking stitches. While people around her kept insisting that her red, swollen nose full of stitches looked fine and even good, her plastic surgeon told her: “It looks like a dog’s breakfast.” I liked the bluntness of his observation, which made my friend laugh. I’d rather hear the truth.

I hope that posts here, whether yours or mine, can contribute to the “dog’s breakfast” view of life.

November 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm Comment (1)

Why writers?

Writers challenge, provoke, question, denounce, mock, threaten, entertain, and inspire. They record and reveal the joys and rigors of daily life. They bring a voice and validation to powerful and poignant moments within a life, a family, a community, and a culture that would otherwise slide away and disappear under the gloss, distortion and lies of advertisers, conventional media, and politicians.

Writers transform memories, emotion, and events into shared social history. By touching souls, minds and hearts, their words remind us that we do not sing about or suffer through this human experience alone.

November 30, 2009 at 4:27 pm Comments (0)

Peace: Begin within

We focus so often on world peace without realizing that it begins inside each of us. As a sticker says on the outside of my daytimer: “Begin within.”  Here are a few books that I recommend:

  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
  • Peace Begins with Me by Ted Kuntz (his website is www.peacebeginswithme.ca)
  • The Tao of Peace by Diane Dreher
  • Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness by Marc Barasch
November 25, 2009 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

Chica in the Creek

Where does “Chica in the Creek” come from? My friend George Smith called me that when a group of us travelled together in Cuba years ago to celebrate our friend Evi’s 50th birthday. (“Chica” is an informal Spanish way to address a friend like saying: “Hi buddy.” “The Creek” refers to Roberts Creek, where I live.) I liked the rhythm of the term, so I use it here where I post fun stuff on events and thoughts related to life in the Creek.

 Welcome to “Gumboot Nation”


I love where I live, in Roberts Creek, BC, on the west coast of Canada. We’re an unincorporated town of about 3,000 on the mainland northwest of Vancouver, yet most people think that we live on an island. You can only get here by plane or boat — there is no road access to or from the city. We’re part of what’s called the Sunshine Coast, roughly 75 miles of towns, coves, and communities. We’re a great mix of folks from retirees and summer cottagers to artists, teachers, and people who love the outdoors, from kayakers to back-country skiers.


Sometimes living here feels like a magic bubble of friendly warmth and natural beauty. Many residents fear overpopulation and pollution and don’t want others to know how great it is here. Yet it’s not all idyllic: we’ve had logging in our watershed and of old-growth forest plus air-quality concerns from so much wood-stove smoke and from backyard burnings.


Thankfully, in Roberts Creek, development is limited. But elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast, especially northwards in the Sechelt and Pender Harbour regions, more and more new developments, including time-shares, are catering to wealthy outsiders.  Some follks, who have lived here since the 1970s, think that the area has already changed too much.


I’ve been “in the Creek” for almost a decade and still cherish the community. It retains values planted here from the sixties and early seventies, including a strong conservation drive, seed-sharing, sustainable living, and maintaining a small ecological footprint. Roberts Creek is home to Canada’s first rural co-housing community.  Informally, Roberts Creek is dubbed “Gumboot Nation” and gumboots remain a popular sentimental symbol for we “Creekers.”


Each year, our annual Higgledy Piggledy Parade features someone striding at the front in gumboots, holding high the Roberts Creek flag that bears a gumboot image. We have the Gumboot Cafe and Restaurant, gumboot earrings . . .you get the drift. This makes me think of the symbolic union “The Conch Republic” that people in Key West, Florida created to define themselves. Or the term “Cascadia” used to represent the Pacific Northwest region in Canada and the U.S. I like it when residents in a single region create their own group meanings and associations for where they live beyond political and geographical boundaries.  People, of course, can take this to the extreme, resulting in elitist isolationism, border spats, and ultimately, war.

