Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

The Writers’ Hub: Local authors share their words


  — Linda Williams photo                                                       — Hugh Macauley photo

Gracie & I at the Arts Crawl                Part of my first audience for a Gracie mini-reading

                                                                                                             — Heather Conn photos

I had fun last weekend introducing Gracie the goldfish, the star of my new children’s book, Gracie’s Got a Secret, at the 2011 Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl in British Columbia, Canada. I was one of 15 local authors who was on hand at The Gumboot Café in Roberts Creek to chat with both residents and tourists, give mini-readings, and sell books, of course.

 Shelley Leedahl gives a mini-reading

I enjoyed reading the first few pages of my book to young readers who sat on the steps in front of me at the microphone. Since this is my first children’s book, this is a whole new audience for me to reach. Shelley Leedahl, a poet, fiction, and creative nonfiction author newly moved to the Coast from Saskatchewan, also read from her delightful children’s book The Bone Talker. Published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in 2005, and with images by Bill Slavin, one of Canada’s top book illustrators, this poignant story has won the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award.

Michael Maser, author of Learn Your Way!

Our Writers’ Hub event, organized by Creek author Jane Covernton, featured the “soft” or unofficial launch of three local books: Gracie’s Got a Secret, Jane’s own Healing Herbs to Know and Grow, and Michael Maser’s Learn Your Way! The published works of these additional local writers were also available: Terry Barker; Shelley Harrison-Rae; Gillian Kydd; George Payerle; Dorothy Riddle; David Roche; Andreas Schroeder; Dot Scott; Marina Sonkina; and Susan Telfer. I shared a table with volunteers from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, who were selling their book The People’s Water, and their photographic calendar.

 Jane Covernton reads her poetry, with her new herb book, visible to her right.

From poetry and prose, to self-published work and books of international acclaim, this two-day literary event celebrated the voices of independent publishers and the power of meeting and hearing authors in person – fresh and first-hand storytelling, rather than just reading a tale on a screen. Besides locals and friends, we had visitors from California and Seattle. Collectively, we sold 92 books over two days, from display tables available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thanks, Jane, for all of your hard work in organizing and setting up such a successful event. Since writing can often be a lonely pursuit, it was wonderful to connect with other scribes and share our written words with others.


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October 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm Comment (1)

Spirituality on the job: How does it shift upon retirement?

When many people think of the word “spirituality,” they assume that it must be something related to God or religion, perhaps a force that produced tension or disbelief for them as kids. Maybe that view persists even now as adults.


Today, people use that term in a myriad of ways that move far beyond a deist interpretation. I like the definition I heard this week while attending a monthly luncheon in downtown Vancouver at the Adler School of Professional Psychology.


“Spirituality is a state or experience that can provide individuals with direction or meaning, or provide feelings of understanding, support, inner wholeness, or connectedness,” said Andrew Mackey and Shae Hadden, during their presentation Aging, Retirement, and Spirituality at Work, offered by the Workplace Centre for Spiritual and Ethical Development. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Workplace Centre.) Both are founders of the organization O2E Older to Elder.


They were citing the definition created by the International Faith and Spirit at Work Awards. This one identifies two components of spirituality: vertical and horizontal. The vertical represents a desire to transcend the individual ego or self while the horizontal is a desire to be of service to other humans and the planet.


How many of us truly embody both aspects in a balanced way? How does one influence the other? Our capitalist society encourages success within a competitive framework; we’re supposed to strive, as individuals or organizations, to outdo our self-defined opponents and carve our own way ahead, even if it’s at the expense of others. Sharing, cooperation, and honouring all of ourselves and others, or sacrificing for the sake of another, are not something most of us have traditionally learned or experienced on the job.


Thankfully, things are changing. More employers are adopting values-based thinking, identifying their core values and objectives and seeing their employees as more than just cogs in the productivity machine. Mackey said that we need to connect our own horizontal aspect of spirituality with the primary values and goals of the organization(s) we’re working for. Hadden pointed out that life calls us to ponder these key questions:


  • Who am I?
  • What am I meant to do?
  • What am I trying to do with my life?


These are no small issues. Many of us spend decades, if not a lifetime, trying to identify and live our own answers to one or all of these questions. Look at how many life and job coaches, counselors, and facilitators in the developed world offer sessions on how to deal with such topics. People are hungry to bring meaning and satisfaction to their lives, far beyond the money-equals-success equation.  


When many people retire, they discover that they can no longer identify themselves through their job, so what’s left? The two speakers suggested these inspirational prompts to our group of roughly 25:


  • Who do I want to be, now that I’m grown up?
  • What’s my purpose?
  • What am I living for?


