[drɪŋks wɪð] Tall Mark

This is a story about, well, stories. It begins in late 2018, when Mark (whose actual last name I still don’t know, by the way, and I intend to keep it that way) and I first sat down in some cute little coffee shop somewhere in between False Creek and Kits, and had a solid, two-and-then some hour chat about how he became Tall Mark, what the deal is with Tall Mark Milk and all of that (which was a story all in itself, back then), and about his plans for this epic European backpacking tour on which he was about to embark.

Several months later, when I finally had time to work on this ‘ere blog again, somehow, my phone had decided to render the recording useless. It just wouldn’t play. I had even made a backup, and that wouldn’t play either. Big fun.

Thankfully, Mark was very gracious about it all, and said something along the lines of it probably being for the best. Which I doubt, but it did give us the opportunity to do it all over again – three years, said backpacking trip, a pandemic and several other adventures that we got to chat about in detail – later.

This time, we went to another cute place, somewhere around Langara College which is where Janet, Mark’s home for the past year and a bit, has been parked since his (temporary) return to his hometown, Vancouver. If that’s the right word to use. Because, despite the fact that Mark was born and raised here, and has spent most of his life in this beautiful, yet exceedingly unaffordable city, I do get the feeling he found himself a new home. One he carries with him wherever he goes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

One of Mark’s favorite European backpacking photos. In Spain. Not Germany. Could have been Germany though. We like our clean streets.

Maybe it all began with this epic backpacking trip of 7 months that Mark left for in January 2019. He traveled around Europe, met a bunch of awesome people, took some amazing/funny/confusing pictures and videos (some of which are to be found on Instagram), and returned home with, I guess “the bug” (the traveling kind, not Covid. Although that came too, later). I’m not actually sure if he had planned to leave Vancouver even before then, but that’s what happened in August of 2021, after having moved many more times than he cared for – not because he loved packing boxes so much, but because ever-frustrating rental conditions forced him to. A story that, while I personally have been extremely lucky when it comes to housing in Vancouver, I’ve heard many times over from friends. But again, this is one for a different day.

When he’d finally had enough, he sold all of his stuff, bought Janet (which, as you might have gathered by now, is a camper van and has been his home on wheels ever since) and moved out. He spent a few weeks in different areas of Vancouver, navigating his recent diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and the fact that Covid was still a raging bitch back then, and finally hit the road in September of 2021, heading east.

And that’s what he’s been doing since: Heading east, along the Trans Canada Highway, which he has now traveled “from tip to tip” – the working title for a song he’s been creating, a “9-minute epic,” maybe not quite à la Pink Floyd, but “think Jesus of Suburbia”, commemorating some of the most poignant moments of his time on the road, and including bits he’s written along the way, like “Should I ever see a moose,” (he hasn’t) and, “Why aren’t there people playing music in the streets?” (that he wrote sitting on a bustling corner in Toronto). As you will soon learn about Tall Mark (who is indeed very tall, just in case that wasn’t clear): he’s all about the irony.

Mark’s performance at a Speakeasy in Halifax, NS. A venue he found asking people where “the sexiest stage in town” was. Not that it could get any sexier than this…

That, and the story. That’s what we keep coming back to, during our interview 2.0 at Café de L’Orangerie (which is definitely worth a trip down to Marpole – don’t get confused by the French name, it’s actually a Japanese-Italian fusion kind of deal, and we were quite impressed with their inspired tea menu and dessert selection, despite the fact that I couldn’t have any of it and Mark already ate): “It’s all about the story,” is a phrase that was repeated often, and with emphasis.

So let’s delve right in. Mark, who isn’t one for recording all that much – which you will notice if you try to find his stuff online (five videos on Youtube not counting) – does appreciate the video medium as a tool to improve on his act, so he assembled “the best setup you can get out of a mobile phone” and took as many videos of his performances during his tour (can you call it that if it’s basically your life?!) as he possibly could. Of which there were many – performances, that is. Over a hundred. Here’s someone who’s truly living the wandering bard lifestyle.

So there is footage, but Mark finds himself too busy “living the story” to cohesively document it. Which, I guess, is the dream. With the slight downside that, in this modern day and age, having an online presence is kind of a thing. For other people. Because Mark seems to be doing just fine without a massive Insta following. Not that he would mind it (I think), but it’s just not what his story is about.

What it is about is that moment when he finally hit Newfoundland after months and months of traveling, meeting a gazillion people, seeing the most interesting places (and some not so interesting ones, like, say, Thunder Bay, Ontario), playing shows, producing shows, recording videos, watching them back, telling jokes during songs that are really meandering pieces of art, ever changing… and so seeing that last province of this massive chunk of a country (because, as he points out, he’s not technically cheating when he says he’s traveled all of the provinces, because after all, the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut aren’t actually provinces) rise out of the mist at the end of an 11 hr ferry ride – that’s what his story is about.

His pictures document some of the most epic moments of his journey. He has a whole, ever expanding digital notebook full of them. ike the one of the Rooftop Pizza Party he put on in downtown Halifax, or the one where he just signed some random guys’ album at Mariposa Folk Festival where he played this year, walking around in a banana suit (eating a banana, of course) until someone asked him to sign their Bob Dylan vinyl that they had just bought, just because they wanted to own a signed Bob Dylan album. And then, a couple of weeks later at Hillside Festival, a woman who was vending at Mariposa came up to him and showed him the picture of just that interaction which she happened to witness, because she thought it was hilarious, and it also was one of the few moments she got to spend away from her booth.

There are many more stories like that, and Mark will tell them all – and very entertainingly so. Because he’s nothing if not a fantastic storyteller. Even as I’m writing this, they’re still coming. But let’s be real: The best thing is to see the man work his magic on stage – nobody has time to read anymore these days, but shows? Shows are different. And shows are what Mark does best. Because aside from being a great entertainer, he also plays, like, all the instruments, has a profound background in improv theater (thanks to Mom, who put him in theater classes to learn social skills and “deal with childhood trauma that I’d faced” – I’m still not sure if that part was a joke or not) and comedy, and since the tender age of 16 has been auditioning for and partaking in various film projects around Vancouver, as well as shooting ads for, you know, the gas money, and such. So he knows his way around a stage.

“In the same way that some people like to learn as many languages as possible,

I always wanted to learn as many instruments as possible.”

– Tall Mark

And he’s seen things. What strikes me most about Tall Mark – apart from his striking good looks, of course, and, as the kids say these days* “the drip”, which means style, or whatever… anyway. What strikes me is that he seems like he’ll never be content just watching the story, like other people watch people like Mark live their dream. Which he’s been told, repeatedly. His response? “It’s not that hard! If there ever was an omen to do it – I’m right here, doing it. This is it! Just sell your shit, buy a van! If I can do it, you can do it.” (And he is appreciating the fact that he enjoys certain privileges that allow him to do it.) Mark needs to live the story. And hopefully someday, somewhere, someone will find the time and all of those incredible videos, recordings, and images and put them all in an epic documentary on whatever streaming platform will be hip then.

* The story behind “the Drip”: Mark’s friend RJ, whom he met on his first night in Halifax at an open mic he specifically drove there for, despite some technical difficulties Janet had run into, to then not be put on because the host wanted to go home (or something like that – we don’t wanna talk about it) – told him he had it, wearing basically the exact same thing Mark was that momentous evening. That’s RJ playing in the background and the mentioned epic Rooftop Pizza Party, by the way.

So while I could really ramble on forever about all the things we had time to talk about in those two hours, let’s talk about the future. Because that’s one thing people always ask him: “Where are you headed? Where are you going?”

This winter, that’ll be “the woods”, somewhere in BC (because, you know, temperatures). To take a break – from touring, from producing, and hopefully with a finished EPK (which, I learned, means Electronic Press Kit), a video he’s been working on (which will be number six on Youtube! Yay!), and a buck load of festival applications for 2023 under his belt. And to play video games. After that, if the Gods and festival organizers will it, back on the road, back east, do it all again, but different – different people, different stories, maybe some of the same places and faces (like Newfoundland – that place really got to him, despite the fact that the 11 hour ferry ride is “basically to prepare you for the fact that everything is 20% more expensive”). Fill in the times between festivals with Side Door shows, and his own productions, which he’s gotten really good at after more than 4 years of putting them on.

What he’d really like to do though is to focus on performing, and the creative aspect of it all. That’s what he really loves: To be in – to feel the room that he’s in, and interact with the people that come to his shows. Which is why he prefers to put on ticketed events in intimate venues, at times that “don’t interfere with people’s dinner plans,” and ensure that the audience is actually there for the acts. And he for the audience. His favorite opening song is, hence, “Small Matters,” – “a back-and-forth piece with the audience about the opinionated shouting-match climate we live in”. It’s one of the first songs he ever wrote when he added songwriting to his artistic repertoire back in February 2017, participating in FAWM (February Album Writing Month, another thing I’d never heard of before our chat). And here’s another thing I’m finding about Mark: when he does something, he DOES it. No f-ing around. Where other people might cautiously write a song or two, maybe go to a few open mics, he just goes and writes a whole goddamn album. And records it. In a month.