November 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm Comments (0)

Never again: the message of Remembrance Day

“You must be the change you want to see in the world”: Mahatma Gandhi

November 11, 2009

This morning, I attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies at my local Royal Canadian Legion, branch 219, in Roberts Creek, BC. The Legion’s 40-year-old president, Rob Marion, shared a touching tale of how the impact of war first affected him. At age 12, he had his first full-time job mowing the lawn at the local cemetery in Thunder Bay, Ont. For the first time, he was assigned to work in the section with Second World War graves. He said it astounded him to see about eight acres of identical white crosses, row after row, stretching before him. On a visceral level, this showed him how many thousands of lives, just from this one area, had been lost. It made me think of the lines from the poem In Flanders Fields: “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow/between the crosses row on row/ . . .”


During his talk, Rob said that when he spoke to any veterans of the First and Second World Wars, their common message was: Never again. They did not want to have the horrors of the battlefield repeated anywhere in the world. And yet Canada still fights in Afghanistan . . .


The night before, I had watched the excellent documentary Into the Arms of Strangers, made in 2000 through the National Holocaust Museum and narrated by Judi Dench. It’s about the massive kindertransport program, which sent about 300,000 Jewish child refugees from Europe into Great Britain in 1938-39. They ended up in homes all across England, most siblings separated from each other, living in different parts of the country. They could barely speak English, felt homesick, and worried about the safety of their parents back home.


The interviews with adults who had been child refugees, now in their seventies, were poignant and heart-wrenching. One man described how, at about age seven, he had knocked on the doors of  many British estates, hoping that he could find a wealthy family who would agree to bring his parents over and give them a work permit. After countless refusals, he ended up at the home of Baron Rothschild, who without hesitation, wrote out a form to create a work permit. Unfortunately, the Second World War broke out soon after and all such immigration plans ended.


One ship full of refugee children left England destined for Canada but was torpedoed by the Germans. It didn’t sink and continued southwards to Australia. (I can’t remember its name.) What the documentary didn’t say was that then-Canadian-prime-minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to accept that ship load of Jewish children because of prevailing anti-Semitic attitudes.  What a disgraceful historic record for Canada. (You can find out more about this record in the book None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948 by Irving Abella and Harold Troper.)


Once the war had ended, many of these children returned to Europe, hoping to reunite with their parents, only to learn that they had died in death camps like Auschwitz. This made their photos and letters shared in the film all the more powerful and evocative.


I highly recommend Into the Arms of Strangers for anyone who wants to see the human impact of war and hatred. Ironically, one of the British foster parents mentioned in the documentary hated red hair. The Jewish child staying with him lobbied to have him bring over her sister from Europe. When he asked her what color of hair her sister had, she lied and said: “Like mine.” In fact, the sister was a redhead. Once she arrived in England, he was apparently livid at the deception, but subsequently agreed to “keep” her. As a redhead myself, I found this detail horrifying.

November 11, 2009 at 1:32 pm Comment (1)

Compassionate communication

Nov. 2, 2009

I encourage you to check out the organization Compassionate Action Network if you want to align with others who share a vision for a compassionate world. There is also the non-profit group Charter for Compassion, which is releasing a global charter for compassion on Nov. 12.

I love that the latter group uses the Moibus strip (figure eight sign for infinity) as its logo. To me, this image reinforces the innate connectedness of all life and the timelessness of eternity. My husband and I used this image during the Celtic hand-fasting ceremony at our wedding. We had a knotted cord draped over our wrists in the shape of the Moibus strip to symbolize our union and  “a continuum that passes from the known to the unknown and forms balanced order.”

The right half of the infinity sign is associated with the male or solar principle, the left half with the female or lunar principle. Hence, it represents the harmonious union of two opposite principles.

The Dalai Lama Centre, started by the Dalai Lama’s dear friend Victor Chan in Vancouver, BC, Canada, is another great source for material on compassionate thought and sharing.

November 2, 2009 at 11:59 am Comments (0)