I haven’t posted for quite some time. Yesterday was the first in months, a simple review of this blog thanks to the people at WordPress. Today is about my year personally.
My calendar paints a picture of a year with a heavy emphasis on labour education and a lot of blanks from mid-July on thanks to an unexpected event. It’s been a year of surprises, growth, hard work, and family. Of loss and grief and perseverance. So much to tell.
This was my second year on the faculty of the Labour College of Canada, teaching a four-week advanced leadership class. The experience was every bit as rewarding as my first year. The College brings together a group of 30-40 highly motivated and committed labour activists who are hungry for the higher level of learning it offers. This work experience has proven to be a highlight for me each year and I’m looking forward to another in 2013. My co-facilitator is as different from me as you can imagine. Kai is Asian, raised under apartheid in South Africa. He is widely travelled, a former ballet dancer, exotic, mysterious and funny as hell. I am none of those things. Yet we have discovered we make a team that’s better than the sum of its parts. My discipline, organization and personal brand of creativity work well with his spontaneity, willingness to work in chaos and his bizarro mind. We have come to describe our approaches with a music metaphor. He is jazz; I am classical. Yet each of us has learned to play in the other’s genre and we’re both better for it. So, I believe, are our students. This year’s college ended with some new personal friendships as well which I will have to work to maintain since we are all separated by considerable distance and busy lives. They are worth it.
I was also lucky enough to be invited to instruct a course in conflict resolution at the Prairie School for Union Women this past June – an unusual experience to be working with a class entirely of women. The idea is that by keeping the classes to women only, it frees women to speak and to participate in ways they can’t when classes are mixed. In some ways, it was simpler. Despite a wide diversity of experience, there was some common language and understanding. It was also more complicated. The interpersonal dynamics were different. Little groups formed within the class and they didn’t all get along. Reminded me a bit of high school but more sophisticated. Once again, I was fortunate to work with a thoughtful and talented co-facilitator. I’d heard much of Adriane before working with her and frankly, was a bit intimidated. But we did well together and I believe each of us learned from the other. Another new friend.
My year continued with facilitating several sessions of a joint union-management course aimed at improving working relationships and developing a positive and productive approach to solving problems at work. This was part of an ongoing project that began in 2010 and is now winding down. Just one session left and then the final research and project report. It’s not clear to me yet what impact this training will have in the long-term but initial feedback has been positive. The challenge going forward will be maintenance and continuous development. We shall see.
Training with my own union saw three groups experience conflict resolution and leadership at both the introductory and advanced levels, as well as the launch of a short online training session aimed at introducing newly hired employees to their union. The online stuff has been especially challenging, far more so than I could have imagined. But it’s clear to me that it’s an area worth some development despite our very limited resources. Again, we shall see.
The advanced leadership course was developed out of material from the Labour College, reworked, restructured and advanced further. It’s always a leap of faith delivering any course for the first time and this was no exception. The first version went to a group of labour activists in the U.S. thanks to the efforts and vision of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild. Thanks, Tammy! I am most curious to check in with them early in the coming year to see what they’ve done with the training. And I must thank them for their willingness to be first – thanks to them, I made more changes in content and structure and rolled out the revised version in November. The course was better for it and the participants benefited greatly from the generosity of their American brothers and sisters.
So that was the work part of 2012. Sweetie and I made our annual trek to Arizona for a few weeks in March, a chance to put the brakes on winter for a bit. We plan to go again in 2013 but it may be our last year there. More and more, we struggle with the politics and culture of such a radically right-wing state. I will never get used to the sight of people walking around with side arms in holsters and the hatred towards immigrants. Each year seems to be more extreme than the last and we may have to find another warm place in the world to escape winter.
We lost a dear friend in May, someone I am especially missing now. May you watch over us with love and understanding, Kelli.
In July, Sweetie had a major setback. We had planned our annual two-week cottage vacation. Each year, we rent a log cabin situated on ten acres of bush right next to a small, clean, clear lake. Where Arizona is entirely a social vacation, the cottage is the opposite. It suits me well. There are no people. No phone. No internet. No traffic. No shopping. Just trees and water and quiet and bliss. The first time we went, it took Sweetie several days to figure how to do nothing but now, he looks forward to the rest and relaxation. Except for this past year. We were all set to go when Sweetie suffered an accident that broke his leg in three places, required surgery and laid him up for pretty much the rest of this year. Our house became a model for assisted living devices. He is moving around fairly well now and has abandoned his cane but he still has a lot of pain, a significant limp, and attends physiotherapy a couple of times a week. This accident also ended our plans for our first European vacation together – a trip to France I had spent months planning and booking. My capacity for compassion has been tested. Sweetie has done a better job of getting over the anger; I have work to do.
I did get to spend time with my mother this year, in July when she came to visit and again in November when I went to her and December when she was with me for the holidays. I am grateful for this time. 2013 will mark her 90th birthday – a reason for celebration if ever there was one. And my 60th – having some trouble with that but Sweetie and I are going to New York on my birthday weekend to hear my sister’s church choir sing at Carnegie Hall so I will be happily distracted. And of course there were all the usual and not so usual birthdays in 2012. My mother-in-law marked her 20th birthday – she was a Leap Year baby and is happy to remind her children she’s younger than they are.
The Christmas holidays have been filled with family, chaos and much love and laughter. Even an Elvis impersonator singing carols with Baby Sister’s choir singing backup. The tree is still up, still twinkling, still triggering memories each time I walk by. And each evening through this holiday season, Sweetie and I have been sitting in front of the fire and talking about life. We will do the same this New Year’s Eve after a leisurely fondue dinner. I am threatening to break out my new karaoke machine for a while before midnight. Sweetie has suggested alcohol might need to be involved.
So what will 2013 bring? Birthdays, celebrations, once in a lifetime experiences. More teaching and facilitating, perhaps with friends not seen for the past couple of years. That would be most welcome. Books to be read, places to go. Sweetie and I will do a rewind on the months of July through December and do all the things we had to postpone this year. My work will bring change that has yet to be determined, the cause of some anxiety but best to approach with positive vibes. I hope to write more, sing more, photograph more, dance more, teach more, learn more, connect more, reconnect more, love more, be more. And look for opportunities every day, no matter how small, to change the world.