“We’re all participating in this exchange of energy.” – Tall Mark

Anyway. We were talking about the future. So what if they don’t will it, the Gods – the epic summer of festivals? “I’ll probably move to Berlin. If I have to live anywhere, that’s where I would go.” Because it’s a place for the arts (and still fairly affordable, I suppose), and certainly full of stories. And why not North America? “Because I’ve already done that!” – that’s another catch phrase of Mark’s, and speaks to his seeking nature.  The man certainly does not shy away from his path’s challenges. Which, I believe, is why all those magical things keep happening to him. Hopefully for a long time yet to come.

Because there are so many more amazing stories that Mark shared with me, we thought we’d share a couple of videos with you so you can keep going. Until the guy hits your neighborhood (sign up for his email list if you want to be notified! No spam, one email, take it or leave it, baby).

A short interview with Mark on his song “I didn’t vote for this democracy” a.k.a. “The Fuck Song”, which he wrote when he was in a pretty low place, and so was reluctant to play it live. When he did, though, someone told him how empowered they felt by it, so now it’s part of his regular repertoire.
Mark’s performance of “Not Anymore” in The Wiggle Room, Montréal. The masterpiece that’s been evolving within the bowels of Janet, and number six on the YouTube channel!


[drɪŋks wɪð] Anita & Ava / Blossom Living with POI / Early Menopause Journal

When you ask the internet “What is POI?”, the first thing that comes up is either Polynesian food (which, maybe weirdly, reminds me of that Peter Pan movie “Hook”… am I just old now?) or those fun things you swing around as you dance. Neither one of which we’ll be talking about here (but here’s a link to that food fight scene if you were getting nostalgic).

Ava Vanderstarren and I met a few years ago in Vancouver, and I must admit I don’t remember the exact circumstance of it all, except that it had something to do with her charity Innocence Lost Foundation, that has been hosting fundraising events with live music quite successfully for a while now and would definitely be worth its own article (and yes, Ava, this is a nudge).

When I recently saw Ava’s post about a journal that her and her partner in crime on this particular project that we ARE going to be talking about (yes, I know, long lead-up, I’m sorry) I was very intrigued, as I’d never before heard about Premature Ovarian Insufficiency. Which – you guessed it – is abbreviated POI. So I got in touch, and being the very efficient organizer that she is (among many other things), Ava set us up for a call with herself and Anita – whose Nigerian name is Airuekhia, which is pronounced something like Ioh-ey-ah (I hope she’ll excuse my horrible attempts at phonetics) and means “One shouldn’t think all events”, which I thought was quite lovely. And is clearly alluding to what I came to witness as a really inspiring sense of self-sufficiency, not a “no f’s given”-attitude, because Anita definitely cares about many things. POI being one of them.

So to stop beating about the bush, let’s find out what that actually stands for. POI or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency basically means that a woman is entering menopause at an age that’s often much younger than the average age for this period of a woman’s life cycle (which is 51, in the UK, in case you were wondering). By the way: The UK being right next to Dublin – Anita’s home base for the past 19 or so years – is where most of the research and resources mentioned both in the Blossom journal and, hence, this article will be coming from. It is also home to Dr. Louise Newson, the “Menopause Doctor” that has helped women like Anita come to terms with and get proper treatment for their condition and is, as her website states, a pioneer in menopause research, treatment and advocacy.

Both Ava and Anita were diagnosed with POI at a very young age – in their teens – which is the case for around one in 10,000 women under 20. Menopause – which is not the same as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency, exactly, although lots of the symptoms are the same – is considered “early” under the age of 45, but over 40. Anything below that is called POI, or Premature Ovarian Failure, and sometimes Premature Menopause – which can be confusing, especially when you’re really young and trying to figure out what’s happening to your body in a world that, despite this affecting quite a few women (around one in 100 under the age of 40), has very little to show for comprehensive research and hence, public knowledge on the issue. Which we’ll come back to in a bit.

To give you a rough idea of what menopause in all its variations entails: The organ that produces eggs in a woman – the ovaries – stop working, either completely or to a certain degree. One of the main functions of these eggs is to produce hormones (estrogen and testosterone being the most “famous” ones), so when that stops, hormone levels drop, often quite dramatically, which has a tremendous effect on the body and the brain. One quote on one of the websites that Anita and Ava reference in their very comprehensive resource section of their journal (and yes, don’t worry, we’ll get to that, too) puts it like this:

“The Process whereby periods stop is a gradual one, in most cases, and is a long process of changes akin to puberty.”


Menopause, by the way (and I will admit that I was today years old when I learned that, as the cool kids these days say) is what describes the time when a woman no longer has her period for said reasons. Specifically, it’s defined as happening when someone hasn’t had a period for over 12 months. So POI is when that happens “before the age of menopause”, as Anita puts it – again: pretty much anytime under 40.

There is a lot of uncertainty as to why POI occurs in women, unless there’s a very obvious reason – like the ovaries being affected by cancer, and/or cancer treatment, or the womb and/or ovaries being surgically removed. Other reasons are a little harder to pinpoint: There’s research suggesting it may coincide with or be caused by certain auto-immune conditions like Hyperthyroidism (about 1 in 20 cases). There’s also good reason to believe that one influences the other. Traumatic experiences in childhood can have an affect, and stress can, too. A lot of the time, people – including doctors – just don’t know. The tricky part with POI is that the ovaries don’t necessarily completely stop working, as hormone levels can shift over time. So a small percentage of women will still sometimes get their period, and can even get pregnant.

Spinning, becoming. By Kira Gillingwater

Fertility, however, is really only one of the issues associated with POI; albeit the most “prominent” one – and hence the one most doctors who might not have a very deep knowledge of the issue will focus on. What happened to Anita, for example, when she was first diagnosed with POI at the age of 19 (after not having had her period since her first one at age 15) was that she was told: “Here’s some hormones, let us know when you’re ready to have kids and we’ll talk about IVF and donor eggs”. And that was that.

While Hormone Replacement Treatment (or HRT) is as of right now the only drug treatment that will help living with POI – basically replacing the hormones that the body no longer produces – there is a lot more that can be done to support women on this journey. Which, in both Anita’s and Ava’s – and countless other young women’s – cases, they had to basically figure out by themselves. Because remember how we talked about there not being a lot of research on this? While this seems to gradually change – not least of all because of activists like Anita and Ava, and forward-thinking doctors like Dr. Newson – the general medical practitioner still knows shockingly little about the condition. As Anita says: “When I talk to some women now in the community, they often say ‘I wish I had known this a few years ago when I was diagnosed’, and I just can’t believe it. Even now – 2021, 2022 even – women still can’t get proper information from their doctors”.

Which is ultimately what brought about the idea of the Blossom journal. Both Anita and Ava – who was diagnosed when she was 17 years old – remember feeling very overwhelmed, and mostly left to their own devices when it came to figuring out how to live their lives without the proper level of hormones in their body: “Those kinds of hormones are meant to keep you going in life”, says Anita, and indeed estrogen, testosterone and progesterone (the less popular of the three hormones being produced in the ovaries) run a whole lot in our bodies – not just women’s. We’re talking about blood sugar levels, bone density, heart and artery health, brain and memory function, and of course emotions. That’s only naming the major aspects.

So when you’re looking at chronically low levels of this really important stuff for not just the latter third or so of your life – which is rough enough, ask your Granny/Auntie/Mom (or yourself, of course, if you have ovaries and are/have experienced menopause) – but for really most of it… that’s a pretty full plate. Having your doctor tell you to just take a pill and not worry too much about it until you’re ready to have kids, and/or being dismissed when bringing forward concerns about the other effects of hormone deficiency – which happened to both Ava and Anita numerous times before they finally were able to find specialists who actually knew what they were talking about, and doctors who cared enough to listen – especially when you’re a teen or in your twenties might just lead you to “let it go”, which doesn’t help anyone, let alone young women.

“It shouldn’t be up to us to figure out what to do – but at the end of the day, it is”

international chats on POI: Dublin – Vancouver – Kootenay Bay

So that’s what they did, and for years: Figure it out themselves. And let’s be honest – Anita and Ava are among the more privileged ones, as they had access to – while not always qualified or interested, at least some – healthcare and treatment, even though in both cases, it took a long time to get that to an adequate level. Because the other side to the story is that Hormone Replacement Therapy is still almost exclusively aimed at women who reached menopause naturally, at the “normal” age. So when given this treatment, more often than not, the replacement amount is assuming you’re in your 50s, where hormone levels would already be much lower than in, say, a 20-year-old healthy woman.

“It’s very hard to constantly have to advocate for yourself, and basically push the doctor to get the care that you know you need, because they don’t entirely understand the condition”


At the time I’m talking to Ava and Anita, they have been doing their own advocating for their health for many years, and they’re veterans by now – not afraid to ask their doctors for higher dosages and different treatments, seeking out alternative medicine to support their quality of life and a “sense of normal”. But it’s hard, especially because another main symptom of menopause and POI are often general lower energy, fatigue, and high levels of anxiety – not to mention brain fogs. “Mental Health is a big aspect of hormone deficiency”, Ava knows – who is working as an actress and model to pay the bills, both of which are by definition high-stress jobs. In her case, she can pick her jobs to make sure she doesn’t burn herself out, but when you’re working 12-15 hours a day and need to rest for two days after, that’s half your week gone right there. And that’s not mentioning the social pressure, and the judgement. Even now, as “self care is the new health care”, as google search suggests (no kidding, try it!), resting for an entire day is still mostly frowned upon in the western world.

