Something From Everything  

Liz Gilbert and her 20 foot face

Inspired by author

Liz's Gilbert's face was at least 20 feet tall.

The auditorium was buzzing, vibrant with the hum of hundreds of excited, imperceivable conversations all around me. At the front of the stage was a giant picture of Gilbert, author of a number of bestsellers, including “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”. She holds her face in her hands, a knowing and weary smile just touching her lips and eyes. It was the face of someone who had a secret, but held it in a way that conveyed both apprehension and excitement.

In front of the giant portrait sat a massive audience. The theatre held nearly a thousand - a packed show. Some members of the audience had young unblemished skin and tight curls. Others stood hunched, their faces marked by age spots, laugh and worry lines etched deep, and had brilliant silver hair that had long since lost its original colour. One mother brought her daughters, no more than 10 years old. Many brought their moms.

Notably, the audience was almost entirely women. As we walked towards our seats, I estimated there might be 10 to 20 men in the whole auditorium. I was struck by how unfamiliar that felt to me, how rare a thing to be in a space completely dominated by women.

I laughed at the strangeness of it. This tour was based on “Big Magic,” a book about living a creative life with wholehearted courage. When the tour was announced, I was reading and enjoying that book, so my partner bought the tickets for me as a gift. But no one looking at the audience would ever believe the evening was for me. I looked the part of an unfortunate and unsuspecting husband, dragged along on his wife’s insistence. The optics of it were immediately apparent to my wife, annoying her and giving me no small amount of amusement.

My partner and I were silent as we took our seats, aware of the buzz of expectant excitement all around us. The space was pregnant with anticipation. But anticipation for what? We didn’t know exactly what this evening would be.“Big Magic” was released years ago (in 2015), and Gilbert had written a handful of books since then that didn’t seem to be a part of this tour. Would she be reading to us from the stage? Was this even a book tour?

We started the evening with so many unanswered questions. And Liz Gilbert’s 20 foot tall sly smile wasn’t giving out any answers.

And then, with a brief introduction from her publisher, the real Liz Gilbert emerged. Dwarfed under the backdrop of her 20-foot face, she appeared positively pedestrian in her short cut hair, thick rimmed glasses and khaki pants. The audience erupted with applause, and then settled into attentive silence.

And then Gilbert spoke. For over an hour, she held our collective attention fast. There was no covert multitasking, no faces washed in cell phone glow checking time or notifications. Instead, there were bursts of laughter, there were murmurs of agreement, there were fingers slid across eyelids, wiping away the occasional tear. There were gasps of shock, the collective intake of breath, and smiles of understanding and connection between complete strangers.

I wouldn’t describe the event as a comedy show, despite some of those tears being those of laughter. It was not strictly a motivational speech, despite the fact that many of us came away profoundly moved, motivated to approach our lives with renewed passion. I also wouldn’t call it promotion, despite the fact I came away with even greater interest in Gilbert, and her writing projects.

After the show ended, as we left the auditorium and walked along the busy sidewalks to our car, I wondered what, exactly, we just saw. We were part of something special, but what exactly, and why was it so impactful?

It was a performance, certainly. There could be no doubt that the material of the evening had been meticulously practiced, curated and masterfully performed. Sitting down to listen to someone talk for a solid hour could either be a joy, or considered a form of torture. But care was taken with this evening and these stories. The audience knew they were in good hands from the first moments. No joke felt canned, no story over dramatized, no life lesson fabricated.

At its core, the event was a surprisingly simple one. Years ago Gilbert started writing advice and observations on how to live a creative life beyond fear, and was suddenly confronted with the realization she better practice what she was preaching (or “smoke what she was selling”, as she put it). She committed to follow her curiosity and creativity wherever it went, even (and especially) when it terrified her.

In the years that followed, she wrote a collection of stories about how that authentic bravery was both an invaluable gift and how it cost her dearly and remained a constant challenge. Those stories were deeply personal, but the themes of authenticity and courage were universal.

Those two traits are actually inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. Those who aim to be brave and courageous without authenticity are really only posturing. Those who dare to be authentic, to be fully themselves, they require the courage to look both within and without with clear eyes.