They defined purpose as what guides our choices and actions, and meaning as what we care about most. Overall, we had a lively group discussion regarding how employers can honour people’s spirituality on the job, and how people can continue to feel spiritually nurtured during and after retirement. The overall sentiment was that one’s spirituality operates on a continuum; it doesn’t disappear whether we are employed or retired. It simply shifts into a new form of expression.


What has been your experience? How has your spirituality shifted? I’d like to hear your answers.

October 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm Comments (2)

Occupy Vancouver: 3,000+ bring power to the people


“First they ignore you

Then they laugh at you

Then they fight you

Then you win” – Gandhi

(on a sign at Occupy Vancouver)


“In times of universal deceit,

Telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

— George Orwell

(on a sign at Occupy Vancouver)


Under the menacing glare of gargoyles perched high on the corners of Hotel Vancouver, across from looming RBC and HSBC buildings, we gathered downtown, 3,000+ strong on Oct. 15. This Occupy Vancouver movement, spawned by weeks of Occupy Wall Street activism in New York City, had set up a sprawling camp of tents, plus tents for food, first aid, public education, and a children’s area, in front of the art gallery.


                                                                                                               — photos by Heather Conn

A handful of friends and I from British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast sat on the edge of the mosaic fountain in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, surrounded by people of every age, ethnicity, and background: infants, white-haired grandmothers, laid-off workers, disgruntled professionals, business people in suits, women in high heels and fashionable dress, bohemians in masks and costumes . . .They were all a highly visible part of the 99 per cent of western society seeking to be heard and counted as banks, corporations, and governments have gained hugely skewed levels of power, making decisions with little accountability over issues that affect the earth, the public good, and livelihoods. As activist Naomi Klein said a week earlier as part of Occupy Wall Street: “Our system is crashing economically and ecologically.” As one of the dozens and dozens of homemade signs in Vancouver, held high among the throng, said on this day: “Another world is possible.”


I was heartened to see more than a thousand people gathered by 10 a.m., after premier Christy Clark and others had dismissively predicted that few would appear at the event. More and more people kept arriving, until at least 3,000 (some reports claimed 5,000) marched peacefully in a square along four downtown blocks, starting northward at Georgia and Howe. No one smashed windows, threw food at cops, or yelled verbal abuse at passersby. Cars honked in support of the moving crowd. A police officer wore an orange flower in his lapel. The sea of signs gave heart and meaning to what was a living, growing statement (not “a protest”) shared with others who were organizing publicly on the same day in 1,000 cities across the globe:


“One World, One Humanity, Share the World’s Resources”

“Serve the people”

“Close the gap”

“Vancouver wakes up”

“A fair taxation system is overdue”

“We’re the #1 Highest Child Poverty Rate in Canada – Way to go B.C.”

In the first general assembly that morning, various speakers, as part of a moderating team, stood on the art gallery steps and explained the proposed working model for consensus. As defined in the handout provided to the crowd: “A consensus is a decision-making process that attempts to be inclusive and accommodating of the desires and needs of an entire group.” Workers in Venezuela and other Latin American countries have used such models for decision-making in factories and collectives. As one of the moderators pointed out: “It’s not pretty.” It was slow, tedious, and the process bumbling. We were all new at this; our capitalist system had not created models for such forms of decision-making. People would holler out occasionally: “This is what democracy looks like.”


Eager for action and group-based agreements, I grew impatient as different speakers read through the consensus document, word for word, using the mike and then having people within the crowd repeat each phrase in a “human mike” format. Requests went out for translators in a host of languages, from Farsi to Spanish. Hand gestures were given as symbols for how each participant could indicate whether he or she agreed with a proposal, had reservations, would stand aside (“I cannot support this proposal and will not help implement it but do not want to stop the group or block the proposal”) or would block it (“I have a fundamental disagreement with the proposal that must be addressed and has not been resolved”). This repetitive process took an hour and a half.


I was soon growing bored and frustrated. I had to examine my own impatience and desire for a quick outcome, over the inclusion of all questions and requests for something to be repeated. Rather than feeling energized, hopeful, and excited, this process left me feeling deflated and in limbo. But the non-stop stream of informal speakers from the crowd, who took turns at the microphone, helped to draw me back to the power of a group assembly. (The maximum time allotment for each speaker, decided by the group as a whole, was five minutes.) A speaker asked: “Do you trust the system?”