That POI is a condition that people “can’t see” doesn’t help, not just with lack of understanding of an afflicted’s confusion or impaired memory, exhaustion or depression – but also around things like asking about having kids. As Ava says: “People forget”, and Anita adds that, outside of the POI community, which has provided both of them with invaluable support over the past few years – nobody “really gets it”. Anita has gotten to a point where she “just doesn’t care anymore” when people nag her about having kids – which is a big thing, especially in the Black community, she says. And Ava has gotten many shameful apologies by friends who keep asking her when she and her partner will start a family, and has to remind them of her condition.

Channels of the Divine Mother. By Kira Gillingwater

And that’s another reason why their activism is so important. Not only to bring the medical concerns for young women to the attention of an industry that still focuses mostly on men’s health, because that’s where the money is. Or to support young women in their life-long journey with what can be an extremely frightening diagnosis, if you don’t have a doctor that “will actually listen and take an interest in what’s happening”, as Anita says – because information is still confusing and, a lot of the time, conflicting. And because, while there’s research available, there isn’t enough funding to conduct a lot of it, or get it out there. So it’s no wonder people forget, or don’t know – because it’s not in the public eye. Yet.

It’s slowly getting better, though, my women warrior interview partners are happy to report. Platforms like the Daisy Network, Dr. Newson’s Menopause Charity Anita is an active supporter of, and of course individual endeavors like Anita’s various channels which lend their name to the beautifully designed “Blossom Living with POI / Early Menopause”-journals packed with resources, prompt questions for your doctor, space for notes and to record results, medication levels etc. etc. – are starting to bring this matter to the surface, despite the fact that menopause, especially when experienced early, is still not something that’s talked about, generally. “Nobody wants to come out and talk about this – but we need the representation”, says Anita: “People in the top places who are making those kinds of decisions need to know that their decisions affect all women, and younger women in particular”. Because getting a diagnosis like this will be, in most cases, a traumatic experience and, especially for those who are diagnosed in their teens, can be extremely isolating due to the lack of communication around it.

Which is why the POI community has been such a saving grace for Ava and Anita, and why they will keep fighting to get their condition on the map, and talked about. When Ava reached out to Anita via Instagram in the summer of 2020 – as they recently shared in their live-chat on how they created the beautiful journals that are now available for print-on-demand on Amazon – Anita was still in the beginning phases of what has now become one of her main activities next to her job and her role as supporter for the Menopause Charity. “I never wanted to be a spokesperson”, she says – but you know she’s doing a pretty amazing job at it regardless, regularly posting videos on her YouTube channel and talking to different people about all things POI to support the community and raise awareness. So when Ava, who had been living with POI for over 10 years at the time, found herself in a place where she really needed some support from other survivors, sent her a message, they “immediately clicked”, says Anita. Shortly thereafter she decided to bring Ava in on this project idea she’d been carrying around for a while, of creating a tool to help women with a POI diagnosis stay on top of their records, medication and symptoms while finding support through resources and community, all of which the journal provides helpful information and links on. Combining forces with Dr. Newson, who agreed to review the journal – which is explicitly not a source of medical advice, but does provide links to places people can find it, of course – they managed to put this piece of art together within a pretty impressive time period of just about a year, especially considering Ava had to tap out for a while due to health reasons.

This kind of connection is exactly what sparked inspiration for the journal – and the essential need for support on this journey found in community and self-advocacy. “I wished I had something that would have helped me gather information”, Anita remembers her process with her diagnosis and assessments over the years, especially because information changes so rapidly and is often still conflicting, or plain wrong. So after months of video chats over the considerable time difference of seven to eight hours, which included quite a few late nights for Anita, they are now finally able to hold the finished product in their hands, and very excited about every copy that sells, anywhere in the world: “We wish we could contact everyone who gets the journal”, Anita says, after they excitedly told me they recently sold their first copy in France. Thankfully, some people do reach out, and they’ve received valuable feedback from other members of the community. And it’s clear that this is not the end of the road for them: Plans to finally meet up in person – life and travel restrictions permitting – are only the beginning for what they hope will be a lasting friend- and business partnership in the battle for awareness of POI.

So in the end, what I come away with is a sense of gratitude and admiration – not to mention a huge amount of new information on this important issue, that I can only scratch the surface of here, but now you’ll know where to find more of that, and get involved, right? And mostly, I’m just humbled by the strength of these two young women, who will continue to speak out, to stand up for themselves and others, and to grow awareness that is so crucial to make the lives of so many women living with POI better – medically, socially, mentally. I feel like I got to see the beautiful seeds Anita and Ava are planting, and am excited to see what flowers they’ll grow next.

“Something dies along the way, but there are always new things along the way that come into bloom – that’s where Blossom comes from”

From nothingness everything is born. by Kira Gillingwater

[drɪŋks wɪð] Mackenzie / Heart Tattoo Society

2020. Much can be said about that year, and the one that followed it. Devastating. Heartbreaking and -wrenching. Anxiety-inducing. Isolating. Quarantining. Dividing. And also: Inspiring. Uniting. Uplifting, and -rising. Awareness-raising.

In case of Mackenzie Baxfield and Evan Reeks, the people behind Heart Tattoo Society, Covid sparked something entirely new: A community project that, within the matter of a few months, grew from making food for people who, like Mackenzie, had lost their jobs with shut-downs and quarantine, to serving over 1,000 meals a week on the streets of the Downtown East Side, Vancouver.

As is the case with many people I’ve spoken to on this blog so far, Mackenzie and I met at one of Vancouver’s most historic open mics: The Anza. She would play the Ukulele, and sometimes borrow my guitar, and I would marvel at her incredible voice and swag. A couple of years ago, when I had just moved to the Kootenays, I ventured we could do an interview together, and then, well, life happened.

When I went for a visit to the beautiful grey metropole earlier this fall, her name popped up on my Facebook feed, in a very different capacity: As Managing Director of the Heart Tattoo Society.

So I reached out, and luckily, she was able to make time for me in her busy schedule. We met at the Downtown Eastside Distribution Hub, a warehouse kind of setup right on Hastings, where several organizations working to protect the community have their operational base.

The story of the Heart Tattoo Society is really one of community. Mackenzie has always loved Gastown, and spent basically all of her adult life here. Back when we first met, she was playing six open mics a week, two of which were happening in Gastown, and would also frequent karaoke nights at the legendary Funky Winkerbeans and Pub 340. In May 2020, Mackenzie and her partner Evan Reeks moved into an apartment on Abbot and Cordova, right in the thick of what some people still call “Cracktown”. “I don’t think any of this would be doable if we weren’t central”, she says.

What they were doing was cooking meals in a huge pot on the stove of their 460 sq ft apartment, and lugging it on site in a pizza carrier bag. Now, they’re still manually carting the food they serve on the streets, but they scaled. Big time.

The food they used to make their meals originally came from restaurants Evan, who has been a chef for over 13 years, worked with or knew. When Covid hit, he kept his job for a while, but of course business went right down, so a lot of the produce was going to get thrown out. So him and Mackenzie asked if they could donate it to the streets. That’s pretty much how a lot of it still works: Grocery stores, catering companies, restaurants are donating food, Evan and the volunteers that have since joined their team cook it up and bring it to the people of the Downtown Eastside, most of whom live either in the few single room occupancy buildings that remain and offer somewhat affordable housing in the area, or on the streets.

Of course, due to health regulations and liability issues, many of the donors of those food supplies need to remain unnamed, which is part of the problem: Food waste especially in large cities like Vancouver is tremendous, yet due to policy a lot of it can’t be distributed efficiently to those most in need. In addition, not all food donations are necessarily helpful to people with, say, major dental issues, as a lot of the community in the DTES are experiencing. Fresh apples, for example.

Mackenzie and Evan are not only turning the donations into meals that are well-prepared and digestible (like warm apple sauce that’s being served to people in their line-up as they wait for the main event), but are doing so with love and inspiration. “Serving the best food in DTES if you ask me”, one Facebook comment reads. And honestly, the food looks amazing – I get hungry when I look at the pictures, and the menus Evan and Mackenzie dish out.

So it’s no surprise that, at their recent weekly barbecue that they offer in collaboration with Smoke Signals, people were lining up around the block for their delicious grub. Grass roots organizations like Smoke Signals, or the Overdose Prevention Society that partners with HTS for their second weekly barbecue at Abbot and Pender, and others are gathering a lot more attention these days. Mackenzie says this isn’t just a side-effect of Covid, but rather that Covid has been a reminder that there has been a public health emergency in the DTES since the late 90s – brought to the forefront again since 2018, when it was exacerbated by the fentanyl crisis.

“Everybody is shifting gears right now”, Mackenzie says: The perception of “Cracktown” is moving away from demonizing the addicted and mentally ill, from seeing it as being a “problem” to seeing the people, and advocating for harm reduction. The fact that the City of Vancouver has recently acknowledged food programs as a part of harm reduction speaks to that shift. But of course, there is still so much more much to be done, and learned.

Which is also why both Mackenzie and Evan started taking a course in Social Work, on top of their already crazy busy work schedules. Evan has recently received a stipend from Watari, a local agency serving the community and supporting programs and organizations like Heart Tattoo Society with funding and operational advice. Mackenzie started a new job in one of the single room occupancy buildings close to their apartment, and aside from the two barbecues that they serve each weak, feeding around 300+ people every time, they also provide the Overdose Prevention Society’s safe injection locations with sandwiches, and make special meals on public Holidays for them.