The evening wasn’t captivating because of Gilbert’s particular set of skills or status as an accomplished author. It was captivating because she was brave and vulnerably authentic. It was much less about her books, and more about the conditions she keeps herself in to be able to write them.

It was her humanity, rather than her celebrity, that called to us that evening.

Liz Gilbert, the New York Times bestselling and celebrated author, who travels the country with 20-foot tall promotional portraits was pretty impressive. Liz Gilbert, the vulnerable, creative and courageous human was even more so.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Trip to Vancouver Island gives author a perspective on time

Tofino, and time

I have an interesting relationship with time, and Tofino.

This past spring break, our family visited the small town, nestled atop a peninsula on the westernmost end of Vancouver Island.

The 40 kilometres between Tofino and neighbouring Ucluelet include part of the Pacific Rim National Parks reserve, and an undisputed embarrassment of natural riches for hikers, surfers and beachcombers alike. Dense rainforests, filled with old-growth cedars, Douglas firs and Western hemlock, give way to more than 16 kilometres of driftwood-laden sandy beaches.

Our family spent five packed days exploring, scaling jagged rock formations and peering into tide pools. We navigated roots and ropes on vertical climbs, and trudged through mud deep enough to swallow our hiking boots whole. We climbed up cascading (and sometimes) leaning staircases and we paced countless steps on winding slick rainforest boardwalks.

And each time we would come to an expansive vista, monument or even a familiar food truck or surf shack, I would be hit with the same deja-vu-like feeling—the moment was both novel and familiar.

I felt as if I kept stepping into moments I had lived before. Because I had.

This was my third visit to the area. My partner and I camped near these same beaches nearly two decades ago when we were newly married. We returned again nearly eight years ago, with three young kids in tow. But of both trips, I have only the faintest of memories, orphaned images without connection or context.

My partner has no such difficulty remembering these moments. In jest, or to assist my memory, she uncovered photos from our initial visit long ago. It was the indisputable proof—there we were, the people we once were, hair longer and lighter (unkempt and frizzy in the rainforest humidity), no wrinkles on foreheads or any deep creases around the eyes and mouth. There we stood, posing on the exact same walkways, beaches and at the taco stands we would visit so many years later.

Frustration, even a bit of self-loathing, lurks at the door. What is the value of those experiences if we don’t remember? What is the value of a life, if so much of it is either forgettable or forgotten?

Excuses are there, if I want them. The passage of time takes its toll, as does sleep deprivation and the busyness of a household filled with young children. We’ve been fortunate to go on a lot of road trips, and to see many beaches in those nearly two decades. Certainly there is some overlap and errors in recording, muddying the mental timeline.

But even reasonable excuses won't protect me from the nagging suspicion I’m missing out. That regret will come not from making the wrong choices but from distractedly sleepwalking through this one wild and precious life, even in the most amazing of places.

Mid-trip, I began to wonder about time, and the memories I was making. There I was, staring out on that endless ocean, my chattering internal dialogue quieted by the constant, cyclical roar of the sea. I wanted to take it all in, the rocks, the sea, the salty air. I wanted to cling to it, stubbornly, the way all these barnacles clung to the rocks beneath my feet.

I unrolled time, both backwards and forwards. I imagined myself in another decade or two, reflecting on this moment, remembering each and every detail. What would that memory look like?

I recommitted myself to taking in all that I can, even as I am unsure how. I took fewer photos, knowing the collection of images is a poor substitute for memory. Instead, I fould myself taking mental snapshots, interrogating moments.

I watched my youngest make a collection of shells for a hermit crab he’s found, and notice behind him the glasslike reflection of the early morning sand. I saw the pride of my 13-year-old, holding trepidation in check as he climbs above the crashing waves of an outstretched rock.

I felt the thumping in my chest as I climbed vertically amongst mud and roots that serve as both step and obstacle. I watched the way my eldest’s hair danced in the wind as she scoured the horizon line of the sea for fin or blow. I stared at the unexpected head of a sea otter, surfacing in the immediate wake of our boat.

