Archive for the ‘ABES’ Tag

I can’t go on, I’ll go on . . .   4 comments

You will recognize those words.   Guillaume'spic

They are not mine but of one of my literary heroes, Samuel Beckett. My other favourite quote of his is:

No matter

Try again

Fail again

Fail better.

Words to live by, or so I think, on any account.

So where have I been, you might ask? Well, let me tell you . . .

The last you heard from me, I had been in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. An early and unpleasant premonition of my ultimate demise, I suppose. They went into my stomach with a gastroscope and cauterised the vein that was the source of the problem. I was meant to lie in the hospital for three days while they observed me but I had a rehearsal for a play I was dramaturging that night, so I checked myself out the next morning. I am a person of the theatre, after all.

That was one of two plays I was involved with at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. The other was a new play of mine called First and Last, which we produced at St. Mary’s and then immediately after with Rogues Theatre in Calgary. Both productions were directed by my friend Joe-Norman Shaw. If you are interested in a play for fifteen actors, with more female roles than male roles, let me know.

Somewhere in there, I did a cameo in a movie by director Guillaume Carlier titled Everybody Altogether Now. Thus began my career as someone who appears but doesn’t really perform, hence my new title for myself, Appearance Artist. (How brilliant is that?!) The photo above is from that film.

After that, if you can believe it, I was in a ballet!  Our Canada, conceived by one of my favourite artists and people,  Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre. I played the ghostly presence of Gordon Lightfoot. ballet1

Here I am slaying the Alberta Ballet Dancers. It was a beautiful ballet, and as you can imagine an amazing experience . . . but then anything is possible when you’re an Appearance Artist!

From there, I went to the Sunset Theatre in Wells, British Columbia, where I (guess what?) appeared in Morag Northey’s amazing creation for cello and narration, titled 17. This was another incredible experience. Morag is one of the most brilliant performers I have ever seen and heard. To sit beside her on stage night after night and witness her awesome artistry was something you can only dream of. We’re hoping to do the piece in Calgary before too long. Here she is, hard at work in the theatre lobby.


At the same time, I taught two terms in the MDRT Program at Calgary’s Abes College. This is a program for health care professionals from around the world, aimed at helping them get a job here in the medical system, instead of working at Tim Horton’s or driving Uber. This continues to be one of the good things I do in my life. Sure it pays some bills, but I love the students and I try to help them feel at home here in their adopted country of Canada. This is my student Jen celebrating the end of a brilliant term together.


I’m teaching a playwriting class at St. Mary’s currently. I am writing a play for my friend Duval Lang about an incident from the life of Calgary legend Bob Edwards. And I am writing a series of short stories based on life in my old neighbourhood in Regina, back in the day.

Busy as usual, broke as usual, and it will come as no surprise, recuperating from having my old heart broken,yet again. Sigh. I really had high hopes this time.

I will try to make this a much more regular appearance and have an exciting announcement to make in my next post.

I hope you are all well! Stay warm, take your Vitamin D, remember to smile.

Thanks for reading!




A Book Launch: The Literary Event of the Century!   7 comments

Everyone who’s anyone will be there . . . so read on!

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

On May 7 at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, I will be launching my novel, The Piano Teacher. Beyond launching a single book in a sense I will be launching a new incarnation of myself, this time as a novelist, adding to but not necessarily replacing other incarnations which have included, to date, musician, playwright, journalist and educator. (I may be missing a few.)

I suppose one way to stay young and humble and hungry is to leave your comfort zone and try something new. (Isn’t that what the Lulu Lemon bags tell us to do?) It’s always a bit scary and there is no real safety net but the risk of failure and public humiliation is not new to me.

Over the course of my writing career which includes to date 15 plays and almost 300 newspaper columns and numerous and various magazine articles and poems, I am quite used to sharing my failures along with my few successes.

For me, hell is not failure; hell is to stop trying new things.

I found the writing of the book to be straightforward enough. It’s written in the first person, in the form of a diary, so in a sense it’s an extended monologue – very extended, in fact, it’s about 70,000 words.

I wrote it mostly in Caffe Beano in the three small journals pictured here with a mechanical pencil. Yes, it’s true, I still prefer to hand write my first drafts when time allows. After I had filled the three notebooks, I was fortunate to receive an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant to transcribe it from those handwritten journals into my computer which was  a labourious but productive process.

