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Middle Age Bulge

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The Power of An Open Door

The front door of our office area was pretty much closed all the time as there was this security device that started to beep annoyingly if it was open for longer than 20 seconds. The only exception to that rule was when it was propped open in one particular position. Then the device would discern it to be a person and it would remain silent. I’m guessing that the security measure was to ensure that the main door got closed when there was no one in the area - an audible cue to “shut the damn door.”


Said door remained closed - though unlocked, as there was a manual switch you could flip to allow entry, even though the electronic box outside the door often flashed red suggesting that entry wasn’t going to happen - all through the fall and into the winter. When I returned after the Christmas holidays, there was the door, propped wide open, and not a beep to be heard.

“Oh my God,” I said to Pamela, the newly hired administrative assistant for the Keyano Conservatory. “How did you manage to pull off this New Year’s miracle?”

“I called and asked if they could turn it off, and they did.”

The difference in energy, activity, and connectivity is distinct and delightful.

Where people used to hesitate before cautiously trying the door handle, now they wander in, as if drawn by some unseen force. If Pamela is not around, one of us - Michael, Jane, Erin, or Misha - is quick to jump up from what we’re doing to say hello. Getting to engage these random folks, if only for five or ten minutes, has become one of the great joys of my job.

I enjoyed meeting Jessica Hines, a photographer who lives near Savannah, Georgia who was up in the area visiting her significant other, an engineer working in Wood Buffalo. The two of them wandered in asking about the types of things that were going on with the arts at Keyano and in the community. I invited them into my office, which has grown into a welcoming and warm space for dialogue, and delighted in hearing about this accomplished artist, her project My Brother’s War, and her intrigue about our community. Had I not had to leave to go to a meeting, I got the sense that the visit could have gone on in perpetuity.

The open door has drawn in some amazing people including a lovely lady in February looking for singing opportunities, one of the very small percentage of females who work in the oil sands industry and live in camp, though she just recently moved into town. She has been flying in and out for six or seven years, and in the short visit that we enjoyed, I got the sense that she was longing for connection, opportunity, and quality of life things like singing in a choir, or attending lectures.

“I can’t wait to listen to Malcolm Gladwell on Thursday,” she said. “I recently picked up Blink! at the library and thought it was amazing.”

“Have you read The Tipping Point yet?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Wait here,” I said, as I ducked into my office and grabbed a copy of the book which had just returned after lending it to a colleague over Christmas.

“Here,” I said, handing it over. “This will ensure you come back and see us again.”

The next day, another fellow drifted into our world, looking for opportunities, longing for something beyond a fat paycheck.

“I want to volunteer. I’ll do absolutely anything,” he said, interested in theatre, music and performance. A process operator working three days, three nights, six off, he’s reached a point in his life where he wants more, a life outside of work. His desire and intent to do something about it signals a potential tipping point in that early affluent 25 to 35 year old segment that makes me smile brim to brim. This group consists of people who have come here from around the world to earn a living, people who are discovering that they equally deserve a life. We are ready, willing, and able to help them make that leap.

In the span of just 90 minutes last week I had marvelous visits with a hip-hop artist turned social work student, a basketball player originally from the Congo, and a documentary filmmaker from Germany. Other visitors that have been drawn in by the energy of an open door have included a Guinness World Record holder and world-class beatboxer (Balu), a top-level hip-hop artist (TK), and a special event impresario/community builder originally from Scotland. We share stories, explore possibilities, and dream large. We bask in the energy that is created by a sense of welcome, wonder, and opportunity.

Our door is open. We hope you wander in real soon.


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.