Haha, Aha! and Ahhh…..

Energy and Spirituality

In my Ph.D. research I was attempting to investigate that moment of the creative ‘click’ which happens in design but also happens in our daily lives.  Let me just say I found out very little of practical value from my research but it did enable me to revisit a book that I read in 1967 – The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler (wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Act_of_Creation).  He separates creativity into three kinds of experience – the haha, the aha and the ahhh.  Each of these is what I call a ‘click’ and looking back I wonder whether the haha (where we get a joke) and laugh in a burst of emotion is physical energy, the aha (when we have a breakthrough with a problem we are trying to solve) is a burst of mental energy,  the ahh (when we look at a sunset or gaze into a loved one’s face) is a rush of spiritual energy.

The quest for spirituality is a life-long process.  Spiritual energy is a complex, subtle and mysterious but real thing.  How do I approach experiencing it? Words don’t do the job, religion doesn’t do it for me – art and poetry are better but the best way for me to experience it is in the presence of the sublime.

Sitting by the water watching the sunset; walking in a forest with the sun slanting between the trees;laughing with good friends; attending ceremonies with gravity (weddings and funerals, women’s marches);  understanding the generosity of those who volunteer for non-profit work; how about the moment when you realize that you are in love?:  these kinds of experiences bring us close to the sublime. They each result in a release of energy through an expression of emotion.

I have questioned my tai chi teacher closely about ‘chi’ – Chinese energy – ‘vital energy ‘ (the force that runs inwardly and outwardly through the universe and through us). He has helped me find the way to experience that energy – it is really subtle and I can’t yet see how that might tie in to the idea of spirituality. He has talked to me about Taoism and a friend (who is a spiritual director by trade (who knew?) recommended the book the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.

I am reading it but I find it hard to turn off my rational logical brain and allow the words to touch my spirit and yet they do.

The only art of mine that I have felt was any good has come close to that feeling of spirituality, sublimity or transcendence.  So much of what I do is layered, hazy, soft and translucent.Perhaps that means it is a little bit closer to ‘chi’.

Recently I had coffee with a friend – she radiates energy and when I asked her where it came from she said she has to work at it – an answer that surprised me and has given me pause for thought.  Working at how we get and give energy and materialize our spirituality is one of the main tasks of our lives.

Could we get energy for saving energy by engaging our spirits?


For West Vancouver residents’ eyes only: ‘OCP’ – just another annoying acronym or maybe something intriguing?


I could never have imagined how much I would enjoy living in my new place! I can walk anywhere – even when it snows. I have a bus stop about 150 feet from my front door. I have a small manageable garden. I met more neighbours before we moved in than I ever had in our previous (isolated) house.

cairo 1278
my old home

And, importantly, I have a smaller ghg (greenhouse gas) footprint. Oh… and a great view! 

my new home

Saving energy (the physics kind) in the future will be made easier if there is more energy efficient housing that is easily accessible (by transit and for the disabled – bound to be more of them in the future – we are an aging population!). Fewer of us will have to get in our cars for every little errand – we will be able to live closer to doctors, stores, gyms, restaurants and coffee shops. We could see our friends more often so we could share more human energy (really important for our health as we age!).

“Back Home”- family and friends are so important

What the heck is an OCP? It’s your Official Community Plan – something made by city staff and approved by your Council and required by law. It shows how land will be used for the next ten years or so (the last West Van one was 14 years ago!). The first draft of your new OCP is out for comment and I’m hoping as many of you as possible will take the time to read it. OK… I don’t really think that many of you will have a go at 50 pages but here are some highlights:


in 2041 our population will be 72% seniors, 20% older adults, 9% younger adults and only 4% youth and children
-sections 2.1.4 and 2.1.5 are about increasing ground-oriented multifamily housing and encouraging mixed-use and live-work development
-section 2.1.16 is about increasing rental housing
-section 2.4.22 is about car-sharing and 2.4.23 is about providing charging infrastructure for electric cars
-section 2.9.6 and 2.9.7 are about public art and the role of the creative sector


“Delta” – an art piece of mine that looks a bit like Ambleside from the air

-section 2.9.12 is about supporting urban agriculture, community gardens and farmers’ markets

You can attend events on the OCP that are being held all over town (see below). Hey – if enough of you are interested a staff member would come to my house and give a presentation and answer questions. Let me know if you would like me to arrange this! We could have a party afterwards! Email me if you’re interested.

pizza party! ( and isn’t that beer in the corner?)

I went to some public consultation events leading up to the OCP draft and they have been extremely well run and well attended by a variety of people. What is in the draft Plan is a direct result of these consultations.