Aside from helping out with food prep and service, Mackenzie is also in charge of coordinating the increasing influx of volunteers, a couple of whom were busy finishing prep for the day when I came to visit at the Hub. “It just gives me an opportunity to get some hands-on experience”, Kaysha – a classmate of Mackenzie’s and Evan – says. And like her, Candace loves the feeling of doing something good for the community, something meaningful. The fact that they get to raid anything that’s left in the fridges at the end of the day likely adds to the enthusiasm that’s palpable in the room. It’s an inspiring atmosphere to be in.

As one can imagine, scaling a project like Heart Tattoo Society like Evan and Mack have, basically between the two of them, is an incredible effort – and despite the thumbs up by passing fire engine drivers and the friendly, encouraging blind eye the Vancouver Police Department is turning on their serving people in the middle of rush hour by a busy intersection, they’re starting to feel the strain. So what do they need?

Attention, for starters, and data to support that what they’re doing is important, and essential to harm reduction in the community. Being listed on the government’s communal resource site is a big step, as is being invited to cater the VPD’s annual charity golf tournament last year – even if it was cancelled due to rain. More contacts mean more impact, not just for Mackenzie and Evan, but for the other initiatives they’re connected with, as well.

People who know how to write grant applications would also be a tremendous asset. Aside from food donations, what’s constantly in low supply are (bio-degradable, preferably) food containers – and kitchen appliances are always welcome, of course. While Evan was able to acquire a Robo Coupe food processor, and they have an impressive arsenal of fridges at their disposal, more professional equipment means more meals can be prepared, more people be fed.

And of course, there’s donations. While Heart Tattoo Society is a society only by name for now – as the process of becoming a registered charity is both lenghty (a.k.a. highly bureaucratic) and expensive, ironically – they do have a website with a Paypal button through which one can make a donation. For any other or major gifts, you can get in touch with them directly – and also if you want to help out, either with your business, as a Charity partner or as an individual.

This aspect of their work is what’s really coming through for me as I watch Mackenzie answering questions about sandwich bags, directing people, showing me around the Distribution Hub and telling me about not just their work, but that of all the other amazing grass roots initiatives active in the area, trying their best to save lives, and make them better: That feeling of community, of caring for one another. “Because love is permanent” is the subtitle under the Society’s emblem. I can feel that, and I’m sure the many people whose lives are being touched by Mackenzie, Evan and their cheerful team of helpers can, too.

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[DRꞮŊKS WꞮÐ] Sincerely – The Frank & The Earnest

Here we are again. Two years after their last album “Radiate”, Frank a.k.a. Franz Rothe and his friends did it again, transcended time- and spatial differences and put together another record. Like last time, they gathered in that old mill somewhere in rural Germany, locked themselves in for a week in June (is that a bit morbid, now that lockdown has become so much part of our daily reality?) and tadaa – out comes “Sincerely”.

That’s as far as the similarities go, though.

The first thing that strikes me as I listen to the secret playlist, pre-release (yes, I feel very special about that, thank you very much) is how it sounds quite different from anything Frank has put out so far. I guess if I wanted to make life easy for myself, I could just say it’s more mature. And maybe that’s part of it – the fact that we’re all aging, and life is becoming more, shall we say, settled. Frank, for instance, has become a Dad a second time recently, Lukas also has a child now… life moves faster every day, it seems.

Another thing that was different this time was that, unlike before, the creation of this record was more of a collaborative process. While Franz still wrote and pre-recorded most of the songs for demo purposes, a lot of the final piecemeal was done in the “studio”. Which presented a whole new challenge for Franz: To allow for changes to be made, after listening to a certain lick for all this time… and to recognize that what, say, Julian made of it actually sounded a lot better. (To which Franz adds: “Julian’s licks ALWAYS sound better than mine.”)

Lyrically, the choruses, usually containing the core message of the songs, were pretty much done when they started recording. Lukas had come for a visit in Brussels sometime in 2019 for a week to co-write a few of the songs, and to hash some of the harmonies out (by the way – all those gospel-esque choirs you hear are 99% Lukas. Franz was “allowed” to chime in on some of the lower parts, but it’s mostly due to Lukas’ incredible vocal range that you get that feeling of listening to a bunch of people singing in harmony).

I must admit I would have been a little concerned about Franz’ private state of affairs, as it sounds a little like a “breakup album”, as Franz himself terms it (in the same breath reassuring me that it’s not). And then he lets me in on a song-writing secret: It’s not really so much about the words, especially in the verses – a lot of it is “filling material”, so to speak: Finding words that fill out the song. Which is hard to believe, especially when I listen to “But then Again”, which is pretty fucking brilliant, I think – the way he plays with the words to create rhythm (apparently Lukas had to be woken up at 7 am in the morning, to listen to Franz’ first ever recorded rap verse on a F&TE production), and also conveys this bittersweet place where you’re kind of over someone, but not really…

So what is it, then, that Franz & friends (in this constellation comprised of Lukas Hoffmann, who I spoke to on our last chat on “Radiate”, Julian Gramm and West (aka Felix Franz), plus West’s and Franz’ Dads on a couple of songs, playing keys) want to say with this record?

“It’s an album from musicians who didn’t become musicians”, Franz says. And while that’s true for most of them (only Julian is currently living off his art), it definitely doesn’t sound like it. Despite his best efforts to “put his light under the Scheffel”, as we would say in Germany (and I don’t know what a Scheffel is, or what the appropriate translation would be in English – but I have a feeling you get the idea), I feel that a lot of effort and care went into this album, as in the ones before. I think it speaks to how big a part life music plays in each of these four guys’ lives has if they can come together, and within a week create something this cohesive and put-together. Including the videos to the first three singles.

Trying out a new style was a very conscious decision for this record, which is another thing that makes it different from prior projects, that were more of a compilation of stuff that was kind of “flying around” in Franz’ brain:

“I constantly sing in my head but 99% of the time it’s stuff like jingle versions of my shopping lists – which is extremely annoying. So on the one hand you try really hard to tune out. But at the same time you think, what if there’s the hook for a cool song somewhere between all that noise? I think, for me that’s song-writing in a nutshell.”

So this time, the intention was to sound more like the “music that I like to listen to”. Which has been a lot of soul, R’n’B and Lawrence. And – and this was particularly important to Franz – that “down below, it’s a HipHop album”.

Being committed to this new approach and style, Franz felt that they were a lot more critical with their work, really hashing out those harmonies, and building on the instrumentals – one more thing that was different in the past, where they would often start with the vocals, and building the musical framework around them. And despite their different musical preferences and backgrounds (West is usually a Metal- and Stoner Rock drummer and “has never in his life played HipHop”, yet he “is grooving like a big old bear, if a big old bear could play the drums”; and Julian feels most at home playing Blues), the conditions under which they recorded “Sincerely” motivated them to push each other, expand their horizons and boundaries.

“Sincerely”, the song that gave the album its title (which, you guessed it, is also a first) also sums up the essence of the record: Maybe a little weary, but really mostly just not taking itself too seriously, all the while just wanting to make some good music. I don’t know about you, but I think it worked.

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[drɪŋks wɪð] Cara Bateman

When Cara and I had our chat, COVID was just starting to get serious in Canada. I was in quarantine thanks to a sore throat and a mild fever, and Cara was in lockdown in Victoria. Weird times. But, on the bright side, time for music, and time for chats about music. And life. So here we are.

The thing that strikes me most about Cara is her determination. That, her stunning voice and that somehow… sophisticated is the word that might most describe what I feel when I listen to her music. When I met her a couple of years ago at a very short-lived open mic at the Heatley in Vancouver, I was absolutely convinced that she must have been playing music for years. And while that was true for the vocal part of it all, at that point she would have played guitar for about two, maybe three years. But let’s start at the beginning.

Cara grew up in Delta, and the first memory she has is of herself singing. She would just constantly do it, and often not even notice it – much to the chagrin of some of her co-eds in school, who would get annoyed with her at times when she was lost in thought, serenading the hallways or the classroom. Interestingly enough though, if anyone actually asked her to sing in front of people, she would tense up, and get shy. When her friends basically forced her to sing at a school function she “almost died”, she remembers, and this pattern continued into her years at UVIC. Alas, thanks to open mics, and friends who played guitar, and maybe also a drink or two, eventually she got into performing more regularly. Thank God.

After graduating from High School, Cara did a 2-year theatre program at Douglas College, but it ended up not feeling like something she wanted to pursue as a career. Thinking about getting a job as an actor was “beyond terrifying”, which I guess is not surprising for someone who’s been shy to perform all their life – and at the tender age of 19, no less. So she moved to Victoria instead, and ended up doing her undergrad in French literature, after 3 years of General Studies and not really having much of a plan. “I like school”, she says – but it was never her passion. French lit kind of seemed to make sense, because she already knew the language and loved the culture, so why not, right?

As often seems to be the case with things like that, it seems that maybe Cara needed that time to brace herself, to get ready for what she’s now stepping into. When she realized after a while of playing open mics with friends that what she really wanted was to play music on a more, let’s say, professional level, she also realized that she would need to learn to accompany herself, as the people she was playing with were doing it mostly for fun, and on occasion. It was hard to find someone who would potentially be interested in building something more steady, and commit to playing music together more seriously. Plus, she wanted to play her own stuff, and communicating what you have in mind for your songs when you don’t know how to play an instrument is just really freckin hard.

