Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I’m The Guy In The Light! Michael Green Remembered   7 comments

Photo by Brian Jensen

Photo by Brian Jensen

Like so many others, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Green in a fatal accident in Saskatchewan earlier this week. He was a gift, really, taken away too soon and so suddenly. Although Michael and I were friends for 20 years, we never had the opportunity to work together. We had been meeting with a producer on a rather ambitious project, and had high hopes for creating a show for 2017 together, but now, alas, that will never be.

There were three others who also lost their lives in this terrible accident: Michele Sereda, who was an old friend and even former neighbour from Regina; Blackfoot Elder and film maker Narcisse Blood — I know it was my great loss not to have met such a great man; and finally, Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, a Saulteux artist from Saskatchewan. To all of the friends, family and colleagues left to mourn the untimely passing of these four beautiful souls, I offer my heart-felt condolences and most sincere sympathy.

Now, it wouldn’t fall to me to write any kind of official tribute for Michael. As friendly as we were for so long, there are many other who knew him better and are far more qualified to talk about his dazzling life and many, many accomplishments.

However, at the spontaneous gathering held at the Big Secret Theatre on Wednesday, I kept thinking of a story of his that to me says so much about the kind of man he was, and that’s what I’m here to share.

Here’s how it went down . . .

A couple of years ago, on a warm summer’s evening, a few of us, including Johanne Deleeuw, Tim Williams, Kate Newby, Cam Ascroft,  a few others and myself had gathered at the Auburn Saloon with the express purpose of drinking some beers and generally shooting the shit. After we had been there for an hour or so, Michael wandered in, got himself a drink and joined us.

He told us that a couple of nights earlier, he had been sitting in his back yard with a friend, smoking a joint and having a couple of drinks when suddenly, out of nowhere, a police helicopter flew in, hovering directly overhead, making a hell of a racket and generally scaring the hell out of them.

If that weren’t bad enough, after a minute or so, it turned on its powerful spot light and shone it right into Michael’s little yard, illuminating him and his friend in a stark and very bright, even blinding, light.

I don’t know if it’s on account of my own tendency to suffer from rather intense feelings of paranoia whenever I smoke up, but if that had happened to me, I’m sure I would have taken refuge inside my house, turned out all the lights and probably hidden under my couch.

But not so with Michael Green. Once he had sized up the situation and was reasonably sure he was not being abducted by space aliens, he picked up his phone, dialed 911, and when they answered, yelled, “I’M THE GUY IN THE LIGHT!”

After an intense conversation with the operator, he was actually patched through to the officer in the helicopter, to whom he repeated, “I’M THE GUY IN THE LIGHT!” Adding, “WHY THE HELL ARE YOU SHINING YOUR LIGHT IN MY YARD?! I’M TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH MY FRIEND! SHUT IT OFF!”

Amazingly, they did just that, they turned off their light and flew away.

Michael had us all in stitches telling that story, and ever since I heard him tell it, I always thought it said so much about him:


It’s so fitting on one hand, and yet, those of us who knew him would surely suggest he wasn’t, after all, the guy in the light. He was, in fact, the light itself. The source.

He radiated a pure, dazzling, multi-coloured light that shone on all of us who were fortunate enough to know him. It shone on audiences of One Yellow Rabbit performances and the High Performance Rodeo for the better part of three decades. It shone all throughout the City of Calgary at hundreds of events during Calgary 2012. Most recently, it shone on the lives and illuminated the stories of our First Nations People who have been shrouded in darkness far too long.

In fact, that’s why he was in Saskatchewan in the first place, to explore the possibility of creating “Making Treaty 4” along the lines of “Making Treaty 7” which he helped produce here in Alberta.

Such a bright light he was. For many of us, the world became a little darker, a little dimmer with his passing.

He will be missed.

Thanks for reading.

The lights of Calgary shone yellow for One Yellow Rabbit on Tuesday night. I shamelessly stole this photo from Facebook. If it's yours, please let me know and I'll give you credit!

The lights of Calgary shone yellow for One Yellow Rabbit on Tuesday night. I shamelessly stole this photo from Facebook. If it’s yours, please let me know and I’ll give you credit!

Apologies to Dostoevsky   5 comments

booksIt began with The Brothers Karamazov which I lugged home from the second hand book store one day, it was a Saturday afternoon. This was years ago, but I remember thinking nothing else would do. Never mind that it was my third copy of the book, the third I could think of. Never mind I’d never read the other two, having given up in despair around page 24 both times. This one would be different. On the cover, The New York Times Book Review promised: “One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” I needed that. I needed the musical whole.

Feverishly, I read 24 pages then put it aside. The trouble was, there was no place to put it. The bookshelves had long been filled. Not just filled like they were meant to be, as they were when I was young and happy and the days were sweet. Now there were piles of books stacked on their sides along the shelves so you couldn’t even see the ones in behind them, let alone reach one if you needed it. I needed a new book case, desperately, but the thought of going to IKEA filled me with self-loathing and disgust, so no new book case had been procured.

The Brothers were set down on the carpet between the book cases and the coffee table in my living room. It was meant to be a temporary measure. And yet it sat there for several days and soon the entire room seemed to be organized around it. I thought of my mother who had worked so hard to put me through university, what would she think of this errant book just lying there on the carpet? Such thoughts filled me with shame and many a night I went to my poor bed and cried myself to sleep thinking of mother and the rest of the family I never saw any more. I knew deep inside that none of them would just leave a book sitting there on the floor like that. Day after day my shame and grew and my confidence began to crumble.

