Been confronted with two situations that have me wondering about ethics.

On the journalism front, I found out a group’s project may be illegal since they did not have the landlord’s permission to do it. I have to get a quote from the landlord and getting in touch with them may hurt/kill the project.

As well, my former employer just sent me a cheque for $100. Good news, right? Problem is I’m pretty sure this money belongs to the non-profit group. The administator is stubborn and will refuse to take the cheque back and insist the money’s mine.

How do you handle ethical dilemmas?

Inflatable balls shine pink as they're tossed in the air above the crowd

My love affair with Arcade Fire

For me the story of Arcade Fire is quintessentially Montreal. It’s a tale of an underdog band overcoming all odds and gaining success on their own terms. Something I aspire to do with my life. They’ve worked hard and deserve every minute of the adoration they’re getting now.

What with receiving a Grammy, a Juno, a Brit award and now the 2011 Polaris prize for The Suburbs, you wouldn’t expect the band to be so humble and playful and to display pure joy in performing a free show in the place where they got their start. Not only do they raise money for Haiti, they promoted American anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti (and recent book) by bringing Paul Farmer himself onstage to address the crowd of 101,000.

Last night’s free show at Montreal’s Place des Festivals captured that spirit. The band’s members are talented yet quirky. Some of their songs offer moving yet unusual insights (ex: from Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) “And the power’s out / In the heart of man / Take it from your heart / Put it in your hand.”) They love performing. There’s an artistry there and Régine Chessagne and Win Butler especially seem to enjoy the spotlight. The end of last night’s show was truly circus like, with a triumphant Régine spinning around in a hot pink, fringed dress, white inflatable balls tossed in the crowd picking up the colours of spotlights and Will Butler (Win’s brother) tearing apart and stomping on a drum he had been playing only moments before.

I saw Arcade Fire at Osheaga last summer and last night felt as though I was seeing some old friends who were back in town. I love the guitars and tambourines, hurdy-gurdy, violins and pipe organ influences and the choir-like singing the band is famous for – with plenty of ooohs. The songs are emotional and lovely and romantic. Even heartache is captured perfectly (ex: from Ready to Start: “And I guess I’ll just begin again/ You say, ‘can we still be friends?’/ If I was scared, I would/ And if I was bored, you know I would/ And if I was yours, but I’m not” or from We Used to Wait: “Now our lives are changing fast…only something pure can last”).

My friend had to cancel our concert “date” and the guy I was sort of dating didn’t leave his spot in the crowd to join me after I texted him my whereabouts. Arcade Fire’s songs hit the right spot, expressing the bittersweet mixture of sadness and joy I experienced. What a great band and what a great show. I feel truly blessed.

Oh and even if you don’t get a chance to see this band (please do!), be sure to check out this blog to get your Arcade Fire fix.

Organizer stands in front of projector

Letter writing last week

Last Wednesday night (Sept. 14), the back room of Le Cagibi became a refuge for quiet concentration. The usual loud music blasting from the speakers gradually disappeared and was replaced with mellower songs with lyrics that in one way or another mentioned letter writing.

A man sat at a table near the “front” of this back room, computer on hand in case anyone needed to look up a postal code. Free for the taking: lined paper and envelopes. Organizers sold fancier stationery in all sorts of motifs, along with stamps.

Heart to Hand Letter-Writing Night is the brainchild of two friends who love writing letters and wanted to share that passion with like-minded souls.

Throughout the evening, organizers read aloud letters from famous authors from the past and from participants willing to share. One brave woman read aloud a letter she’d written to a boyfriend years ago at the age of 20. She’d never sent the letter and is thanking the universe she didn’t. In speaking the words of her younger self, she showed compassion and love for herself  for being sometimes naive and scatter-brained at age 20.

It was a familiar feeling for me. I remember how lost and all over the place I felt at 20.

To help us concentrate, staff cleared tables of dishes. As a result, most tables were uncharacteristically free of clutter, though a few of us had tea and dessert going as we wrote our letters by candlelight. Two of my friends struggled to get words on paper. One was writing to relatives and occasionally wondered what to say to people she didn’t know very well. My other friend wanted to tell a good friend back home just how much she valued her.

I didn’t have trouble deciding who to write to, just what to say. I have a good friend who spoils me with well crafted, handmade cards and handwritten notes. He puts care and time in setting words to paper. Until I sat down to write, I didn’t realize how much effort this friend has put into our friendship so I expressed that. He loved the letter so much he’s sending me another.

There is something sensual and emotional about sitting down and writing a message directed to one person. My handwriting is chicken scratch and even worse now than it was when I was a child and more regularly corresponded with pen pals and relatives. But writing thoughts down and sending them to a particular person felt terrific. Feeling a sense of community with others who were also penning letters was comforting and inspiring.

There were a few letters I wrote but didn’t send. I penned two letters to this guy I’ve been sort of dating to express my anger at his emotional neglect and the mixed feelings I have of attraction and sadness and loneliness and feeling perpetually confused and emotionally unfed in this dating situation. It was great to write out my feelings, rip up the paper and put it all in a shredder organizers had thoughtfully provided for such a situation. I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one using that shredder.

I didn’t write a letter to the guy I crushed on all summer even though there’s much I could write about how I admire the loyalty he shows his friends and the devotion he shows his daughters, his good looks, intelligence, kindness and nurturing personality. Alas, he’s not available, had his heart smashed and bruised and broken and says he does not want a relationship with anyone right now.

sad-looking tree on Peel

Sidewalk tree obsession, continued


I wrote about downtown sidewalk trees for OpenFile Montreal after reading reports about tree deaths downtown and observing a Charlie Brown tree near UQAM (that story may be found by clicking on the Reported File tab).

I followed up with an interactive tree map showing how many trees each borough planted and cut down in 2010. I wanted more data then and still do. I initially asked for Excel data listing the location of each tree cut down in the Ville Marie borough, the species of tree, how long it had been there and why it was cut down but neither the borough nor the city appeared ready to give me that information. It was looking as though it would involve a long, drawn-out battle. So I settled on stats that seemed relatively easy to get – trees planted and cut down in 2010. I’m still waiting on two of Montreal’s 19 boroughs – Montreal North and St. Leonard. Most boroughs were friendly and willingly provided the information. Still, we’re a long way from open data in this city. I don’t see Excel spreadsheets being e-mailed anytime soon, if ever.

On my way to this year’s DrupalCamp Montreal at McGill’s McIntyre Medical Building I noticed several sidewalk trees on the west side of Peel between Doctor Penfield and Pine are either in sorry shape or have been removed.  I wonder why – were they damaged by McGill students, is it especially hard for trees to survive that hill, was there construction?