So she picked up the guitar, and even though she wasn’t all that into the technical part of it all in the beginning, the more she learned, the more she came around and is now hooked on music theory, and honing her craft as much as she can. In that sense (and that sense only, really), COVID has been a big help, as she got laid off of her waitressing job and suddenly had a bunch more time on her hands to practice, play on-line shows – for example on the now massively expanded, positive-vibe-art-sharing Facebook platform “Get Down With The Lockdown” as well as her own social outlets – and start recording, too! “It’s a steep learning curve”, she says, but thanks to an interface that was gifted to her by her brother and a more spacious room she had recently moved into, she felt like she had the opportunity to create something entirely of her own during this strange time of isolation.

This wouldn’t be the first time some of Cara’s songs that made it to production. Within a year of playing guitar, her first EP – fittingly titled “First Songs” – made it onto Spotify. Her style, then, was quite country, which was very much what she felt inspired by when she first started writing: That old-timesy folk sound that original country really is, from which she then moved towards a more grungy, alternative sound, and now graduated to gospel, soul, and jazzy sounds. “The more I learn on the guitar, the more my sound changes”, she reflects. A few months before COVID ended all the fun, she recorded another EP with some “very, very talented” musicians she met at a show they played together in Victoria. While her first EP feels quite “polished” to her, she was going for a more direct, live-session kind of sound with this one, trying to record as much of the vocals in one take, for example.

This seems to be a trend for her, that focus on the raw, the more direct sound. “I find that, when there is a little bit less of production, there seems to be more feel – just that emotion and that feeling and that soul”, she says. So the next project that she’s hoping will come out of this time of isolation and retreat will be even more of that*.

Growing up, Cara listened to a lot of music. Her parents are, although not playing music themselves, big fans of the arts, and always encouraged her and her brother to explore their creativity. So when Cara decided to make music her life, and her career five years ago, she had her parents’ support. And a backdrop of years of listening to her family’s records, singing along to songs she loved and working on them “without realizing I was working on it. Any songs that I really loved, I would just obsess over it – rewind, trying to get that part right, rewind, go back, try to learn it again.” Ultimately, the dream is to be able to comfortably sustain herself just with her music – a cozy little house, maybe a cat… And to collaborate with as many of the people that inspire her as possible.

To the question who that would be, I get a whole plethora of amazing artists that I never heard about before, local as well as international. To name but a few: Madison Ryann Ward from the States, Quarterback and Kubla from Victoria, Eloise from the UK, who is “probably one of my biggest influences right now”. They’re all at home somewhere in that jazz/gospel/soul realm, and even though their styles are still quite different in many ways, “it wouldn’t be weird to find them all on the same Spotify playilist”. And then there is, of course, John Mayer. Which “sounds crazy” as a potential collab partner – but then again, who knows? John Mayer, a house and a cat – that sounds like a pretty straightforward life plan to me. That, and music. Always music. Because there’s no doubt in my mind that’s what Cara is meant to do. So please, John Mayer, if you read this, give the girl a listen. You miss out if you don’t.

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* Speaking of which: In the meantime, Cara has started releasing some of that sweet new material, namely her first single Love Is that’s been released on all your favorite streaming platforms. And I got a little sneak preview of the video on her YouTube channel – I’ll just say, keep your eyes peeled, you won’ wanna miss that.

[drɪŋks wɪð] Was Gutes

First things first: Yes. That’s German. Don’t worry, there’s translations. And subtitles. And, you know. Google.

Let’s jump right in, shall we? (Much) earlier in 2020, as the craziness that would become this year was still a couple of months away, I had a chat with my old housemate Kamil. About life, what’s been happening, and that thing him and some friends got going: Was Gutes (which literally translates to “Something Good”, by the way) was born from a sense of wanting to do, well, something good in the world, by shining a light on others who are doing just that. Doubling up on the goodness, if you will. To highlight the fact that there are, indeed, positive things happening in a world that often hast a tendency to focus on the negative. And, last but not least, to perpetuate what Kamil calls Karma: Do good, anything good – and something good will come from it, somehow, somewhere. I guess you could call them a documentary production company, but really they’re much more than that. But let’s start at the beginning.

Kamil Hertwig, who is one of the co-founders of Was Gutes, and I shared a house for a while when I went to university in the “smallest large city in Germany” (a “large city”, by definition, being a dwelling of more than 100,000 people, which Paderborn JUST made, which seemed to instill some weird sense of pride in a lot of people. Germans are weird that way). What was special about our particular living situation was that we shared that house – definitely the most run-down in a fairly fancy neighborhood – with eight other people. We lovingly called the place “M7”, because it was on Mathildenstrasse, and had the number 7 (you might have guessed). We had the best theme parties in town (self-proclaimed, but no less true), and people who used to live there kept coming back to visit. It was a pretty sweet spot, complete with a big back yard and many good memories. And a fish that was ugly as hell and named after our landlady. I think she got poisoned with vodka at some point. The fish, that is, not the landlady.

When Kamil moved in, he marked the end of a pretty desolate summer where half the rooms in the house were empty, much to the displeasure of our landlords. He immediately brightened up the place, and even though he wasn’t really home all that much, when he was, it was always a good time. We connected over the fact that he had gone to school in Marburg, which is where I grew up, and – and this is actually pretty random, even for German standards – was working with a band one of whose members I had gone to middle school with. Crazy, right?


Before he joined our little band of 10, Kamil – who was born in Poland, but grew up around Kassel – had undergone an apprenticeship in IT, found that the 9-5 thing wasn’t for him (neither was the feeling of “just doing a job for someone else” that didn’t actually mean anything to him), and so went to study Media Sciences in Marburg, because “doing something with media” – albeit a bit of a one-liner back in the day – was something he was actually interested in. And sure enough, once in it, he started meeting the right people, things started to fall into place. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

He worked with said band for a while, and founded a company with former business partner Stefan, which went really well for a while. They were hired for a bunch of music videos, and commercials, but things didn’t quite feel right, and eventually fell apart. “Too much focus on commerce”, Kamil says, looking back. Meanwhile, Kamil had met Marian, who had been working on OK KID’s (that’s the band) videos, particularly when Kamil wasn’t available. Marian worked on a few other projects with No Drama, Kamil’s former production company, and they realized that they were vibing well on a professional as well as a personal level. Despite their age difference of almost ten years, and quite different paths, their way of looking at their work and what inspired them was quite similar – and still is.

Marian (on the right)

Marian Hirschfeld was born and raised in Cologne, and started out as an early iTunes Podcaster when he was 12 – talking about the first apps for iPod touch that were coming out at the time. Had things gone a different way, he may have eventually become the Justin Bieber of tech-YouTubers, but as it were, he focused on the production of videos instead, and ended up winning several competitions doing that. Similar to Kamil’s story, one thing led to another, he made a lot of connections just by doing what he was doing, and now we’re here: No degree, because “nobody really cares” anymore, anyway.

Coming back to the present day – so, January 2020, there, I said it – Kamil and Marian were about to embark on their second journey to Cape Town, South Africa, where they had shot the first three documentaries under the moniker Was Gutes. And it’s also the ultimate birth place of the project: It was on their first trip to Cape Town in 2019 that the general idea of wanting to portray positive-impact organizations and the people behind them matured into what is now basically a four-people enterprise, consisting of Kamil, Marian, Marian’s sister Marlene and assisting producer Manu Sommer-Ritz.

The connection to Cape Town is rooted in Marian’s and Marlene’s childhood. Marlene – who is in charge of social media, communications, acquisition and PR, among other things – and her brother were part of a youth circus when they were young. Marlene is actually still part of Linoluckynelli, who has ties to ZipZap in Cape Town, which is the circus project Was Gutes made one of those first documentaries about. So there has been a strong connection to Cape Town, and the township of Khayelitsha in particular, from a very early age for Marian and Marlene, which formed a great basis for Was Gutes to lift off of.

Marlene – Jacqueline of all trades and poster girl for the Was Gutes sigil.

Originally the idea for Was Gutes came to Kamil when things with No Drama started to fall apart, and he realized that what he’d been missing from his life and work was the humanitarian aspect of it all: Wanting to help people had always been something he wanted to do, and part of the reason he went into the media industry in the first place. He had started working with schools and different volunteer organizations back when we shared a backyard in Paderborn, and after the dissolution of No Drama started looking into doing something similar in Cologne, which is where he’s been for the past six years, and where Was Gutes has its home base. It’s also where Marian and Marlene are from. And where the volunteer organization is located that built the mobile dentist office they made their very first documentary about. (The German term is “Zahnarztmobil”, please feel free to send in videos of you pronouncing that if you’re not a native speaker). And that’s the last piece of the puzzle – the inauguration project of Was Gutes, if you will.