One day not long after, perhaps weeks, maybe months, I had stopped washing so it was hard to differentiate one day from another, I went to my favourite coffee shop where all I could afford was a cup of hot water. I couldn’t actually afford hot, so settled for lukewarm. I looked down, as I always did in those days, as looking up was too painful, and there on the bench beside me was a copy of Kafka’s The Trial. My heart raced. I felt feverish. Sweat poured from the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet. Like a condemned man, I took the book in a trembling soggy hand and stashed it into my greasy satchel and furtively made my way back to my cheap lodgings.

I lay on my couch in mortal agony, subsisting on saltines and vinegar, and read the entire book without a break. When I was finished, I hardly knew my own name. Without thinking, I set The Trial atop The Brothers Karamazov before I swooned and fell into a treacherous sleep.

It was later the same day I tired of reading a piece on monopedomania in The New Yorker and set the magazine on top of The Trial. The next day, a letter from the phone company threatening to cut me off (again) went on top of the magazine. In the laundry room I found a copy of a biography on Steven Tyler which I mean to get to someday, but for now, it sits on top of the nasty letter from the phone company, beneath a slightly damaged Penguin Pride and Prejudice.

Something sculptural and loathsome and demonic was forming in my living room. Day by day, book by book, bill by bill, magazine by magazine, the tower rose from one foot, to two feet, to six feet, until I had to stand on my tip toes to jam a Pizza 73 flyer between the top of the pile and the ceiling.

By now, the tv was obscured from my favourite place on the couch. A second tower was growing up beside the first, grounded with a two volume set of impressionistic art. Before long, it too reached the ceiling, and a third tower began. And a fourth. And a fifth. You get the idea. Soon my entire apartment was a series of precarious piles of paper and I found myself scurrying around in this maze of my own creation so that I began to feel more like a rodent than a human being.

One night, as I sat in my local bar, nursing a flat beer, my eyes yellowish with fever, reading a stale Paris Review, despite my best intentions I was joined by a local harlot who rubbed my thigh and suggested we return to my hovel for a night of passion. I had been without passion that involved a second party for so long that I unthinkingly said yes. Up the stairs we climbed to my grim dwelling place. She was afraid of elevators. I can’t blame her.

I opened the door to my apartment. She entered and saw the towers of paper rising to the ceiling. She shrieked, causing a percussion that, as if in slow motion, started the crumbling and deconstruction of the towers. Like dominoes they began to fall, drawing the attention of the neighbours and the building manager and soon we heard the wail of sirens in the distance.

I scurried out the kitchen and onto the fire escape, climbing down to the alley where I began to wander disconsolately in the rain. This was weeks ago. I wander still. The only possession I managed to salvage from the ruins?

The Brothers Karamazov . . .

Thanks for reading!


Posted February 1, 2015 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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Event Planning with Eugeniuscorp®©™   Leave a comment

penEugeniuscorp®©™ was recently officially endorsed (for the 12th time!) on LinkedIn in the area of Event Planning. This was taken as remarkably good news in a year that otherwise has been off to a regrettable beginning. To say the administration of ECorp was surprised at the nod it received in this particular area would be an understatement, given that generally speaking we are unable to plan with any exactitude when we will get out of bed in the morning, let alone what we will do with ourselves once we are, as they say, up and at ‘em.

In fact, we note with some alarm our increasing inability even to attend events skillfully planned by others. The thought of actually planning an event is daunting, if not out and out terrifying.

Still, with a recession looming on the horizon and lean times ahead (as well as behind), we at Eugeniuscorp®©™ do not turn down any reasonable opportunity to skin an unsuspecting client for a few bucks. With that in mind, we have prepared the following screed to be included in the list of services we offer to the general public.

Planning an event? Why not let the capable staff at Eugeniuscorp®©™ help out?! Our team of friendly and professional event planners will ease your mind and ensure that things run seamlessly on your big day. From weddings to international anti-terrorism symposia, no event is too big or too small for the competent staff at Eugeniuscorp®©™.

Our pledge to you:

When you retain us to plan your event, we will show up on time for our first exploratory meeting. Well, say within twenty minutes or so, depending on traffic. And assuming that we remembered to enter our meeting into our iCalendar or our Day-Timer and it didn’t just get lost in the jumble of crumpled scraps of paper we keep on our kitchen table which is also our work area.

In the likelihood that we actually make it to the meeting, freshly showered and shampooed and with our teeth recently and vigorously brushed, we will have with us an impressive looking notebook and an equally impressive fountain pen containing the finest of inks to keep an official record of the details of our meeting.

Generally, depending on information gleaned in the early part of our meeting, things can go in one of two directions. If the client is a woman, and is reasonably attractive, and appears to be single, or if not out and out single, giving signs of being in a less than stellar relationship, then your Eugeniuscorp®©™ agent will be extremely engaged and attentive to each and every word you utter.

Should you not meet these requirements, you may notice your agent checking his phone for emails, looking at Facebook, responding to texts, hopefully (if not a little desperately) looking for matches on Tinder, playing Trivia Crack etc. etc. but you can hardly blame us for what you’re not bringing to the table.

In terms of payment, please be aware that Eugeniuscorp®©™ requires a hefty deposit to ensure the smooth runnings of your event. We’re not a charity. Cash payments slid in unmarked envelopes across dirty table tops in late night greasy spoon restaurants are our preferred method of payment, but other less conventional methods can be arranged at your convenience.