The only part of the journey that was difficult and even unpleasant was finding a publisher. Being an award-winning playwright seems to offer little advantage when looking for a publisher for a novel.

I only showed it to two people in this regard, and both times I got the same response, that it doesn’t have a broad enough commercial potential. Quite frankly, I was proud of that, and maybe I’m arrogant (because I’m too old to be naïve) but I think the writing holds together well enough and because it’s about a classical musician, a concert pianist, and because I assume the classical music mob is one that actually likes to read, I think I’ll be ok.

I have no illusions that I’ll make a million bucks, but I’ll at least have a work I am proud of and that I created purely on my own terms.

And so I just said “Fuck ‘em. I’ll do it myself.” And so I am, through my own boutique publishing company, B House.

I have written about B House before on this blog (see, for example, Publish and Perish in my archives). Our biggest difficulty in the past (one of many, I assure you) has been with distribution. I think I have solved that problem by having it printed in two different ways.

Locally, as we have been doing, it is being printed by Blitz Print and those are the copies that will be available at my launch May 7. Over the summer I hope to get copies to other independent book stores in Calgary (Pages and Owl’s Nest) but by and large if you’re in Calgary and wish to buy a copy,  your best bet is to go to Shelf Life Books on the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW.

At the same time, the book is also available on line through or depending where you are in the world. (As is my play Queen Lear. Other titles will be made available in this way over time. At least that’s the plan.)

If you would like to buy the book on line, simply copy and paste this link and order away:

Beside providing you with hours and hours of entertainment, it will obviously make a nice present for your child’s piano teacher, or for Aunt Mable, or for the mail man, etc. etc.

Sorry, but one has to engage in some shameless self promotion from time to time.

As I was writing this post, I heard from my dear friend Morag Northey who informed me that she is going to bring her cello and grace us with some music at my launch. Morag created the musical score and performed the role of the cellist in my play Queen Lear at the Urban Curvz production a few years ago. Her support for this novel of mine means more than I can say.

If you’re in Calgary, I would love to see you at Shelf Life Books on May 7 at 7:00 PM. There will be wine and cheese and Morag and music and I will obviously sign your copy of the book – who knows, it might be worth something some day.

And wherever you are, I would appreciate your support through my online sales. Contrary to popular belief, we artists don’t live on air. It’s nice to eat.

Thanks for reading!

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


Moneymoneymoneymoneymoney   4 comments

cad-500I have mentioned elsewhere on this illustrious blog of mine that for the past few years, on and off, I have been teaching about “cultural vocabulary” at a place called ABES in North East Calgary. (Please see Cultural Vocabulary at ABES and Work, Work, Work.)

On thing I believe it’s important for my students to know is who’s on our money, from the Loonie on up.  I guess I might well ask at this point, to my Canadian readers, if you know, exactly, for all the times you’d handled, say, a ten dollar bill, whose picture appears on it.

I ask this because one day last week, I came upon a conversation between one of my students, a doctor from Pakistan, and a Canadian–born student from another of the programs. She was asking my student just what, exactly, we focus on in my class. (Another way saying, “What the hell do you do in there all day?”)

By way of example, he mentioned that he now knows who appears on our ten dollar bill. I asked her if she knew, to which she said she had no idea. The good doctor then informed her “It’s Sir John A. MacDonald.” To which she asked, “Who?” To which my student, who has been in Canada for all of six months, replied, “Our first Prime Minister, and The Father of Confederation.”

I guess we still must teach Canadian history in our schools. But I was really surprised, one might even say shocked and appalled, that a young, intelligent woman who received her education in Calgary wouldn’t know the answer to this.

While we might believe that all American students learn about George Washington (as we do in Canada as well), there are clearly gaps in the American system, as the following story illustrates.

A number of years ago, I found myself (not that I was lost, but you know what I mean) in New York City, specifically in Spanish Harlem. I was there with a program developed at Calgary’s Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts called the Playwrights’ Web. We had partnered (I hate using nouns as verbs, but sometimes it seems inevitable) a Calgary junior high school with one in Harlem,  the idea being that we would learn about each others’ cultures through the vehicle of playwriting.