While their basic idea of making documentaries about positive-impact people, projects and organizations is to raise awareness and, ultimately, funds for their “clients”, ideally their collaborations don’t end with the finished film. Part of the “mission statement” of Was Gutes is to not just go in, make a movie, draw some attention and then forget all about the projects that they introduced, but to make sure that the connection continues to support, which isn’t always easy. With the “Zahnarztmobil“, for example, getting the truck ready and shipped to Syria required a certain initial investment – but to keep the truck and all the equipment running as it’s serving Syrian refugees that are in dire need of dental care is a whole different story. Thankfully, in this instance, the volunteer organization Niehler Freiheit whose premises the truck was built on by invested volunteers had teamed up with another charity, Green Helmets (Grünhelme) that is now running the former food truck loaded with dental chair, instruments and a small office space, in the Aleppo region, and keeps raising funds for the operation.

Yet the question remains: How to amp up effectivity, and keep engaging with the causes Was Gutes cares so much about? How does a project sustain itself that, while it’s close to the heart and fulfilling that need to help that brought Kamil and his collaborators to it in the first place, doesn’t pay any bills, since any donations coming in in response to the movies are being funneled directly into the organizations, but requires the same amount of labour, time and care, if not more, as their paid jobs do – these days mostly commercials? And ideally continues to sustain not just Was Gutes and the people running it, but also the organizations affiliated with it?

Marlene, Manu Sommer-Ritz and Kamil at their week-long work retreat in the Netherlands.

“You need to look at it like it’s a real job – if you start something like this, but then only do it on the side, things will keep colliding. You have to give it your all.”


The funny thing is, even though adjustments needed to be made (originally, the plan was to release one documentary a month, which has proven to not be realistic at this point in time), things keep rolling just fine at Was Gutes. Marian and Kamil launched with a community event on the Niehler Freiheit property in Cologne, which was a huge success – not least of all because of Marian’s tremendous efforts to advertise it beforehand on all social media outlets. Kamil described the evening as full of “long hugs”, with him “running around with a huge smile on my face” in response to the amazing feedback they received from the over 300 people that came, including many people from within the media industry – bloggers, magazine representatives, the whole lot; who didn’t mind that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone to sit on, but came away feeling inspired, some of them thanking the Was Gutes team for reminding them why they, too, went into “doing something in media”: wanting to do good, in some shape or form. Even weeks after the event, Kamil and Marian received offers from people to work with them – maintaining their website, or social media, bringing forward projects, running the camera… they’re still sorting through some of that correspondence. And the beautiful thing is, people either want to help, or they don’t, Kamil says. There’s no negotiations – it’s either yes or no. No BS.

“When you’re working within the media industry, there’s always ups and downs – the question ‘what am I even doing this for’ arises a lot. When you see something inspiring, it triggers something in you – that’s the kind of conversations we had after our summer event: People saying – ‘You gave me something to build on’. That was beautiful.”


That authentic connection is part of what Kamil loves about this work, and it shines through in the way Kamil and Marian shoot their documentaries, too. While he acknowledges that there’s a lot of beauty particularly in the artistic expression that can be funneled into posed, fabricated film settings, he thrives when he can witness people doing what they’re truly passionate about – without too much, if any, direction, or him getting in the way. Which – contrary to your run-of-the-mill media cliché – may include turning the camera off for a while. Which was the case with their last film, about a centre that provides space and healing for traumatized kids and families who lost a close relative, Leuchtturm e.V.. “Some things I don’t want to have on camera – it’s too personal, too intimate”, Kamil says.

Was Gutes Sommerkino

“When they’re completely immersed, forgetting the camera, just doing their thing – that warms my heart.”


On their last trip to Cape Town earlier in 2020, Kamil and Marian organized a screening of their documentaries in the township that they were shot in, involving all the people in the projects (aside from the already mentioned ZipZap Circus School this includes Ubomi, a youth project teaching life skills and art, and Aftekh Coding school) who since have started building connections among themselves. The idea was to “bring it back”, to give those projects the attention and acknowledgement of their own communities, too. Because in the end, Was Gutes see themselves merely as an instrument to show the awesome stuff that’s already there – and if more comes to those projects as an effect of that spotlight, even better.

For Was Gutes, the journey continues a bit closer to home moving forward. While their connection to Cape Town remains strong, they also want to highlight projects at their home base, and in Germany in general. There’s a few ideas floating around, and there’s plans future collaborations, the intention to found a charity to be able to actually collect donations for the organizations and people they work with. And generally to join forces with people who have a similar outlook on life, and the world – like that charity in Bremen they have been in touch with who is supporting refugee support work. “You talk on the phone with complete strangers in Bremen who share the same vision – that’s epic”, Kamil says. Eventually, they hope to have a portfolio that they can present to the public networks in Germany, and maybe make their heart’s work their paid work, too.

For me, it lifts my heart to know that there are people who will not give in to the anxiety that spreads through the news, social media and ultimately into our brains, but who keep focusing on the positive, and, like buying that coffee for the next person who can’t afford it, spread the love, and positivity. Something good, you know?

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[drɪŋks wɪð] Waya Aeon

So here’s something I didn’t anticipate when I decided to widen my – and in extension, this blog’s – horizon: There’s a challenge in writing about people that are passionate about things that I don’t really know all that much – if anything – about: How do I convey their message, while at the same time trying to wrap my head around the contents of what they’re saying, in a way that’s not completely confusing and, ideally, enjoyable to read? As you may have guessed, this story was one of those tricky ones – hard to decide where to begin, and where to go from there, and how. Which is likely why it’s taken me so long to write it. On the bright side, this is also what makes this so enjoyable: It’s intriguing. And I’m definitely learning a lot. Like, so much.

So to solve my dilemma in this particular case, maybe I’ll just start at the beginning (that seems to be working out, usually): I met Waya in early 2019 – although “meeting” might be a bit of an overstatement, since I was in the midst of an intensive 3-month personal development program and deeply immersed in working on my innermost stuff. Not really in a “meeting people” kind of place. But, you know, people still are real, somewhat, and Waya, well, he’s not just your regular blend-in-with-the-crowd kind of guy. Not even here, where the crowd – at least for me, from my very definitely biased point of view – isn’t a very “blendy” one to begin with – personality-wise, anyway. But that’s beside the point.

What I’m trying to say is: Waya is a character. And I don’t mean that in a politely-saying-he’s-weird kinda way, but in a way that’s trying to convey what I experienced when he was at the ashram for a month, participating in our karma yoga program for young adults: He has charisma, a very positive energy, and is hence hard to ignore – in the best way possible. I think most strikingly, his conviction and authenticity around the topics that he cares about were palpable even for me, being all immersed in deep thinking and feelings and stuff. I think I had about two conversations with him during his time here, and one of them led me to change my browser. Which might not seem like much – but again, remember the fact that internet browsers were really not the first thing on my mind during that time.

As I’m reading over the transcript of our interview, I’m realizing that one of the main reasons I wanted to speak to Waya is that he, to me, is a representative of a generation that, for the first time in what seems – at least to me – a while, has been making a name for themselves. They’ve been called by many different ones by now: Generation Greta, Gen Z, post-Millenials… Not that any of those labels actually matter. What does, though, is that this generation is, more than anyone who came before them, directly affected by climate change, in ever increasing ways – and they’re not beating about the bush when it comes to determining who’s responsible for it. And they’re also more aware of what’s happening, and seeking out that awareness rather than hiding from it. The stories that I heard when I was a kid – the ones about fossil fuels running out in 40 years, and the greenhouse effect causing sea levels to rise, the ones nobody really wanted to believe in at the time – they’re not just stories anymore. That shit’s actually happening. Has been then, too, of course, but it was still easy enough to pretend like it didn’t. That’s just not an option anymore. Unless, of course, you wanna be that guy. Don’t be that guy.

“This generation is the one that will induce the turning point of Human Evolution.”

Waya Aeon

Now like I said in the beginning, there’s a lot that I don’t know. Not about youth movements, or certain aspects of history that might give me a little more context around what’s happening – basically, I’m a pretty standard, Wikipedia-this kind of gal. It’s not that I’m not interested. It’s more that I’m struggling with bridging that gap between knowing what’s happening and the need to do everything – anything – I can to help change, shape, prevent, mitigate all these different developments to allow for some sort of continuation of life on this planet on one side, and the sheer incomprehensibility of the scope of what’s happening and a tremendous amount of debilitating anxiety on the other.

And this is where the generation Waya belongs to comes in. Not saying that they don’t face these same issues – quite the opposite, actually – but as far as I can tell, they are developing much more effective ways of bridging this gap. Mainly, of course, because they have to. And I wanted to know what that looks like, starting with Waya (but not ending there. But enough about me. Let’s get to it.

Waya is originally from Meadow Creek, a tiny community north of Kaslo (which, unless you’re a Jazz fan or from the Kootenays, you might never have heard of before, either – it’s not exactly a metropolis). He moved to Calgary to finish High School when he was 15, and then started college there, which he dropped out of a year later.

“When I went into University, I was hoping that I would stumble across my life purpose. And in a sense, I did. (…) When I dropped out of University, it was due to a powerful aversion to the path I was heading down. I did not fully understand why I felt the way I did, but I knew that whatever I had to learn and experience in this life, would not be found in University.”

Instead, he started developing his own way of educating himself, finding tutors in fields he was interested in and/or passionate about and also learned “through osmosis” by reading a ton of books, this way learning from other’s experiences.