I took in more, such as the best salmon taco I’ve ever had, gelato ice cream so good we returned three days in a row. I took in the sounds of aggressive and hopeful crows that stood sentry at each and every food truck, stroking their beaks in hostile anticipation.
I also took in the inconvenient and unpleasant, the copious amount of smoke from waterlogged firewood, the inflation of every grocery item or side of fries, the feel of my feet as I stepped into my still damp shoes from the night before and the the toilet that threatened to overflow due to a temperamental septic system.

I took it all in, or at least I tried to. I kept taking it in, like an impossibly deep breath, filling my lungs with salty air until they were ready to burst. And then I held it. My lungs full of air for only a few moments. The memories, hopefully much longer.

Now, back home and few weeks later, I’m not sure how well I’ve done. Did I pay close enough attention? Will the vivid memory be the same in a year? In 10 years? In 20 years? Time will tell.

What I know of time is it is relentless, impersonal and linear, never stopping or even slowing down to make sure I’m paying attention. But I also know time has been incredibly generous. Time has given me enough of itself that I have both experienced, and forgotten, thousands of moments.

Despite being linear, time seems cyclical as well. Without ever stopping, it seems to invite me to pick up the plot, again and again. Time seems to repeatedly show me places, people, events and challenges and whispers “this moment is new... but doesn’t it look familiar?”

When it does and when I’m frustrated at the mistakes I’ve made, or the moments I’ve missed, time never seems vindictive or punitive. It simply asks over and over, “what would you like to pay closer attention to, this time?”

And I’m grateful for yet another chance to learn.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The benefits of public acknowledgement

Writing off AI's creations

The ad stares up at me, accusingly.

I don’t remember pulling the phone out of my pocket, or clicking on the app. But I know what I was doing the moment before. I had just stepped away from the desk, away from the computer and away from (yet another) half-written, half-baked, soon to be abandoned post.

Writer’s block had reared its hideous head. It looked less like a blank screen and more like a thousand false starts. Like a loss of conviction.

I turned toward my favourite distraction, an online marketplace, mindlessly mining the dopamine-rich combination of shopping and unpredictable rewards, avoiding advertisements which seemed to occupy more and more of my screen.

But this ad was effective, stopping my thumb mid-swipe:

“Hate writing blog posts?” it asked.

No!... I just...it’s just... it’s been a while”. The defensive response in my mind trailed off.

I read on.

The advertisement was for automated blog posts, generated by artificial intelligence. If I wish, an exchange could be arranged. I part with some money, some key words, general direction and desired tone, and the AI chat bot will make a post that is intelligible, the exact length I desire and even laden with my favourite phrases.

If the program is intelligent enough, and I give it enough raw data to work with, it may even sound... just like me.

Anxiety over content creation could be a thing of the past. No more half-written posts, no more writer’s block. Pure productivity. Or so the advertisers promised my soul.

There is truth to that promise of productivity. The number of AI-created, or assisted, projects in this world are increasing drastically and set to explode exponentially.

You are no doubt familiar with the widespread breakthroughs of artificial intelligence programs in recent months. Images created on programs such as DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion are widely shared on Discord, Facebook and Instagram.

Open AI chat programs, such as Chat GPT and Bard AI, are answering questions and completing requested tasks in natural sounding language. Already these most complex AI programs are remarkably accessible, but soon they will be even more so, integrated fully into the world’s largest search engines.

There is a lot of discussion, sound reasoning and wild conjecture about the near future that is being shaped by AI right now. But one thing is undeniably true—the toothpaste is well and truly out of the tube. We’re not going back. We can’t.

In addition to the widespread AI-created images on social media, AI art is being used in film, architecture, and fashion. As I’m writing this, Chat GPT is credited as co-author to more than 200 books listed on Kindle. AI narration is being promoted by Apple Books, set to create instant audiobook equivalents for each written work uploaded.

Soon, it will be impossible for high school teachers and university professors alike to discern what papers are written “the old fashioned way” rather than AI-assisted (or even wholly composed).