The class in Calgary had been quite into the spirit of the project, but when I walked into that classroom in Harlem, it almost seemed to be the first they had heard of it. One young, diminutive fellow in the class walked up to me, in the midst of utter pandemonium, stood there looking at me, arms akimbo (as we used to say) and said, “Yo! You’re the man! You’re the big tall white man! Do something! Teach us something!” And then he returned to his seat, getting high fives and low fives from his classmates as if he played for the Yankees and was returning to the dugout after hitting a home run.

I remember at that moment looking at the door thinking to myself, “New York City is just beyond that door. I could just leave. Why don’t I just leave?” It was very tempting.

As I stood there contemplating the closed door to the classroom, three girls in the front row who were all in their best attire, and unlike anyone else in the room actually seemed interested in the program, engaged me in conversation. One of them asked, “Do you all got your own money up there in Canada?”

I said yes, indeed we do. I happened to have a Canadian 20 in my wallet and so I fished it out and held it up for their consideration. At the moment I held it up, the whole room went quiet. No more pandemonium.

The young dude came back up the centre aisle looking at the bill with great confusion and suspicion. At length he asked,

“Whut da fuck’s that?”

“That’s a 20 dollar bill, I said.

“No it ain’t,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I said.

“Where da fuck’s that from?” he asked.

“Canada,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “Where da fuck is dat, anyway?”

“North,” I said, “North of the Bronx.”

“And it’s like its own country?” he asked.

“We like to think so,” I replied.

“And you all got your own money up dare?” he asked.

“Yes we do.”

He leaned in and looked more carefully and then asked, “Who’s the fuckin’ chick?”

“That’s the Queen of England,” I told him.

He worked that around in his brain for a moment before asking, “What da fuck’s she doing on your money?”

To which I said, “That’s a very good question.”

And after that little interchange, we managed to have a very good week together. I taught them a bit about the theatre, a bit about playwriting, a bit about Calgary, and a whole lot about the American Revolution, which oddly enough, they seemed to know very little about.

And so it begs the question, “Who’s on your money, and why are they there?”

Have a look sometime. You might learn something.

Thanks for reading!


Cultural Vocabulary at ABES   2 comments

I managed to sneak one of my classes on stage at the Jack Singer after a tour of the downtown library.

I managed to sneak one of my classes on stage at the Jack Singer after a tour of the downtown library.

In 2009 I began a very interesting adventure in teaching at a school in north east Calgary called Alberta Business and Educational Services, or ABES, as it is known. They had just come up with an idea for a program aimed at helping internationally educated professionals, primarily in the health care field, find meaningful employment in the health care system here in Alberta. (I have written about ABES before: please see Work, Work, Work from August, 2011.)

I know we have all had a cab driver who comes from somewhere else and who has a PhD in some exotic field or other. I know it doesn’t seem right to most of us that we accept such talented people into Canada and then give them little or no opportunity to practice in their particular area of expertise.

Well, this program at ABES allowed me the opportunity to do something about that. The idea was that they would study for 12 weeks with me, and then study the very practical  program in sterile processing that would allow them to become medical device reprocessing  technicians. In other words, they would be cleaning up the instruments from the operating rooms and other areas of the hospital.

One might argue the merits of training former surgeons how to clean up the instruments they had used in their home countries as a matter of routine, but it was at least a door into health care services here. Compared to what a lot of them had been doing, such as cleaning floors at Tim Horton’s (as a pharmacist from Afghanistan was doing) or stacking apples at Superstore (as a surgeon from India was doing) or delivering pizza (which a veterinarian from Iran was doing), etc. etc. etc., this new gig we were offering in the hospitals was very prestigious and the pay wasn’t bad either.

For my part, it hasn’t been ESL, exactly. My boss at ABES, Mitchell McCormick, refers to it as “teaching a cultural vocabulary,” which is an apt description. Let me give an example of how I can build a whole week of lessons from something that emerges organically from the class.

During the last federal election, one of my students, a doctor from Cairo, asked me one morning, “What eez ziz I am seeing on all of zeez signs everywhere, Fote, Fote, Fote?”

“Fote? Oh, you mean vote.”