Once the nature of the event has been ascertained, we will ask pertinent questions that will soon increase your comfort level and make you relax in the certain knowledge that you are in the capable hands of a LinkedIn-endorsed event planner.

Things like the date. Sometimes people forget to mention the date. You’d be surprised how often that happens. You will note how our agent deftly first writes the date in his notebook with a very expensive fountain pen, utilizing only the finest Japanese ink, and then marvel at the “double-binding safeguard”®© your agent will employ as he enters the date into the calendar on his iPhone®©, with a full 24 hour alert to ensure that your event will enter his consciousness at least one full day before it is scheduled.

All of this at no extra cost to the consumer.

Our operators are standing by to consult with you on your event. Calls received before 8:00 PM are more likely to be remembered than those received after.

Remember our spiffy motto: Got an event? Get Eugeniuscorp®©™!

Thanks for reading!

Posted January 23, 2015 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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I Want My Pre-Internet Brain Back   6 comments

All dressed up and nowhere to go

All dressed up and nowhere to

Someone wrote that on Facebook the other day and it has stuck with me ever since: I want my pre-Internet brain back.

I don’t think I even hit “like” on it, which I feel a certain amount of remorse about now. Oh well, another item for the great list of remorse that I lie awake at night pondering and reviewing.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. (Nothing good, alas, dear reader, as you may have suspected.) You can find that post by typing Life With No Computer into the little search box on the left side of the screen.

I wrote that post two years ago and haven’t thought a lot about it since. At some level I have, no doubt, willfully kept it from my mind. I know I spend too much time on the computer. I’ll bet you might be able to say the same, dear reader. If you’re reading this, you may have become aware of this post on Facebook, or you may have received an email notification, or you may have even been Googling something else and just come across it.

Chances are you are looking at this blog with Facebook lurking just below the surface, with your email open at the same time. If you’re like me, you might well be listening to music and even carrying on a text conversation on your phone. And you may even be watching a game on tv or a film on Netflix.

It all adds up to a tremendous amount of distraction. We get so used to it that it’s really a small miracle that we can concentrate on anything at all for any length of time anymore.

I hadn’t realized (or admitted?) just how bad it is with me until I went to my favourite coffee shop the other day (Caffe Beano, of course) where I’ve been gamely, even grimly, adding 500 words a day to my new novel.

(“New novel?” you may ask. “What the hell happened to your old novel?” I’m glad you asked. The old novel, titled The Piano Teacher, will be published by my little publishing company in a few months, on the first day of spring. Trust me, you’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the months to come. And now there’s a new novel. Quite simple, actually.)

On any account, there I was at Caffe Beano, coffee procured, notebook out, pencil sharpened (metaphorically speaking, it’s a mechanical pencil actually, a Pentel Kerry .07 in which I use B leads). (These are things you need to know, friends, as far as I’m concerned.)

I found my reading glasses, no longer optional, and felt around for my phone (an iPhone 5S) but it wasn’t in that pocket where I’d found my glasses and it wasn’t in any other pocket and it wasn’t in my bag so that could only have meant it was sitting on my table at home, charging away, while I was at Caffe Beano without it.


Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok, calm down, it will be all right, it’s just for an hour, we’re not expecting anyone to call anyway, Facebook will take care of itself for an hour, no significant other to text insignificant nothings to us anyway, we don’t need it, come to think of it, why do we think we even need it ever? It’s not like we’re a doctor on call. Or in the fresh bloom of love. Or any bloom of anything, for that matter. Relax. Breathe. Just breathe. In and out. Sloooooowly. We don’t need the phone.

This way, we reasoned, we’ll be able to devote 100% of our concentration on the matter at hand, which is to add 500 words to the new and as yet unnamed novel.

Well, that was the gist of the internal dialogue.

I petulantly scratched a few words onto the page, random nouns unconnected by verbs or conjunctions or prepositions. I fidgeted. I sighed.

I had nothing. I quit and got back home to my phone. No calls. No texts. No emails. No nothing. So why was I even worried about it in the first place?

My brains, I realized, were slowly turning to mush. That’s when I remembered that status update from Facebook: I want my pre-internet brain back.

Thinking back to when I was a teenager, way back in the murky black and white steaming swamp of time lost, pre-computer, pre-internet, pre-VCR, with only two channels on the old Zenith black and white TV with the bunny ears on top, pre-telephone answering machine – you get the picture, pre-everything that could possible distract you, I had fashioned a bedroom studio in my parents’ unfinished basement.

After supper, I would disappear into the basement and spend the entire evening painting, playing my trumpet (the mournful strains of my rendition of Herb Alpert’s Lonely Bull wafting up through the floorboards)(my poor suffering parents finally bought me a mute), writing, reading and doing other things that teenage boys do, which I will leave to your imagination, gentle reader.

A friend might phone, or just as likely not phone. Someone might drop by for a visit. We used to do that in this culture, remember? Actually visit friends. Like, in person. Like, putting ourselves in the same room as our friends. Remember? Whatever happened to that?

By and large, I was capable of spending huge amounts of time with myself, happily engaged in these solitary artistic pursuits, happy as a pig in the proverbial shit.

So what the hell happened?

Computers happened. The internet happened. Cell phones happened. I seem to have bought in, every step of the way.