“No,” the crowd roared back. If the group thought that someone was going on too long or the remarks were too self-serving, they hooted or called “Wrap it up” or made the accompanying hand signal. Here is a selection of those who spoke, besides David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Seth Klein (Naomi’s brother) of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:


  • Bob, a unionized meter reader for BC Hydro, who will be replaced by a smart meter within a year, after receiving only a 1% pay increase in a decade: “Gordo (former premier Gordon Campbell) exempted smart meters from due process”;


  • an artist from Montreal: “We’re losing our neighbourhoods”;


  • Paul Grignon, creator of animated films such as Money as Debt;


  • a representative from Zeitgeist Vancouver, part of the Zeitgeist world movement: “What are the root problems?”


  • Activist and grandmother Betty Krawczyk: “Our environment is going, our wild salmon are going. We won’t tolerate it. Their (government/corporate) power comes with our permission, from our acquiescence. True power is in our hands. The power belongs to us, always and forever.” That brought on loud cheers.


  • The Raging Grannies: “Your right is to be heard.”


Later that day, after meeting a client and some of his medical colleagues for lunch at upscale Shaughnessy Restaurant, I was heartened (again) to hear that one of them, a successful doctor, had wanted to join the Occupy Vancouver events himself. He said that he had felt like going down there and throwing something. I was surprised to hear such a remark in that context from such a professional; you never know where you’ll find someone of like mind.

The day’s events did not topple any existing structures or result in resounding changes. However, the simple act of people coming together in peace in a public space to voice discontent and seek more compassionate and inclusive alternatives was a powerful reminder that the power of the people lies innately with the people and in democratic process. We are the power of the majority and we control how much of that we choose to keep or give up.

After returning home just before the seven p.m. general assembly, my husband and I stopped to watch an astounding natural sight: thousands upon thousands of crows were flying, seemingly without end, through the sky. They kept coming and coming, a sprawling black flap of wings across blue, heading east above the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station. They appeared to be coming from downtown. I thought to myself: “Maybe they had their own gathering.” I had never seen such a massive group of crows in my life. I took it as a sign.


Click here for a Buddhist perspective on Occupy Wall Street, by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Michael Stone, author of Awake in the World: Teachings From Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life.


Click here to watch U.S. news commentator Keith Olbermann outline what Wall Street protesters want (October 05, 2011)


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October 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm Comments (5)

What does a TRUE community forest mean? Not stumps and short-sightedness

Seeing first-growth trees in a forest marked with a red dot or blue number, surrounded by flagging tape, is a stark reminder of how different eyes view what I’ll call “wild wood.”


I had this unwelcome reminder last Sunday while hiking through part of the Wilson Creek forest on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. Along with about 15 others, informally guided by members of Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF), I saw first-hand towering coastal Douglas firs, giant Sitka spruce, and other trees – part of 19 hectares that could be logged by early next year.


The red dots on sporadic trees indicated ones that would be saved, not logged. These “lucky” trees would be left to stand, unprotected from strong winds, in open patches of stumps. The blue numbers on trees, painted by timber cruisers, showed that these “lucky” trees had been chosen as samples of the entire forest slated for logging; the cruisers would make calculations, based on this tiny patch, and extrapolate the data as representative of the whole.


These human-created visuals, bright-coloured stains on an otherwise earthy palette, reminded me of those who see this forest as an untapped resource, ready for harvest, not as a haven for blue grouse, black bear, the red-legged frog, ravens, cougars, and salmon downstream in Wilson Creek. During the several hours our group spent in this silent, woodsy haven, we heard the playful call and response of multiple ravens. Some of us saw a teensy grey-green frog, about an inch long, hopping on the forest floor. The ground beneath us felt spongy and light, the result of multi-years of decayed trees and undergrowth.


Across British Columbia, maturing, old-growth coastal Douglas-fir forests, like the one we were in, are identified as “at risk.” Their ecosystems are threatened province-wide. That’s why ELF is demanding the stop to any logging plans in this region; instead, they want to make this forest a key parcel in the proposed 1,500-hectare Mount Elphinstone Provincial Park expansion.


This issue is not sappy, “tree-hugger” sentiment; it’s a wise and practical response to forest management. Sadly, only three per cent of old-growth coastal Douglas firs across British Columbia are protected. The area designated as Wilson Creek Forest serves as an important connector between two existing Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs). The current Wilson Creek watershed, already heavily logged, needs all existing intact forests to be left in their natural state, to heal the hydrological damage.


“There are some prize Douglas firs in here,” said ELF member Ross Muirhead, while standing in front of one particularly large fir about 1.5 kilometres in from the trail head. “Once this forest is gone, it’s gone.”