This is perhaps where AI programs are poised to be most utilized, those banal and everyday projects we'd rather not labour at. The program that transcribes workplace meetings and then turns that transcription into meeting minutes and lists actionable items. The school essay on the merits and drawbacks of such and such. An AI-narrated audiobook in a distinct vocal tone rather than hours spent in front of a microphone. Even an easily compiled blog post, for when you hate writing blog posts.

But do I? Do I hate the reality of writers’ block? The hours spent trying to write something meaningful without success? Deleting pages of previous written material when you come to the unsettling conclusion that it’s just not good enough? Yeah, I hate that.

Does the student hate the hours researching and note-taking, the hard work of understanding themes and synthesizing data? I know I have.

Does the author hate all the hours spent reading aloud material they’ve already picked over and edited a hundred times, only to find a new turn of phrase that sounds forced or awkward? I’m certain they must.

But I’m not ready to automate these tasks, either.

It’s important to note I’m not a technophobe. I am writing this post on a computer after all, not typing on a typewriter or scribbling the letter forms by hand. And I appreciate that if I wanted to record by dictation and transcription, it would make me no less an author.

Advances in technology and automation always disrupts, always displaces and also creates new, unforeseen possibilities. I can hardly imagine how many brilliant creations will come forth from people who have never felt talented enough to write a song, paint a picture or craft a story.

I am as entertained as anyone at the bizarre and beautiful visual creations being created and shared. I am both fascinated and unnerved by how human sounding AI created essays can be. Along with the (very real) fear of job losses and downsizing, is a potential increase in workplace productivity I don’t think even the most forward-thinking of us can adequately get our head around.

If these tools are enabling and amplifying the work we want to do, then we should all raise a glass in celebration. The world needs more imagination, more stories, more art. But if these tools are used primarily for outsourcing and automating our lives, we should consider what the true personal cost might be.

As Henry David Thoreau so accurately perceived, “the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run”. The “long run” is the caveat here. The immediate exchange is incredibly appealing—decreased effort for increased efficiency and productivity. The longer exchange is much more hidden.

There is so much life buried in the mundane, monotonous or (even) despised elements of our work and play. Consider the way that seemingly unrelated and independent pieces of information can give way to larger themes when studying. When listening to recorded audio, we can hear the difference between words that are merely read aloud, and the almost tangible sense that the orator is creating and safeguarding a sacred, shared space for the listener. Our greatest artists’ illustrations always reveal something of themselves, not only the scene they are trying to produce.

What’s being undervalued in these discussions is process. An outsourced, automated, quicker process may be the aim of companies and their advertisers, but the individual may want to consider the value of process.

I know that each time I sit down to create a thing, it never reveals itself all at once. I don’t know how an AI program would help me with this, as much as it irritates and perplexes me. I know the way a good question stays with me, gnaws at my awareness. Like I’m trying to complete a second hand jigsaw puzzle that I’m not even sure I have all the pieces to.

But I also know that frustration and curiosity are strange bedfellows, and I pay more attention when I can feel that I’m missing something. I also know the pure joy of discovery, that moment of clarity when you uncover what has been hiding in plain sight the whole time.

So, no. I appreciate the offer, but I won’t be outsourcing even the most infuriating aspects of my writing, or my life.

I recognize I could have created hundreds of generated essays in the span of writing this one. I don’t doubt that those essays would have been entirely readable, maybe even humorous, intelligent and wise or that my productivity could be so much greater.

But it wouldn’t be worth the cost. Not in the long run.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

It can be a lot of things

We loaded the family into the car on the coldest night in nearly a year.

Despite having started the engine prior, we slid onto still frozen leather seats, listened to the car hinges creak in objection as we closed the doors, and shivered in place as we watched our breath form and then dissipate before us.

Considering the cold, there were remarkably few objections from the back seat. This was one of our favourite Christmas pleasures, even if it was a simple one: the annual hunt for the best and brightest lighting displays in our city.

We started the holiday playlist as the car began to lurch forward, wheels crunching into the squeaking packed snow beneath. Soon we would be singing along to “You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch”, arguing whether “Last Christmas” was so bad it was good (or just plain bad), and musing over how the most popular version of “Sleigh Ride” could be both tacky, and a classic.