Now, I want out. At the least I want to feel I am in control. To make even a small change to my dependency feels as monumental a task as quitting smoking, which I have never been able to do. Clearly something has to happen. Maybe it’s as simple as deliberately leaving home, at least now and then, without my phone. Or taking a day away from Facebook. A full 24 hours! It seems daunting.

But clearly, something has to be done.

I want my pre-internet brain back.

Thanks for reading.


Here’s a funky remix of a song that seems to sum it all up . . . .

Some Thoughts on Death and the Telephone   4 comments


Maybe heaven looks like Barlow Station.

Maybe heaven looks like Barlow Station.

Last week I found myself in a small northern city without enough reading material. I obviously needed to do something to rectify that situation, so I set out in that unfamiliar place and before long I came across a Wal-Mart. You might guess my feelings about Wal-Mart and the evil empire, I haven’t been in one for years. But desperate measures for desperate times, as they say, so I steeled myself to the task and joined the great unwashed, guided by the vague notion that if they sell everything else under the sun, surely they would have a few books. I was right. They did. I bought one.

(I also bought what seems to be a decent pair of jeans for $12.00. 12 bucks! I tried not to think of the child labor and grizzly sweat shops in Bangladesh stitched into those jeans, but that’s another thought for another day.) I took my book and my jeans and made it back to my hotel, at once ashamed and yet proud of my purchases. (12 bucks!)

The book I bought, on closer inspection, seems to be appropriate for what they call a YA audience. Young adult. I am not a young adult. I’m not even sure I’m an adult, when you get right down to it. I immediately questioned the veracity of my decision of buying it when I opened it to discover that no less a supreme personage than Oprah had decreed that this was a book “every woman needs to read before her next birthday.”

I think I bought it because I liked the blue on the cover. And to keep myself from one of those robust spy novels that Wal-Mart was full of. But further, The Sacramento Bee says that the book is “perfect in every way.” Not bad. Maybe I was onto something.

The book is titled The Fault in Our Stars and it has sold a zillion copies and it has been made into a movie that everyone loves and it is so sad and yet so real. I have to admit that despite the fact that the only character I could really relate to was the broken down Dutch novelist Peter Van Houten (although I don’t think I’m all as bad as that), it’s really a wonderful book. In this day and age when it seems all of us are destined to get some sort of cancer, it probably should be required reading. And how sad when it happens to young people who never really get a chance to live their lives.

But it was a departure for me. The last book I read was Elie Wiesel’s Night (happy, happy!) and the other two books I have on the go are Beckett’s The Unnamable (for the umpteenth time) and Henry Miller’s Sexus – once more into the breach, I thought I’d take what will be probably my third run at The Rosy Crucifixion.

So you can see, I am a supreme snob when it comes to literature. I rarely sample the fare of the popular culture, but I really thought The Fault in Out Stars was a good book and worth the read. And who am I to argue with #1 on the New York Times and Time Magazine’s Book of the Year?

There’s a scene towards the end of the book that reminded me of a scene from my own life, one that was so painful I had suppressed it, until now it seems. I don’t want to spoil the book for you should you decide to read it (or the movie should you wish to see it), so I won’t say what happens there, but this was the incident from my own life that it brought back to memory.

A number of years ago, I had a very dear girlfriend who sadly passed away as the result of a car accident. She had lingered for quite some time after the accident, in and out of hospital, and we kidded ourselves I guess that she would get better, and we could spend our days together. But one day, she just gave up the ghost, and that was that. You could say I was devastated. It was maybe the bleakest time of my life.

One night, when I couldn’t stand the separation any longer, the loneliness and despair rising to lethal levels, I phoned her. Not like I expected her to answer, but I just needed to hear her voice one more time. Wherever her phone was, it was still active, and I heard her voice on the voicemail, asking me to leave a message.

What message is there for a dead person? Only one. I said “I love you” and then hung up. It was helpful to do that, comforting to hear her voice. Immensely sad, too, obviously. And probably absurd. But helpful.

I did it a few times. Not every night. But from time to time when the grief would not relent, and the cold empty night stretched relentlessly before me, I would call her number and hear her voice. Maybe I was after confirmation that she had existed at all. I don’t know. On any account, in this manner, creeping day by day, I made it through.

I was pushing my luck. One night I phoned and a young woman answered. A girl, probably. I really didn’t know what to say to her, but I came clean and told her why I had been calling.

The girl told me, very gently, that it was her number now, and asked me if I was going to be ok. She was so helpful. I thanked her and hung up and never called the number again. I guess I moved on. And yet, as we all know, dear reader, there are some losses we may never get over.

So. There you have it. There’s a scene something like that near the end of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars. If you like good books that aren’t afraid to deal with the messy sadness of life, I highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading.

Here’s a song that was written before answering machines and voicemail . . .


Posted November 23, 2014 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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This Is What My Country Looks Like   8 comments

This is what my Canada Looks Like

My students who come from (clockwise from top left)  Bangladesh, Nepal.Syria, India, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Pakistan, (me from Saskatchistan), Mongolia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

My students who come from (clockwise from top left) Bangladesh, Nepal.Syria, India, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Pakistan, (me from Saskatchistan), Mongolia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Take a good look at this picture. For the last 12 weeks, these are the people I have spent most of my time with, these are the people I have come to know and love as my students in the MDRT program at ABES.

The what at the what??