During our hike, I saw the disturbing damage already caused by erosion along the banks above Wilson Creek. A long swathe of cliffs is exposed clay. Any logging, even with a buffer zone next to the creek, would destabilize the nearby earth, causing further erosion and the risk of silt contaminating and even damming a portion of the creek.


Does your local politician put profit over conservation?


Within months, all of this beauty could be gone. With a local election approaching, it’s time to make your local politicians accountable for their stance on forest protection and logging. Do they put profit over conservation? The Elphinstone Logging Focus extended an invitation to Sechelt council to come out and see the local forests at risk; councillor Alice Janisch is the only one who appeared. That’s no surprise – the Sunshine Coast Community Forest, a local logging operation, is wholly owned by the District of Sechelt.


Find out what a true community forest means. It’s one that remains a forest, which has long-term value to a community by staying intact and providing an ongoing role as habitat, soil and water stabilizer, and keeping carbon sequestered. It’s not an expanse of stumps.  


Go to the ELF website, open “Wilson Creek Forest Campaign,” read it, then take action. Your email will got to Sechelt Council and Community Forests. The trees and the animals they provide homes for can’t talk – but you can. You can make a difference.



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October 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm Comment (1)

Gracie’s ready to greet the world

This week, I received copies of my new kids’ book, Gracie’s Got a Secret, delivered straight from the printer.  It’s a thrill to show it to people and hear them admiring the illustrations. So far, I’ve only had responses from adults. The true test will be how children react to it. This is a new audience for me — I’ve never written a book for kids before. I look forward to sharing the book with listeners and readers of all ages.


I’ll be curious to see if kids “get” the book and understand its underlying message of “Let go and go with the flow.” I figured that if children could adopt this approach to life, it could save them a lot of anguish when they’re older.


Now, the process starts of “birthing” the book to the public, getting it out to bookstores and media and into people’s homes.  I’ve got a soft launch planned for Saturday, Oct. 22, as part of the Sunshine Coast Arts Crawl. The official launch, which will feature puppets and storyteller John Conway, will be on Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt.  See my Gracie events page for details. To stay informed of author readings and other ongoing activities, become a Facebook friend of Gracie’s Got a Secret.

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October 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm Comments (3)

Want to curb your consumer waste? See The Clean Bin Project

Now, every time I throw something out, I think of the one, tiny basket of garbage that Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer each had left after one year. The Vancouver, B.C. couple, creators and stars of the documentary The Clean Bin Project,  achieved almost zero waste after a year of purchasing nothing except food and work-related necessities. I found their dedication (Jen was the most committed of the two) truly inspirational. Jen started growing veggies, she made her own toothpaste, created hand-made family Christmas gifts, and avoided plastic when buying food by re-using a mesh bag for veggies and requesting that items such as cheese be cut from a large block, rather than purchasing some prepackaged.


Their 2010 documentary is an entertaining look at the competitive fun the two had in seeing who would end up with the least amount of household waste after one year. At the end, they each weighed their individual trash bins — I won’t tell you who won. Besides the humor and drama of their ongoing challenges, the movie includes an interview with Brian Burke, compost and recycling guru at Quayside Village Co-Housing in North Vancouver; international artist Chris Jordan (who traded in 10 years of wealth and over-consumption as a New York corporate lawyer to create photographic art composed of mini-images of trash heaps); and Charles Moore, who first discovered the miles-long pile of floating plastic waste that circulates in the Pacific Ocean.


The most poignant part of the film for me was watching Jordan photograph the remains of dead albatross on tiny Midway Island near Hawaii (the atoll is home to almost 70 per cent of the world’s Laysan albatross population). Each skeleton in the sand appeared with what were once the bird’s stomach contents:  a motley assortment of colored bottle caps and other plastic debris. Each young bird was suffocating to death after swallowing plastic, which its body couldn’t process. The mother albatross fly out to sea, retrieve what they believe is food from the floating debris pile in the Pacific, and then feed it to their young ones. How’s that for a powerful metaphor of what our consumer society is doing to life itself?


I appreciated the global perspectives that these interviews added to the immediate story of Grant and Jen’s one-year adventure in waste reduction and recycling. It truly put their efforts in a much-needed perspective of how all human consumption and waste patterns affect the planet, ourselves, and all living things.


The Clean Bin Project film has won a variety of awards, including Best Canadian Documentary at the 2011 Projecting Change Film Festival. The filmmaking duo is on tour to promote the film and its messages. I saw it in Gibsons, BC as part of the excellent Green Film Series sponsored by the Gibsons Green Team and Sustainable Coast Magazine. It’s guaranteed to get you changing your consumer habits — or, if you’re a diehard, at least thinking more about them. 



October 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm Comment (1)