“Zeez eez exactly vot I am saying: Fote.”

Well, I explained, we were in the midst of a federal election and we were being encouraged to vote. And as I said this, it dawned on me that the entire concept of a free election, which we take so much for granted in Canada, to the point that most of us don’t even bother to vote, was an entirely new concept to many of my students, depending on their country of origin.

This allowed me to tell them about our political parties (maybe one in ten would typically know who our Prime Minister is, for example) and the history of politics and Canada going all the way back to Sir John A. (And despite the fact all of my students had handled many ten dollar bills in their time here, none of them knew the name or significance of the old boy on the ten, let alone the guy on the five, but of course we would get to Laurier eventually.)

So, a reasonable exercise was then to find out what ridings they all lived in, who their MP was, who was running in the election, the nature of their platform, etc. etc. etc. In a subsequent provincial election we did the same thing.

You get the idea. What I teach is very practical, meaningful and inclusive. All of my instruction is aimed at helping my students get a job, and instilling the feeling that they are informed and valued members of our community.

This program has been a remarkable success by anyone’s standards, with a completion rate of 97% and an employment rate of nearly 90%. For me, personally, it has been a good fit into my lifestyle, providing some structure and steady income for roughly half of the year, and then affording me the freedom for my other pursuits the other half. This summer, for example, has been taken up with the writing of a novel. But even as I have taken the time to write my novel, there is now a growing concern that the program may not be renewed.

I have seen firsthand just how effective this program is, not just in terms of job training, but perhaps more importantly restoring a sense of hope in our students, and the attendant dignity that goes along with having a meaningful job that allows them to provide for their families.

Unfortunately, the funding for the program has always been tenuous and now we are worried that despite its unparalleled success, it could be cancelled altogether. Honestly, there are so few good opportunities out there for the community we are serving with this program that it would be extremely unfortunate if the funding were not renewed.

You know, it’s not easy immigrating to a new country. I know the alienation and even despair my students feel when they first walk into my class. Yet, I have seen so many of them grow and take their place in our community thanks in no small part to a cool little program in a cool little school just a little east of Deerfoot.

We put together a short video, narrated by yours truly, which I am including below for your further edification. If you agree with me and can see for yourself the importance of this program, please feel free to share this post or just the video itself with others, including MLA’s and other people who could influence a decision on the future of this program.

In the words of the poet, “Don’t it always seem to go, seems you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone . . .”

Thanks for reading!

Some Ancient Chinese Medicine   6 comments

These days I derive part of my income from teaching internationally educated health professionals – doctors, surgeons, dentists, nurses, and such – at a place in North East Calgary called Alberta Business and Educational Services. (I wrote about ABES, as we call it, and what I do there in a post called Work, Work, Work which you can find  in the archives to the left, written in August, 2011.)

Invariably I have these medical types give a class presentation on alternative medicine, and inevitably one of my Chinese students will deliver a lecture on acupuncture. In fact this term we had three such presentations.

The best description of the whole concept came from my student Shu, who showed a map of the Calgary C Train system to illustrate that the flow of the C Trains is like our Chi, our energy, and the stations on the map are like the pressure points on our bodies. The same day, another student with the western name of David, who is a doctor from China, gave a presentation on the practice of cupping.

As I sat listening with my aching back to these presentations, it suddenly dawned on me that rather than sit there in discomfort for the rest of my days, perhaps I should check out acupuncture myself and see if it would offer me some relief.

And so on a lovely Saturday morning in the late autumn, my friend Gord gave me a ride to the outer reaches of North West Calgary and I found myself in the home and small clinic of a very “authentic” Chinese acupuncturist, Fangping, a friend of my student Shu.

I managed to communicate the nature of my complaint, which I suppose is probably nothing more than garden variety sciatica, and soon enough I was in the prone position with Fangping ready to treat me. (I am resisting the obvious corny metaphor of being turned into a human pin cushion.)

Before she started the acupuncture, she used the cupping technique, which David had told us about. This involved about six small glass cups about two inches in diameter applied to points along the back and on the upper buttocks. The cups are designed like suction cups, and a vacuum is created, cinching up the skin and everything underneath it. (In the old days, the vacuum was created by heating the cups, but Fangping thankfully had an updated version of this ancient device.)