MDRT means Medical Device Reprocessing Technician. When you go for a treatment at the hospital or clinic, and hope that the instruments being used on you have been sterilized – that’s the function of the MDRT.

ABES mean Alberta Business and Educational Services. It’s a school in NE Calgary that trains people in various medical areas, including lab assistants and health care aids and obviously MDRT.

4 years ago, the MDRT program was launched specifically to help internationally educated professionals (ie, immigrants) get a foot in the door in our health care industry. I was brought in to teach them something about the culture of the country and the language we use to talk about it.

The people in my photo, all but three who are doctors, are probably over qualified for the position they are training for. Some will use it as a stepping stone to something grander. One of my former students went to the University of Saskatchewan and did a Masters in Public Health, for example. Others will complete the accreditation process (which is time-consuming and expensive) and become doctors here.

When I first was asked to teach the course, I have to admit that as a Waspy kind of guy, I didn’t know much about new Canadians and their reasons for wanting to come here. Their situation, which I initially thought was peripheral to our culture, is in fact, I now realize, at its centre. We are a country of immigrants. Some of my own people got here in an early wave of Brits, as far back as the 1700’s. But still we came from somewhere else. Even our native people came from somewhere else, having walked here over the Bering Straight, albeit some 10,000 years sooner than the rest of us.

(I have written about this program elsewhere on this blog. Please type ABES into the search box to the left of the page and you will find out more about it, especially the post titled “Work, Work, Work.”)

A few years ago, I thought this class and my experience with it could lead to an interesting film. My friend Randy Bradshaw and I applied for some development money to get the process going. We were turned down.


“This is not an Alberta story,” we were told.

Look at that picture. It was taken last week in Calgary.

If you think this isn’t an Alberta story, then clearly you are living under a rock or have your head lodged very far up one of your southern orifices.

What are our stories? The one about the solitary prairie drifter falling in love with the beautiful young teacher from the one room school house?

That was actually my mom and dad’s story. It happened in 1940. Maybe it’s time to move on and examine some new stories.

Many of the people in my picture are Muslims, by the way. They are some of the most spiritual and peaceful people I know. I feel it’s worth saying because I believe anything that can help fight the stereotype we get constantly from the press is worth the cyber ink I spill to say it.

These are lovely people. Their goal as doctors is to take away suffering. This is so apparent to me I feel embarrassed to have to say it, but I know there are people among us who harbor fears and resentment based on the popular press.

Look at those faces! These are very good, kind, decent and gentle people. They are in our midst! And it’s a good thing!

Remember this: The white Waspy version of Canada that some of us grew up with lasted only a couple of hundred years, only about 100 out west. This is a country in transition, in flux. Our new Canadians, like these students of mine,  bring a wealth of experience and a vibrancy to this country that makes it a better place to live for all of us.

This is Canada. This is Alberta. This is Calgary.

This is my world. It’s yours too.

Embrace it.

Thanks for reading


A Great Moment in the History of Publishing!   4 comments

At least as far as I’m concerned it is:

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

The publication of my play Queen Lear through

I have written about the current reality of the publishing world on this blog before but at the risk of repeating myself, here are some thoughts about where I feel things stand right now. Right now being on a Sunday morning in mid-October. A mild autumn day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

I should preface this post by repeating something I said in an earlier post, that if someone tells you they know what’s going on in the publishing world these days, turn and run the other way. They are lying to you. No one knows. All we know for sure is that things are in a state of flux.

I have also mentioned in an earlier post, but it bears repeating now, that I have four books published by, one could say, traditional publishing houses (Coteau, Red Deer College Press and Broadview). While I believe I was paid a reasonable amount from Coteau, as far as I can remember, I have only received one royalty cheque in my almost twenty years from Red Deer, and that was for $16.00. Broadview sends me royalty statements informing me that I am in a never-ending negative position with them. They figure I owe them some $160.00 after 12 years with two of my books in their catalog. Who am I to argue?

Of course, until now I have published only plays, and one could say that plays don’t really sell all that well. The greatest possible benefit for the author is that their publication increases the likelihood of more productions. What the benefit is for the publisher, I couldn’t really say.

But listen to this. My play, my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, was published by Coteau Books in Regina, my home town, in 1995 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. The book sold out its run, but they decided not to reprint it and declined the opportunity to publish subsequent plays of mine. It was like I had done something wrong.

Go figure.

So, you can well imagine that when my friend Michael J. Finner approached me with the idea of starting a publishing company of our own, I was all ears. What did I have to lose? On a cold day in early January, 2008 we met and created B House Publications, with the soon to be realized goal of having my play Writer’s Block as our first publication – for sale in the lobby on opening night.

It was never my intention to have B House serve as a vanity press for me, and so I have worked hard, more so in the early days, finding writers I admire and helping them bring their work to publication. I am proud to say we have published some of Calgary’s very finest authors, including Kirk Miles, Tyler Perry, Jude Dillon, Lindsay Burns, Neil Fleming and others; and dozens of others through two Caffè Beano poetry anthologies. (Another of these, a book of smart phone photographs, is planned for next year, edited my our in-house photo guru, Jude Dillon. It will be launched at Beano’s Stampede Breakfast next July.)

The problem that arose is that I am only one person and can only spread myself so thin. I love the process of meeting with fellow authors and even editing their work and helping get it into book form. After that, in terms of marketing and distribution, I admit I am essentially useless and have let all of these authors down. There just aren’t enough hours in a day.