So please get involved – our future in a very real way depends on it. Pass this blog on to as many people as you think are interested.  Let Council know what you think – a letter or an e-mail:
Mayor and Council
District of West Vancouver
750 17th Street
West Vancouver BC V7V 3T3
FAX 604-925-7006 (who uses fax anymore?)

A new Council will be elected in the fall and you never know who will be in charge the next time around.
Here is the link to the draft Plan:
Here are some of the presentations staff are giving:
West Vancouver Memorial Library, 1950 Marine Drive
• Monday, February 19: 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
• Wednesday, February 28: 1–4 p.m.
West Vancouver Community Centre, 2121 Marine Drive
• Thursday, February 15: 4–7 p.m.
• Tuesday, February 20: 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
• Tuesday, March 6: 4–7 p.m.
Gleneagles Community Centre, 6262 Marine Drive
• Wednesday, February 21: 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
• Thursday, March 1: 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
Municipal Hall, Atrium (ground floor), 750 17th Street
• Thursday, February 22: 1:30–4:30 p.m.
• Monday, March 5: 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

If you are an on-line freak here is the way to give input electronically:
Fill out a comment form or email your comments to ocp@westvancouver.ca
Comment Form

crocodiles, trees and energy








You may be wondering why I posted this picture and what it has to do with energy. The picture was taken in a house in a Nubian village at the southern edge of Egypt.

nubian village
A Nubian Village

I was with a guide – a Nubian boy of about fifteen who said suddenly “would you like a picture with a crocodile on your head ?” I was so taken aback I said (very tentatively) yes and before I knew it there was a crocodile on my head and my husband was being prompted to take the picture.

Here is an art piece of mine that evokes the feeling of the village. It was a beautiful place and the people were kind and gentle (and trying to make a living from the tourists that came their way). It was a really interesting experience  (as were the sand flea bites that provoked an allergic reaction and required medical attention).

Well the truth is I just love that crocodile picture – it’s so random! I often use random things as a nudge to myself to be more creative. It took a while to figure out a connection between crocodiles and energy and then I remembered a book that was a favourite of my daughter when she was young. It was called Bill and Pete (by Tomie de Paola). Bill was a crocodile who needed a new toothbrush so his mama took him to the store and he selected Pete for his toothbrush. Pete was a little bird who picked his teeth clean for him (I guess it took quite a long time). It’s a real thing! crocodile teth

Of course in the way of children’s books it turned out that Pete saved Bill from a Bad Man who wanted to turn him into a suitcase. Reading the book brought back all sorts of memories for both me and my daughter (who had been asked to unearth the book from her garage). As she handed it to me she said what fun it had been to go through her old kid’s books.
Here are Bill and Pete:

Bill and Pete are a great example of symbiosis – working together to each other’s benefit or, as my mother used to say, “give and take”. You give some of your energy to someone and they give you some of their energy back. Of course it doesn’t always work exactly that way – extroverts get energy from being with people and introverts are drained of energy from being with people. They have to replenish their energy with quality time alone.
My daughter is reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Xmas present). It gives another example of symbiosis where fungi in forests take up residence in the roots of a tree and stretch out in a network that extends the reach of the roots to connect with other trees allowing them to send chemical ‘messages’ and nutrients to other trees to warn them of dangers such as insect predators. I think people are like that. Here is a picture of my daughter and me when she was “a wee tiny wee” that I love and that reflects that idea.
With people it happens in small ways all the time – when you open a door for someone and they give you a smile and a thank-you which gives you a warm feeling. So in return for a little physical energy given you get a bit of spiritual energy back. Spiritual energy is a difficult subject  – people tend to shy away from it. It is something very personal and completely subjective.

First I should say what kind of spiritual energy I’m talking about here. It’s the kind of energy you feel when you get up in the morning and are in a great frame of mind. Maybe it’s because you had a good sleep or a great dream or someone you love said a nice good morning to you (or if you’re a crocodile maybe your bird sang you a little tune before getting to work on your teeth). There is a kind of energy exchange when people interact. I think this is spiritual energy. Water, food, exercise and sleep will give us physical energy but if we don’t expend that energy in some form we will experience negative effects (obesity, depression, lassitude, etc.). Spiritual energy often gives us the physical energy we need to do something. Counselling, therapy, a good talk with a friend or a session with the right book can help give us the spiritual energy to take physical action.