This is probably as good a moment as any to mention that, reading over the transcript of our interview from last summer, I’m once again blown away by the spectrum of knowledge, as well as its depth, that is so apparent in this – I’m sorry for potentially sounding like a condescending old fart, but there’s no better way for me to say this – really young dude. Waya’s story – or rather: what I was fortunate enough to learn from it in the two hours we spent at Oso Negro in Nelson (best coffee in town, if not… I don’t know, ever) – while not ordinary even on the surface level is even richer once you get beyond the first layer. For me, talking to Waya opened up my eyes to the world in ways that I definitely didn’t anticipate when I sat down with him, let alone when he first stepped foot into the ashram in March 2019.

As an example: From talking about his experiences of school and the educational system we went to talking about that system in general, to the evolution of knowledge due to the internet and the tremendous power of “the entirety of human history becoming collective knowledge – if you know where to look”, says Waya. I mean, maybe I’m a bit dense, and behind the times, but that thought had not even crossed my mind. Anyway. I’ll stop ranting eventually.


“At this moment, I am not who I think I am. I am a collection of experiences that has been taught to me or that I have been exposed to throughout my life.”

So here’s one power of this generation: The capability to access practically all information about what’s happening in the world. Now, I’m well aware this power is limited to those who live in a part of the world that’s privileged enough to provide internet access for most people. And even then, there will be those arguing that what we’re actually able to see is filtered, biased, constructed by algorithms and Social Network-magnates. All of which might well be true. But for the sake of this article, let’s just pretend we do, indeed, have access to anything we ever wanted and needed to know. What I’m witnessing in people like Waya is a capability of not becoming – like I am, most days – so overwhelmed with even just the thought of the sheer amount of data that I don’t even bother looking, but rather to be able to discern what matters to them, and to translate it, break it down, digest it, and put it back out into the world so that people like me can understand it. While Waya, too, faces those periods of depression, anxiety and shut-down, there seems to be a greater awareness that these periods are – for most people, anyway – temporary.

“Generally we know what’s true and what isn’t – it’s when we doubt ourselves that we start going down the wrong path. (…) The burnout, social withdrawal, dive into depression and climb back out helped me to remember that I am all too human, and it also helped me to fall back in love with life and the journey of redefining my paradigms on the path of goal acquisition”

According to Waya, the challenge of nowadays’ education not just in the systematic sense of the world, but on all levels of teaching, is not so much telling people what is true, but to empower them to find out the truth for themselves, with the internet presenting a forum for all kinds of different realities – which makes discrimination a key skill that needs to be taught, as well as how to “align with this internal compass: intuition”. With all the information that’s out there, waiting to impose itself on the user, “it’s so important to be able to resonate, and to be able to understand that resonation”. To recognize that will allow us to understand how directing our energy into one direction will determine the trajectory of not just our life, but also the life all around us – “and whether or not we’ll learn what we’re here to learn”.

Waya sees his own role in “creating space for those conversations” to be had. Like so many others of his age group (he was born in 1997, in case you were wondering), he’s been deeply inspired by Greta Thunberg’s activism that started really kicking things into gear in 2018, and has caused millions of people not only in their teens to take to the streets, and make the world’s leaders aware of what’s happening, and asking them to start doing something about it. But that’s not where his story began.

Growing up on an organic farm, Waya remembers “eating handfuls” of grass as his parents were dedicated to permaculture and biodynamics – he was born into a life connected with nature and the land, living off of it. Yet as is often the case with the things we have in front of us our entire lives, the dots didn’t really start connecting until he went away, to Calgary, and realized for the first time how the disconnect from nature that he experienced there was deeply affecting him. It wasn’t until he took a program in outdoor wilderness training in grade 11 and 12 that he had a moment of defining clarity: One spring, the group participating in the program that included a lot of backpacking, camping and canoeing went on a solo trip, where they got dropped off in the wilderness and went into different directions, with nothing but “a sleeping bag, water, a knife and a lighter”, being told to build a shelter, write in their journals and reflect. “A silent retreat experience disguised as a wilderness survival training”, as Waya describes it. Once he had built a fire he realized he had forgotten his rope, which was essential to building anything that would hold up and actually give him some protection from the elements. So he started braiding dry grass together to make one, which brought him into a meditative state of great calmness.

That’s when things started clicking in his mind, when he started to see the oneness of everything in the world, and felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to be in this space and time, and to have grown up the way he had that had allowed him to be there, “growing up on my Mom’s back while she hitchhiked around the coast; basically living in the garden, covered in dirt, learning about the importance of gardening and the connection with nature”. That moment – alone, in the wilderness – allowed him to step outside of himself and be reminded of that connection and its importance.

“Looking back on your life, it’s easy to connect the dots, and everything makes sense, but in the moment looking forward, it’s hard to expect what will happen.”

Bill Gates

…which is why trust into one’s own intuition is so important, and to “ensure that every decision you make is contributing to destruction, creation or maintenance – depending on the resonance that you feel, and the energy you’re putting forth”. Actually making decisions is a big part of that. Like David Allen said: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. “So it is crucial that you get super clear on who you are and why you are here, then take MASSIVE action and refine your efforts as you move forward. Sometimes, the best way to learn about yourself is to experience as much as possible, as early on in life as possible, and listen to your intuitive feedback on what vibes and what doesn’t.”

So the big questions are: How can we achieve that? How do we pay attention to that inner voice that we’re usually being taught to ignore, or that’s plastered over by all kinds of people telling you to believe this and not that. And: How does one empower others to do so the same? In Waya’s case, having conversations and encouraging people to build a connection with themselves, and everything around them is a big part of it; in part by “distilling information that is generally complex and hard to understand into a format that is digestible – primarily to empower people to make educated and informed decisions”. Even though he doesn’t see himself as a teacher, as he feels he’s only tapping into a lot of what he’s talking about himself, he is not afraid to share that learning process he’s going through with the world, to hopefully inspire others to come along on the journey with him.

“It all comes down to energy, and what we contribute our energy to – if something is taking energy and we’re just kind of unintentionally allowing that to happen, then we’re not really living our lives, we’re not in control – we’re allowing all of these external sources of energy to draw, to lead us through our lives. And nobody should be subject to that.” So it’s not about taking anything anyone says at face value, but to be open to see, hear and feel to whatever comes up – and to build a relationship with ourselves, our own gut-feeling, to really trust ourselves to know what’s right and what isn’t. It’s my belief – as well, I think, as Waya’s – that deep down, we all have that compass. We just disagree on what following it looks like – and then, of course, there’s a lot of fear around doing the actual following, for various (mostly selfish) reasons. “Society has a tendency to resist – to oppress that which is different in the moment, and praise it once it changes the world.” And that’s where the real trouble begins.

“We have never before lived in a time where we have had access to all the solutions to all of our problems – technically, intuitively, logistically and intellectually. We know what the solutions are. The roadblock is willpower and connection – understanding that this needs to happen. It’s really urgent! We don’t have time to waste.”

So Waya is keeping up his practice of telling the world what he believes to be true, and to direct his energy into projects that he believes will sustain life on earth in the long run. He continues to speak to people about what he sees happening in the world, the problems he sees with policies, habits and (wilful) ignorance. His “big goal is to redefine what it means to be Human, and create the conditions on Earth necessary for Consciousness to flourish and expand, for all humans to have the opportunity to thrive and discover their innate and unique potential, and to create and support ecological and energetic harmony on this planet. My primary project is to build a ladder from where we currently are ti that new reality. And more critically, for this ladder to have a dashboard that anyone can read and understand, in order to bring all of humanity onto the same page, so that we can start writing the next chapter together, and climb the ladder faster.”

And so he continues to encourage people to remember we have one major power: We have us. We’re not alone. “We’re all in this together.” We have the ability to cooperate, to communicate and to make change happen: “We have so much potential (…) and we have some crucial things to learn in our lives”: Waya believes that we can be the race that perceives the beauty and oneness of the universe, but only if we manage to change our trajectory so that we (as in: all that is this planet) can survive. 

According to Waya, 5% of the total global population needs to be mobilised in order to “create radical change”. That’s around 390 Million people, give or take. “If in the course of a year we can make it from one (Greta Thunberg in front of the Stockholm parliament, that is) to 1 million, this year is gonna have an exponential growth”.

And I have no doubt that Waya will do his part in this exponentiation. For my part, I stopped eating meat after our conversation. Because learning  – and knowing for myself to be true – some of the things I learned from talking to him, it was impossible for me to go back to acting like I didn’t know. Which might not sound like much to some, but maybe it gives an idea of the impact a single conversation can have. What, I wonder, would happen if we all stopped and listened to what our intuition told us about the state of the world, and what we – each of us individually, and all of us together – could do about it. If we were able to look beyond our fears, and stopped acting on them.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margarent Mead

[drɪŋks wɪð] COVID 19 (potentially) [fin]

Day 9. I wake up with a buzzing mind. Strange dreams, maybe – I can’t remember them clearly. Or maybe I don’t want to. I get up, start my day with some Hatha Yoga. Movement usually helps. I notice all those thoughts that are flitting around in my head are all centered around one thing: Me.

This is a funny position I’m in. I’m here to work on myself, on all those patterns, to get a little less attached to all these desires that are presenting themselves in the most beautiful colours today. I’m here to learn to love myself, to accept where I am, all the flaws and everything, and grow from there. I’m here to cultivate compassion – for others, yes, but to be able to do that, I need to start with myself.

And there’s not a whole a lot of compassion for egocentrism in this world, or in myself. Yet is that really what this is?