Until now, we have had our books, usually designed by the amazing Peter Moller, printed with a local company, Blitz Print in Calgary. They do very fine work and are reasonably priced if you’re thinking of printing a book in Calgary.

Someone would then end up with boxes of books in his or her closet, the idea being to sell these, becoming rich and famous during the process. In the early days, we had high hopes that these books would be sold here and afar, but because we never had any marketing support (let alone a plan for distribution) the books and the big dreams only went so far.

Many a time I felt so overwhelmed that I just wanted to abandon the entire project. But then a poet or playwright would approach me with a book idea and I just couldn’t say no. And so we have limped on. I love books and the chance to bring a new book into the world has always been too compelling not to do it.

For the last few years, B House has essentially been an opportunity for self-publishing but with our logo on the cover. Our writers have kept 100% of the royalties. I have spent thousand of hours on B House business and would hate to calculate what that has worked out to as an hourly wage. Meager comes to mind.

Altruism? You bet.

But I’ve also been driven by the fact that because we don’t know the future of publishing, it wasn’t a bad idea to keep this thing alive. You just never know. I honestly don’t know what the future holds, where this might lead, if anywhere, but it just made sense to try against all odds to keep the enterprise afloat.

5 years ago, I wrote the play Queen Lear. B House published it, using our model of having a good design and then printing it locally, we me carting home the books from Blitz Print. I think we printed 100 copies. And then we ran out. (To put it in perspective, a wildly successful play in Canada would be lucky to sell 1,000 copies. We’re not talking huge numbers here.)

I’ve had orders for the book over the last few years, but I just couldn’t see the point of continuing on with our same model. I really didn’t want to order 100 copies, sell ten, and then have those remaining 90 copies taking up space in my office. Boxes of unsold books cause their own kind of anxiety, let me tell you, quite unlike anything else.

This summer I heard about, which I suppose one could best describe as a virtual publisher. They create your book only when an order is placed for it, from one to – well, the sky’s the limit, I suppose. The information on the book and the mechanism for ordering sits on their website ( or and so I can promote it, in blogs like this for example, and any way I see fit. But I don’t really have to worry about it after that. This finally offered B House some relief on the distribution side of things.

And so, after some research and growing pains, we finally got the reprint of Queen Lear up and available through Blurb.

The big difference for B House in using Blurb is that we don’t have to make an initial costly purchase of our book, and then find ourselves on the hook to distribute it. It’s just there, on their website. You can order one copy, they will print and mail it to you. Or you can order 100 copies. (In fact, I wish you would!)

Through Blurb, I am able to establish my own royalty which I don’t share with a publishing company. I set it myself and know exactly what I will make per book. If the total exceeds $25.00 in a month, it is deposited in a Pay Pal account for me. Simple. And effective.

At the same time, I can order copies of my own book at cost price and sell these in bookstores that I promote, in this case Calgary’s Shelf Life Books. And any other that would bother to ask me.

My goal here is not to circumvent booksellers. Only publishers.

Is this the future of publishing? Could it the end of conventional publishing as we know it? We have seen the demise of newspapers – I lost a good job when the Calgary Herald was in danger of going into the dumpster a few years ago. Is there any reason to think the same thing won’t happen with publishing houses?

Time will tell, I suppose. Despite what it might seem, I don’t wish any of them any ill fortune. I’m guess I’m old school, but I believe we need books and readers of books to salvage and maintain what’s left of our faltering civilization. Hopefully there is room for all of us, big and small. Or, as we like to say at B House, not small but boutique.

I’ll tell you something. Things are changing and I embrace the change. I welcome it. And I’m curious to see where this all ends up.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a performance by a man who wrote a great book, his autobiography. Amazing how he keeps going strong after all these years. . .








It Should Have Been So Easy   4 comments

It should have been so easy.

It's a beautiful world after all. Kinda.

It’s a beautiful world after all. Kinda.

It should have been so simple. The pictures on the website – a stack of beautiful books, a fuzzy blanket, a steaming cup of tea – taken all together created a sense of serenity and well-being, maybe even exuding a whiff of old money. You know that smell. The smell of comfort, even smugness! Or maybe you don’t. (If not, sorry about that.)

On any account, it certainly looked easy. Three months ago, it looked like 10 minutes work, if you could even call it that. It would all be over before you could finish that cup of tea and curl up under that soft fuzzy blanket with a good book.

A book, no less, that you yourself had created!!

Three months later, the tea has turned to Irish Whiskey, the blanket has been burned and I have been reduced to a raging lunatic screaming in anguish on my kitchen floor, screams that no one seems to hear.

Welcome to the wonderful world of self-publishing.

Looking back, I can see that my problems began when I decided to try a new thing with a particular book design that had been created for another output mode entirely. Like trying to fly a bicycle, perhaps, or drink a shoe.

My problems were further complicated by the fact that I downloaded a program they told me I would need to create my book. Only now, as I am painfully aware, I should never have downloaded it in the first place, despite an invitation to do so and a big blue flashing box on my screen that lured in my cursor and cause me unwittingly to click on it and thus grease my descent into hell.

Actually, we never got too far right off the bat because my computer informed me that my startup disk was almost full. Well, I have no idea what my startup disc even is, or why it would be almost full, or what it could possibly be almost full of, so this message was as mystifying as it was alarming.

And so began the futile process of freeing up space on the enigmatic startup disc. As it turns out, you can empty your trash, but that only goes so far, obviously.