Lying there with the muscles thus torqued, I felt a gentle pressure being exerted, causing a stretching in the area that seemed to relax the underlying muscles. The cups were left there for about ten or fifteen minutes and when they were released, the whole area felt more relaxed. It’s hard to explain just what it felt like, exactly. But it certainly felt different.

And then came the main event,  the acupuncture itself. The needles were inserted along my lower spine, then out towards the hip in the upper buttock area, as well as a couple at specific points behind each knee. It was impossible to see what she’s doing but she seemed to manipulate the needles (jiggling them up and down) in a pattern at regular intervals. I went into some kind of deep trance while this was going on so it’s hard to say.

After half an hour or so, the needles were removed and I was good to go.

Because it was my first time, I may have been a bit apprehensive at certain times, but I can honestly say that nothing Fangping did caused me any pain whatsoever. All in all it was a very easy treatment to endure.

So the big question . . . did it work?

Yes.  In fact, it did.

I did something to my back cycling about a month ago and have been in pretty consistent pain ever since. It’s usually manageable with a bit of rest and some Advil (amazing what one can get used to) but sometimes it can get very uncomfortable. And painful.  Obviously it was bad. Why else would I have sought out help?

I got back home from my session and lay down for a bit, and when I got back up I didn’t feel any pain at all, not even a twinge. By the end of the evening, there was a bit of discomfort, but it still felt much better. I didn’t expect a problem that’s been present for decades to magically disappear after one session. Fangping suggested I come back for a few more treatments and I will.

There are other more esoteric applications of acupuncture that interest me, beyond a quick fix of a bad back.  These have to do with the above mentioned flow of the chi through our bodies. Could repeated treatments make one feel more awake, more alive, more happy? Or cause one to see and hear better, sleep better, quit smoking, lose weight?

I see no reason to think that it wouldn’t help in any or all of these areas, and then some.  As far as I’m concerned, you can’t argue with results. If you have ever thought of trying acupuncture for whatever ails you, I highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading!

David and Shu at ABES

Work work work   2 comments

Tuckered out at the Zoo, here I am sleeping on the shoulder of Igor, a miliary doctor from the Israeli Army.

For the past few years off and on I’ve been working at a place called Alberta Business and Educational Services (ABES) in North East Calgary.

With some of my students: Farhana, Joya. Parinita and Priyanka. It’s not so hard to go to work every day.

They have a program aimed at helping doctors from other cultures integrate into the health industry here. I think it’s a sad and somewhat outrageous situation, we let these intelligent and talented people into Canada because they are doctors, and then we tell them they can’t practice here. I suppose the argument goes, well, some of them are from the third world, we don’t know how good their education was there. Tell that to a former student, Dr. Rau, who was an orthopedic surgeon in India, and who went to Nottingham in England to do post doctorate work in sports medicine. He became the head of the sports medicine clinic there. He then came to Canada, where he could only find a job stacking apples at Safeway for $9.00 an hour. Meanwhile, we have an acute shortage of doctors here. Go figure.

In the past few years, I have taught people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Belarus, Slovakia, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakstan, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Israel, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, The Congo, Congo-Zaire, Guinea. Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, even Australia — I’m probably forgetting a few but that will give you a sense of the international flavour of my classes.

It’s not ESL per se. It about helping them understand language well enough so they can have the best experience possible in their new country.

Most of them have given up very prestigious and lucrative careers (mansions, maids, the whole nine yards) to come to Canada because they perceive that their children can have a better future here. All I try to do is make them feel welcome and give them the skills to get a foot in the door in the health industry. Most of them will never be doctors here. The current system makes it too hard and too expensive for them to pursue accreditation. But most of them, I believe, will have a good life here. And their children will in fact have opportunities here that they never would have had back home.

So, after a few glorious months of working on my new play, riding the bike paths, hanging out at Caffe Beano, reading Italian mystery novels (Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series)  it’s back to work for me this morning. I don’t like the idea of it, clearly I should have been born wealthy, not just rich but WEALTHY, but I like the work and I love the students and it’s not so bad at the end of the month when they pay me.

Hi ho . . . .

Posted August 4, 2011 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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