Much later, after a day of emotional turmoil, and some sadness and heaviness that seemed to come out of nowhere, and after some practice, and reflection that felt really meaningful and like I was going somewhere, and after yet another binge, I sit and try to honestly write down how I feel. This is what comes out.

“Hey you. I know you’re feeling pretty shitty about yourself right now. I’m sorry about that. And I understand – it seems like things aren’t getting better, but worse. You ask yourself if you actually want to change – and it’s true that part of you wants to keep you small, dependant, and from stepping into your potential.

But what’s also true is that likely, the reason why this part is expressing itself through binge-eating and numbing is because it feels so threatened by all the progress you’ve been making – and this is the only way it can now wield power over you. Sure, there’s other parts to this, too. And it’s gonna be important and necessary to look at all of those. But remember you are making progress. A lot. And you will with this, too. I believe that – I know that. And you do, too. You just need to remember. I love you, you know. No matter how many binges we go through. I’ve got your back.”

So what I’m ending this day with is a thought: That there needs to be balance. I know I care for others, a lot – sometimes to an extent that turns that care into yet another distraction from what’s going on with me. I am nothing without me, so caring for me is an integral part of creating and maintaining that balance.

Day 10. My last day in quarantine. Looking back over the past ten days, I see a lot of trying, a lot of perseverance and true effort to make a change. I’m not gonna lie and pretend like I’m not a little anxious about returning to the community tomorrow. I’m not so worried about the work part – and that in itself is pretty big – because I had the opportunity to try out my insights around that while I was still in isolation. And while the true test is of course yet to come – to keep up those practices that have helped me to keep centered, and on identifying when I need to step away and take a break, rather than pushing through any and every challenging situation or stress – I have a pretty good feeling about this part of it all.

What I am nervous about is that I will slip back into that pattern where I shut myself off when I’m anxious (which is kind of ironic, I know), and turn into this aloof, short person that pushes everyone away because I “just can’t deal with this right now”, while really what I’m not dealing with is why I’m anxious. I quite fell in love with this open-hearted, grateful, connected person that I discovered within myself over the past while – I don’t wanna lose her.

Here’s the thing. I wish I could tell you: This is what I’m gonna do, and it’s gonna work for sure, and that’s the happy ending. But I can’t. Because I’ve done that. So many times. And what it does is that it sets me up for disappointment, which usually ends up in a good beating of myself (mentally, I’m not friggin Edward Norton) and/or a big old binge of some sort or other. The one thing that has worked for me, though, and that has really come forward since last week Monday, is this: Just start over. Even when it sucks, and I hate it, and I really feel like just not giving a damn anymore and just giving up. Eventually, I just gotta do it. Listen to silly music, eat a ton of snacks, watch a ton of dumb series. And to know that THAT is the ultimate token of love I can give myself: to come back to that place, and start over. And no matter what my path ends up being, starting over will keep me walking it.

Thank you for following this one along with me. ❤

[drɪŋks wɪð] COVID 19 (potentially) [contd]

Day 7&8. Yesterday started out so good. I felt connected, albeit a bit tired in the morning – “dialed in”, so to speak. Did a bunch of work, which felt good, identified moments where I started to feel anxious or stressed, and took breaks when I needed to. I didn’t feel like I was overdoing it. I cancelled a zoom call with a friend because other things were popping up that seemed more urgent. I was quite pleased with how well I was dealing, and adapting, and not snacking even though I REALLY wanted to. I even did an interview in the evening, which was really lovely.

And then I slipped. Right back into those old patterns – I could watch myself do it. Could see myself hit “next” and “next” and “next”, watching mindlessly, eating endlessly. I saw it, and all my work of the days prior seemed for nothing. Even though in the morning, I even found a new pathway for my mind to walk on when it went to that place where all it wanted was to numb itself: “When my mind and body are resting within each other, I am at peace, I am free.” Pretty good path, I thought.

And still think. And I think I’m beginning to realize that this is where the true magic lies: In understanding that slipping doesn’t mean stopping – or it doesn’t have to, anyway. So even though when I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty horrible, beating myself up on top of feeling physically a bit wrecked (there is such a thing as snack-hangovers, believe it or not), it didn’t take much to bring me back to a place of acceptance and compassion, and of thinking: Yep, that happened. And it will likely happen again. So let’s do it all again, today, tomorrow, the day after.

To be fair, I have a pretty favourable situation going on here: All I have to do is step out the door, and I’m in the woods. By the lake. Looking at the mountains. The creek. Eagles up above. Cougar poop down below. Sweet tree scent all around. Regardless, me being okay with myself within a matter of a 45 minute walk is pretty huge. And this, too, might change again – it might take me a couple of days, or a week, or two. But I’m learning that, although it sometimes feels like I didn’t learn anything, and am going right back to the start when I fall into these dark places, that’s not actually the case. I make a little headway every time I get back up, think, reflect, feel, love myself a little harder, give myself a little more credit. Sometimes the steps feel huge, and sometimes they feel reversed, but they’re always happening. And to be honest, that’s all I could ever ask for. It feels like movement in the right direction.

[drɪŋks wɪð] COVID 19 (potentially) [contd]

Day 4. I think. I’m a little surprised how well I’m doing with this seclusion. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying that – maybe I jinxed it now. Anyway. As with everything in the world right now, day by day seems the way to go.

Today. What was today like. Creative, I’d say. I was able to get a little work done, but mostly I was reading, resting, and writing. And listening to music. It still baffles me at times how little of that I do, considering my background. But with this virus situation happening, music and how artists express themselves is changing, too. A friend from the good old Vancouver open mic days offered a house concert through Facebook live. How lovely that was. Saturday, one of my favourite artists of all time is doing the same thing through Side Door Access – said artist is Dan Mangan, who is also a cofounder of this pretty sweet project that usually connects artists with people who want to host house concerts with them, and is now facilitating online shows for little money. Which made me marvel once again at the opportunities we have with this amazing medium, the internet. Such potential.

I’m tired now, but it’s the good kind of tired: The tired after a day of nourishing productivity. I want to capture that, so I can come back to it later, and remember it, when I fall back into the kind of tired that makes me want to disconnect and numb myself, rather than truly rest and relax. Because I will. But the good news is: I know I will also keep trying to change. So there. That’s pretty good.

Day 5. Surrender was the first word I wrote down today, and it suits. I was supposed to get my work computer brought up to my „quarantine quarters“, but somehow – miraculously – something got lost in translation and I didn’t.

Two things happened: I panicked (a little). And then I gave in. Not on my own accord, not at first. But eventually, I got it. And then something marvellous took place: I went from not knowing what to do with myself („What does that even mean – resting?!“) and guilt („Everybody else is working their butt off, and I’m supposed to just do nothing??!!“) to literally doing just that. I was just sitting there, with my tea, looking out the window. And even though this has been a practice of mine pre-quarantine, it never has been as effective as it was today. Except for maybe the first couple of days. Probably because my tendency can be to let my practices turn into something mechanical, automated, pretty quickly.

The amazing thing was, just sitting there allowed me to realize that I am, indeed, quite tired. Throughout the day, there were a few moments like that where I was doing something – working, reading, writing – and noticed that I wasn’t really “in it”. The same thing, I found out, happens when I mindlessly stare at social media, or Netflix – which also ties in with that good old binge-eating habit I recently discovered. And I know this isn’t breaking news for anyone, but today for the first time it hit home for me that doing nothing is not something that we’re taught, or that’s in any way encouraged in our society. We’d rather have a phone in our face, or on our ear, or a freckin fidget spinner in our hand than to just be for a minute. And I understood: THAT’S why I’m so damn tired all the time. Because it keeps my mind busy without me even noticing, which keeps my body tense, or my hand reaching into that nut jar over and over and over and over.

Of course there are also other aspects to this – like the urge to keep comparing myself to how much others are doing, and feeling like I’m not doing (but really: being) enough, or my anxiety around what others (but really: me) are expecting of me and how I’m being a disappointment, and the need to feel needed and useful (but really: loved) – and those are all true and valid and so in need to be looked at. But my biggest win of the day is to have made the experience of truly. Just. Doing. Nothing. And how invigorating that can be. And that maybe what’s being asked of me at this point in time is not to exert myself to the point of exhaustion, and to find ways to expand my energy so I can “do more”, but rather to really pay attention to what it is that I need to be healthy, happy, and whole – to surrender to my body’s wisdom, and to be grateful for the circumstances that allow me the space and time to do just that. I’d say that’s pretty good for a Wednesday.

Day 6. I felt like today was a bit of a test run. I got set up with my work computer, and the urge to just delve right back in was definitely strong. Thankfully, though, and not least thanks to many wise people around me, I managed to “stay with it”, as they say around here, for the bigger part of the day. I worked, in good measure, I took breaks, I ate, I went for my first walk in 6 days, I read, I talked to friends and my Grandpa. I listened to some live music and marvelled once again at the potential of our technology. And that’s where it got a bit hectic, too, because I also really wanted to work on my book reflection… alas. Babysteps. I am immensely grateful that I still have a few days to keep practicing, to keep discovering and building and fortifying these new pathways for my mind to walk on instead of the old ones that don’t really work all that well anymore. And I recognize how privileged I am to be able to do that, held by this wonderful community and the beautiful land around us. So I’m ending this day feeling blessed, and with a full heart. Thank you, Universe.