At this point, I quite convinced myself that this whole process would run a lot smoother on a new computer. I checked my savings account balance – $112.84. Well, scratch that option, although I must say I was somewhat proud that I was into the three figures range in my savings. It comes from being frugal, don’t you know.

Finally a friend sent me a link to a site with some sensible ideas of how to free up some startup disk space. A week into it, and I was ready to start the simple and, dare I say, elegant, process of creating my own book.

Despite the freed up disk space, it took several hours, seemingly, for the program I had erroneously downloaded to load itself, and that time could only be spent drinking copious amounts of Irish Whiskey.

But download it did, although my old MacBook Pro was smoking a shuddering like the star ship Enterprise fending off an attack from the Klingons.

Before I could actually resume the process I had apparently started a few weeks earlier, I was asked for my user name, which I couldn’t remember, and my password, which I probably knew (for a change) but it wasn’t going to do me much good without a user name, whatever it was.

A few days later, after typing in every series of letters and symbols imaginable that I could possibly identify as myself, I was in! O, brave new world! Now we were cooking with gas. Or so I thought, anyway.

I was instructed to simply “click and drag” the files my designer had sent into the little box. (By the way, in order to do so I had to learn all about the mysterious machinations of a thing called Dropbox. More time! More Irish!)

After several days, I managed to get his files open, as well as the program I shouldn’t have downloaded open at the same time. It was crunch time. Time for the magic to kick in. I held my breath. I clicked. I dragged. Nothing. I clicked again. I dragged again. Nothing. The files my designer had sent were for whatever reason undraggable! Undraggable files! What next?!?!

Oh, gentle reader, I’m glad you weren’t in my little kitchen to hear the volley of oaths that issued from my mouth that evening as I tried every conceivable method known to man, or woman, to drag those fucking files from my desktop into the little box in the program I never should have downloaded in the first place. Disgraceful. But, somehow, earned.

I contacted the company and sure enough, after several days of keen anticipation, a “real person” from the publisher informed that I couldn’t use PDF’s for my current purpose. I was stunned. This is hardly an obscure file format, this is PDF, for crisake! What the hell?

Clearly, I was out of my league. I called in every designer I know. I cajoled. I begged. I called in favours. One designer converted all of my files into JPG format, but then informed me the quality wouldn’t be good enough for print.

Another designer who had actually published a book with this publisher was good enough to come to my place yesterday to help me. I made her a cup of tea. She told me we would be finished by the time she had finished it. I laughed nervously, thinking I’d believe it when I saw it.

She showed me how to bypass the program I had been working in and things went swimmingly, everything was tickety-boo. The right sequence of buttons was clicked. We hugged and she was on her way.

And everything was perfect. At least, until I received an email informing me that the cover was all wrong. I frantically texted my guardian angel and she fixed up the cover and sent me the files and I went through the whole process again. Now, surely, everything would be ok.

I went out for a celebratory lunch. But when I got back home, there was another email from the publisher: the pages were not an acceptable size. Lord help me, Jesus.

So, now I have written a groveling pleading letter to my original designer asking him if he could possible be so kind as to change the dimensions of the interior pages. He’s already done way more than he should have had to and hasn’t actually been paid yet, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that. One thing I am reasonably sure of is that I’m not his favourite person right now.

Ahhh, dear reader. Somewhere the birds sing and the cows go moo and all is well with the universe. But not in my kitchen, currently. I still have miles to go before I sleep . . .

Stand by for further updates.

Thanks for reading!



No More Excuses – Time to Write Your Play   1 comment

So You think you have a play in you?     HENRY-MILLER-BIKE-660-1

Over the years I have had the good fortune to work with some great writers as an instructor and mentor, both here in Calgary and throughout the world. Many of them have gone on to becoming very good writers, seeing their work produced at theatres throughout the land.

For the last few years I have taught playwriting at St. Mary’s University here in Calgary, so my workshops have been restricted to that community. Now I have been asked to lead a workshop for the community at large, as it were, and so I’m seeing if there is enough interest out there to undertake such an endeavour. I believe we currently have four or five people interested. The ideal number for such a workshop is 12, so I am writing this to see if there are some of you out there wanting to enter into a writing workshop with me this fall.

The way it works is we come together once a week for a few hours, probably on Monday evenings, and bring scenes we have been working on to be read aloud by fellow participants. To take part in this workshop you have to be willing not only to bring in material to be read, but to read the scripts your fellow writers bring in as well.

I give feedback. We all give feedback. And then you go away and bring us a revision for the next week, or new material if you are trying to finish a play during this process. There are guidelines and protocols for giving feedback so it is always constructive and helpful and never bruising to the ego.

I am even open to the idea of welcoming writers working in other genres to the workshop. I feel some cross-pollination can be instructive and beneficial, so if you’re working on a volume of poetry, for example, we would welcome you.

If there is enough interest, I will look for a place we can meet somewhere in the core area. We would meet for a few hours Monday evenings and I know at least a few of us will welcome a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the evening, so it’s not all work and privation.

Just to make sure you take this seriously and so I make a little money for my troubles, there will be a $250.00 fee for the workshop. We will start sometime towards the end of the month of September and go until December. If possible, on our final night, we will read excerpts of everyone’s work for an invited audience.

So, if you have a play in you that’s itching to get onto paper, here’s your big chance. If you’re interested please let me know. If you know of someone who might be, please feel free to forward this information to them.