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  Warren Buffett

James Gleick in his book Time Travel: A History quotes Phyllis Rose: “the prose line wandered in time and space with any moment acting as a kind of diving platform offering access to a lake of memory, anticipation, and association”. My prose line for this blog involves the telling of the story of my picture in the Nubian Village and the story of re-reading one of my daughter’s favourite books. I’m hoping that my stories will bring some of that to you and spark spiritual energy that will bring you at the least a little pleasure and at the most a flood of your own memories of trips and reading books to your children and maybe even memories of being read to by your parents. Our impact on future generations might also come to mind. Gleick says that’s the closest we get to time travel. Maybe this could prompt you to find that cache of kid’s books in a box somewhere and re-read them to someone.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference, it does.”   William James

I hope this blog becomes like the fungus that attaches to a tree’s roots and enables the tree to send ‘messages’ to others (you can have others sign up to follow the blog!). Messages that will give energy in the form of hope and inspiration that will spread out slowly and surely to help make the world a bit better.
In that spirit here’s some info that might make you want to help make the world a bit better by eating vegetarian at least one day a week– it actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions (as well as water use – it takes 15,400 litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef!).

“Adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050, while widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%.”   The Guardian 2016

Bill and Pete would surely thank you (and the Suitcase Man will surely go to hell!).

bill & pete tuck in

Here is a link to a paper that gives scientific details: The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review, AndreaS.Wiley, Editor https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5094759/

Change the world and have fun doing it!

bob and me

It’s amazing what you can do when you have energy behind an intention. You can change the way buildings get built and have loads of fun while you’re at it! Above is a pic of me with Bob Berkebile – the wonderful architect from Kansas who led the workshop I am going to tell you about.

23 years ago CBC French TV called me at the University of British Colubinsmbia to say they wanted to do an interview on the construction of the C. K. Choi Building – a green building.  I had never been on radio or TV.  I knew something was up!  The video is in French…..I don’t exactly know what they are saying but here is a still that features the voluntary recycling bins erected by the contractor’s crew (getting into the spirit of things)!

3 years earlier I had started a job in charge of the new buildings at UBC going up under the dynamo new president David Strangway.  He had a ½ billion dollar building program underway and, in desperate need of a job to meet the mortgage, I was hired to look after it – an architect with a degree in environmental studies and a tree lover – a recipe for cognitive dissonance.  cakeSo in 1991, while staring down at the enormous excavation for the Rose Garden Parkade (a 4 storey cut through the earth like a slice through a layer cake –  roots showing like coconut strands and pebbles like walnuts), I conceived the idea (like a lightbulb going off in my head with a CLICK!)  that the next project must be a demonstration green building (saving energy, power, water and materials).  That was the C. K. Choi Building.

I tackled the project with huge energy.  Even though I was routinely asked “Does that mean that the building is to be painted green?” it went on to winchoi several awards and became famed as one of the world’s first green buildings and even has a Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._K._Choi_Building.

Dr. Strangway was a powerful figure and he wielded his power in many ways: high expectations for staff, lobbying of federal and provincial governments and fruitfully convincing donors to contribute to his World of Opportunity Campaign.  He succeeded amazingly (despite occasionally attending formal events with a forgotten shirttail hanging out).

A truly committed team worked on the building…..with (by chance) several female professionals. At the initial workshop (mentioned above) Bob, who was facilitating, asked everyone involved (academics, consultants, maintenance workers and students) to set shared goals.

Back Home_play-1
me and friends at ‘play’ 60 years ago!

Several team members later said that working on that project was the most fun they had had in their professional lives.  We gave them power to be creative – they changed the status quo and had fun doing it!

I (reluctantly) for a while became a local media resource for questions about green buildings…..way outside of my comfort zone as you can see in this 1 minute clip from a 1999 GVRD program….remember Kevin Evans?….. and….. what was I thinking wearing that awful skirt??!! – (it looks like the same skirt I was wearing for dress-up 60 years ago)


What is energy….what is power?

Despite their different meanings we use the words interchangeably (as I have done in the preceding paragraphs).

Alexander McQueen:
“his energy and enthusiasm were like something you could warm your hands on”
John Maybury in Alexander McQueen:  Blood Beneath the Skin

The definition of energy in physics is “the ability to do work” and that’s exactly what people mean when they say “I have lots of energy today”.

“he was like a whirlpool. he sucked men in by the sheer force of his energy and power until almost the whole of rome was mesmerised by him.” 
Dictator, Robert Harris 2015
strangway 1 copy
Dr. Strangway

Power is a bit more difficult to define: “the time rate at which work is done or energy emitted or transferred”.  A parked car has no power until the gas pedal is pressed to release the energy that fuels its movement. So power in human affairs is pretty close to power in physics. Like Caesar, Dr. Strangway radiated power.