We ignored the price of gas as our hunt took us from one end of the city to the other. We turned indiscriminately down promising looking side streets, where luminescent bulbs beckoned us closer. We marveled at lights wound tightly around branches of towering maple trees. We admired restrained displays of outlined awnings, windows and door frames.

And then we observed the spectacle.

We drove wide eyed past whole communities illuminated in blinding lights. Past icicles that fell in cascades, past houses bathed eerily in a crimson red glow, past strobing lights spelling out Christmas greetings. Past inflatables and animatronics. Past snow capped and illuminated Nativity scenes, Santas, Frostys, Minions and one adventurous Grinch dangling from a line of lights strung up between two unified neighbours.

But all of the illumination of that neighbourhood, the pomp and the pageantry, was positively subdued compared to what came next. A single house dazzlingly lit with over 18,000 RGB pixels, casting Christmas music by FM radio to any and all passers by. Each new song was accompanied by coordinated lighting, scrolling lyrics, pixelated graphics displayed on the main living room window, and a snowman whose digital face mouthed each and every word.

We stared into this stranger’s front yard and windows for a long while, while upbeat, bass pounding songs about angels and stars and saviours and snowmen washed over us. To my kids, it seemed pure magic. And I sat there, marveling at the work, the cost and commitment, the extravagant production of it all.

It would have been a fitting end to the evening. But we had one more sight to experience.

We had all seen the Tree of Hope before, of course. A great glowing tree of nearly 50 meters is hard to miss, and easy to spot from any number of surrounding communities and side streets. It is easily my favourite holiday decoration in our city. A sight both grand, and restrained. Gigantic, yet simple in form. Over 25,000 LED bulbs, but all a simple white. Luminous, but also transparent. I have admired this landmark for as many winters as I have been in Kelowna, but until recently, I had never come right up to it.

You really should though. Things can look very different up close.

We were able to park just feet from the attraction, and stepped out of the car into the bristling cold. Our kids reluctantly posed between chattering teeth in front of the tree, and then immediately ran back to the warmth of the still running car, shortly followed by their mother. I stayed a while longer.

Up close, the ‘tree’ didn’t resemble a tree at all. Staring up into its latticed, crane-like centre column and surrounding metal rings, it looked much more like a construction project than a living thing. The countless strands of vertical lights quivered and knocked against their anchors in the winter wind, as if they were also shivering in the cold. There was no warmth from those lights, and despite their great number they seemed feeble in contrast to the endless black sky above them.

How strange that drawing close to something would reduce it. I turned towards the car, towards warmth, and towards home when something flickered in my periphery. It was another illuminated Christmas tree, this one lacking no radiance. This one seemingly alive, shimmering and dancing, shifting with my every step. It was an illusion, of course. The windows of the surrounding office buildings had reflected the original tree, but the oppressive darkness and imperfect reflections restored both its tree-like shape and glistening brilliance.

I returned to my family, to the heat of the car, and to the next shuffled song on our holiday playlist. But in the days that followed, I thought a lot about those shimmering trees. About how the same thing can both disappoint and surprise us. About how something can be both less and more than it appears.

Christmas is a complicated season. A season filled to the brim with story, meaning and expectations, but also filled with contrasts and contradictions that can be hard to get our heads around.

Christmas is sing-alongs in the car, but it’s also being annoyed by that same music in the mall. It’s thoughtful presents for those you love and cherish, and it’s fretting over bills and inflation. It’s loud, boisterous gatherings with friends and family and it’s craving a quiet moment alone. It’s dazzling displays, but during the darkest days of the year.

The tree is luminous, and it’s just a piece of construction. It’s pure magic, and it is simple illusion. All of these things can be true at the same time.

If this time of the year leaves you conflicted, both entranced and skeptical, both excited and exhausted, then there is nothing wrong with you. You are allowed to feel it all. Christmas can be all of that.

This season can be a lot of things. I hope that it is merry and bright for you.

But I don’t imagine for a moment it’s only one thing.


Thank you for reading! I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author


Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.

You can contact Matthew at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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