My email is Please put “Writing Workshop” in the subject line to help me avoid total confusion in my Inbox.

Thanks for reading!

Posted September 7, 2014 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

Talk Dirty to Me   4 comments

Typical daily traffic on my blog. And a section of Calgary's beautiful bike path system.

Typical daily traffic on my blog. And a section of Calgary’s beautiful bike path system.

You know how it is sometimes, you wake up in the morning feeling vaguely optimistic about the day ahead, and then some atrocity occurs and you find yourself cursing the gods above and questioning the very nature of human existence. Your own existence, on any account.

On the morning in question, I was attending a Stampede breakfast, happily munching on pancakes which I am probably allergic to and listening to country music which I’m definitely allergic to, when an acquaintance of mine came along and we did the “Hail fellow, well met” nonsense and proceeded to chitchat about everything that was new under the sun since last we’d spoken.

The conversation turned to blogs, as it will, when all other topics have been beaten into submission. We both knew I had one – this one, in fact – but only he knew that he had one too, but then he told me about it so I knew too, and I must admit it came as a surprise to me that he was writing one as he’s known as a person of the theatre and not as a writer.

A mutual friend who was witness to this momentous conversation asked, in the manner of a co-conspirator, how many “hits” his blog had received. He smiled, in the manner of the cat with a canary in its mouth, and reported that the blog was approaching a million hits. That’s 1,000,000 hits (Can). All this activity, all this traffic as we call it cyberly, in a year or so. In fact, less than a year.

Four eyes then slid over in my direction and I was asked just what kind of traffic I’d been enjoying on my blog, this one – and if you’re reading this, you’re part of my traffic and so thank you very much for your support.

Well, friends, numbers are odious, so I won’t bore you with specifics, but let’s just say that if my friend’s blog could be represented by the Deerfoot Trail, mine could then be represented by a small flood-damaged section of the bike path. This partly explains a low grade depression that kept me from writing this blog for the past while.

I think I’m OK now. Because as you know, I prefer the bike path and the people who frequent it (like you, dear reader) to the Deerfoot Trail. Any day of the week. So it serves me well to think of this is a “boutique blog,” important to discerning readers (like yourself), essentially ignored by the great unwashed.

Here’s the kicker and here’s the point: my friend’s blog is an example of what he happily calls “erotica.” He writes it in the voice and persona of submissive girl. (Which stretches my imagination in several directions, especially given the fact that my friend sports a rather lumber-jackerish beard and there is nothing girlish about him. But then again, what do I know?)

I mean it. What do I know?

As it happens, this was my second brush with an eroticist this summer. The first was in the embodiment of a very attractive young woman (although I have no idea whether she’s submissive or not) but I know attractive when I’m looking at it. She actually sent me a sample of her wares (after some begging on my part) and it was one of the erotic highlights of my reading career, maybe my life in total, made all the more poignant by imagining her (not to mention me!) in some of the erotic encounters portrayed therein in most detailed and delicious fashion.

In other words, it was hot. Fucking hot! Hot fucking! And I felt vaguely dirty after I read it. Especially the second and third times. She, too, proudly announces to poor unsuspecting souls like myself that she writes “erotica,” in the same way that she might say she writes poetry, or romance novels, or press releases for oil companies.

As far as I know, she doesn’t have a blog but if she did, I have no doubt her numbers would be in the zillions.

Well, I’m hardly a prude, but if you asked me, this is basically what we used to call “dirty” writing. In fact, when I was younger, there used to be what were referred to as “left-handed novels” and I’m sure you, delicate reader, can use your imagination as to what that means. I find myself struggling with the distinction between erotica and pornography, if in fact there even is one, a meaningful one, at any rate.

The dictionary on my computer (called the Free Dictionary, which is very good, and can be found at, for example, defines erotica as “literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire” and pornography as “sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.” Certainly, they seem like different sides of the same coin. A slim distinction, at best.

But I’m not writing this to take a holier-than-thou stance on erotica or pornography. Actually, as a writer, who teaches creative writing classes from time to time, I can only think than anyone getting their kicks from the written word, reading or writing it, this tiny island in the roiling sea of lewd and lascivious video images, is at least doing something beneficial for his or her mind. It seems downright quaint to think of someone getting his or her jollies from the written word. Maybe there’s hope after all!

What I find troubling is this reminder of the sheer volume of the interest in porn, sorry, erotica, compared to anything else. Such as this blog of mine, for example.  Christopher Hedges tells us in his brilliantly depressing book Future of an Illusion that the pornographic movie industry grosses twice what the “ethical” industry earns. And I am reminded of a tidbit from the past, that at the time that VHS and Beta were fighting it out for supremacy. VHS won out, even though it was inferior technology, because the pornography industry embraced VHS. Bye bye Beta.

The young lady who shared her erotica with me challenged me to write some of my own. I tried, but I felt like a 12 year old boy who has been caught masturbating. I scrawled (yes, scrawled) a few naughty words, but I was simply too self-conscious for it to amount to anything.

So while my bearded friend in the guise of a submissive girl rolls on to his second million, I will toil away here in the “ethical” trenches with the small trickle of traffic I have become accustomed to. My traffic numbers aren’t tied to anything other than my sense of self-worth anyway, so what does it matter?

I’m guess when push comes to shove, I’m old school enough to think that some things are best kept private.

Still, a million hits!

Oh well. Thanks for reading!

Here’s some funky “traffic” of a different nature from a long time ago.







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