Using your personal energy to make changes (singly or collectively) is the most fun you can have outside the bedroom.  There are lots of ways to reduce energy use besides turning off lights, turning down the thermostat and getting out of our cars.  You can get an energy audit of your house.

termal image
thermal image showing heat loss in red

It will tell you how much money you will get to help pay for any new equipment as well how much less your energy bills will be. I can see that this might not seem to be like much fun but if you organize a group of your neighbours to sign up for an audit along with you, you could have a pizza party and organize a friendly competition to see who can save the most energy…………those who have really wasteful houses would have an edge!

pizza party! ( and isn’t that beer in the corner?

Here’s a North Shore organization that can help you http://www.coolnorthshore.ca/programs/cool-neighbourhoods/.  You can have a high tech imaging camera brought to your home by friendly volunteers…..seeing how much heat you’re losing ….and then being told how easy it is to fix it!

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Identify and contact four to six interested neighbors or friends within 15-20 minutes of each other
  2. Select one person to be responsible for contacting Cool North Shore and serve as the group liaison, arranging the Weatherization Blitz
  3. Contact   info@coolnorthshore.ca or bmcmillan@coolnorthshore.ca or Kevin Welsh kevinj.welsh@yahoo.ca  with questions and to arrange a date and times with your group.

PS. After reflecting on what I had written for this post I was energized to try making a chocolate cake (a first for me!) that would look a bit like the Rose Garden Parkade excavation – so here it is, complete with coconut and walnuts.  You may not have been fooled by the picture in the text above but it’s not bad eh?


PPS The cake tastes great….a bit like a chocolate Xmas cake…..due to the layer of mincemeat…..but it is actually very dense and heavy – not a great success in baker’s terms…..I watch the Great British Baking Show so I know what a good cake should look like!

Why am I ‘mad about energy’?

What is ‘tugging’ me about energy and why do I want to start a stupid blog about it?

I’m mad about energy: I think about it all the time. I see fascinating references to it everywhere: scientists on fossil fuel energy, tech startups on renewable energy, musicians craving the energy from performing, actors feeding off audience energy, friends having no energy for housework, churchgoers receiving spiritual energy from a service. I want to find a way to tease out the commonality in the underlying mechanisms of physical energy, human energy and spiritual energy.

I’m mad about energy: that we can’t seem to get off our butts to actually address climate change: how hard is it to turn off a light or stop using our cars and flying around for superficial reasons? Well, it is really hard because we’re not doing much while the climate is getting angrier.  I want to find a way to inspire people to take action on climate change.

I have a passionate interest in Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (CAS) and how it can be used to help us understand humans: their motivations and their behaviour .  CAS, according to Wikipedia, are “systems that have a large numbers of components, often called agents, that interact and adapt or learn… The theory is seeking the answers to some fundamental questions about living adaptable changeable systems.” Examples of complex adaptive systems include: climate; cities; social networks; power grids; traffic flows; the immune system. My academic work delved into those creative moments where things come together in a CLICK and you can see the answer to  whatever issue you’ve been obsessing about (if you’re really seriously interested you can have a peek at my dissertation on design as a CAS here (warning: major cogitation  ahead!): https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0089244).

OK…this all already sounds a bit too academic.  I want to communicate to a wide audience so (as my husband always advises) I will use examples.

For a while I have been thinking about how to insert this passion for energy into my art.  A few days ago it came to me that the language of the internet uses fibre terms such as ‘strings’ and ‘threads’ so my art practice (which always involves fibre)  might involve a web-based medium.  I happened to be on my way to a meeting with the chair of my (now retired) Energy and Emissions Plan Working Group.  We were going to discuss how to communicate with the citizens of West Vancouver on ways to reduce their fossil fuel energy use.  AHA! it was a “CLICK” ….. perhaps I could combine my art with my interest in energy and local action in a blog.

So….I will use hands (art), head (science) and heart (care for community and environment) for this blog. And the threads I weave together might  ultimately become a cohesive whole…. a tapestry!…. well, I am allowed to dream.

Here are a couple of images of my artwork:  one of my daughter and me picking plums from the tree in the yard of our old house printed on silk and embroidered; one using an old lace hanky collaged with an image of a flower in bud. cherrypicking2dSlide5

PS The image at the top of my home page is of the view from the bottom of a shortcut from my home to the Seaview walk in West Vancouver (which has been subject to flooding in fierce winter storms; see video here http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/storm-damages-stanley-park-and-west-vancouver-seawalls-1.1226209).  I take a photo at least once a week between 7 and 8 am with the aim of putting them together over time to show the infinite variety of combinations of water and sky and light in a year (hmm – isn’t light just energy?)