Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Surprise Encounter With Serendipity

Barbara: Clichés are handy because they remind you that your surprise encounter is not unusual, but rather shared by thousands––or millions!––in their own unique ways. Which cliché are we exploring today? Glad you asked. It’s “Life works in mysterious ways.”

Seven months ago I was my daughter’s date at a function to honour some of the fashion design students at her university (she won the Wayne Clark award for Fashion Illustration—woo hoo!). I was the proud stage-mom (another handy cliché) and followed her around all goggle-eyes and puppy-dog tongue hanging out as Canadian fashion luminaries mingled around us (hello, Jeanne Beker!!). I pushed my shy daughter forward to meet people, then hung back while she gained her confidence.

The beautiful Olga and I at "Being She"
I could go on about my daughter’s wondrousness, but I’m telling you this story because the strangest thing happened to me. Stefanie was having a nice conversation with one of her mentors, the inimitable Olga Koel of Danier Leather, and apropos of nothing (that either one of us can remember), Olga turned to me and announced that I was going to help her on a volunteer committee for a big upcoming event. Without thinking twice—not lingering on my lack of experience or lack of information!—Olga and I were exchanging digits and a volunteer was born.

When the fog lifted (damn those clichés!), I realized that I had “asked the universe” for just such an opportunity. I wanted to be part of something outside of my circle of experience. Conversely, I also loathed the idea of fundraising (although absolutely respect and understand the need for it!). But lo, this event was a photo-based art exhibit called Being She in honour of Women’s College Hospital’s 100th year anniversary and was being held at the sexy boutique hotel, The Gladstone. No fundraising! Lots of art! I had inadvertently hit the volunteer jackpot.

Women’s College is an esteemed Toronto hospital whose claim to fame is that it was started and formed by women and has dedicated itself ever since to women’s health issues and healthcare. That it was started 100 years ago and flourished almost defies belief. To this day, they are still leaders in women’s healthcare. And here’s more serendipity at work: both my girls were born at the hospital!

Of course, in the months that followed, I couldn’t just be an adoring fan, I had to step up. I had to find resources I didn’t know I had. I had to use resources I did know I have, but that didn’t get a lot of exercise. The hardest job by far was having to phone every editor, photographer, and journalist in the city to ask them if they’d received the publicist’s material and to consider covering the event. It took several full days to go through the list. And how many mouthfuls in this improvised pitch: “I’m calling to follow up on a media advisory we sent out a couple of weeks ago about a photo-based art exhibit called Being She that’s being held in honour of Women’s College Hospital’s 100th anniversary and opening at the Gladstone Hotel on Thursday June 9th at 6:30pm.” Huge intake of breath, borderline hyperventilation. I had to go well outside my comfort zone and was surprised to discover just how quickly that new zone also becomes comfortable.

The appreciation I received from my group for performing this task was embarrassing to say the least. But I knew that they knew just how onerous a job it was. We also all realized that if we didn’t follow up, then most of the press would have lost the advisory in their in-boxes. I’m thrilled to say we got great coverage: national magazines (House&Home, Canadian Living), local papers, national papers (Globe and Mail and National Post), and radio (CBC), etc, etc. Of course, my job was just a tiny cog in the wheel of procuring this coverage as there were tireless PR people from both the hospital and the hotel working on it.

The opening reception was a huge success, with members of the healthcare community rubbing shoulders with artists and their appreciators from the arts community. The art was superb, moving and beautiful, the stories behind them heart-stopping. I was beyond proud to be involved with this stellar event and its circle of dedicated organizers.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, the event continues until August 1st. Check it out! The featured artists are on the 3rd and 4th floor lobbies of the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. You can also ask the hotel about guided tours of the work. And if you go to this Flickr link (yes, that’s me and Charlotte) and click “actions”, then “slideshow”, the following photos (credited to Michele Ayoub) were taken by my other wondrous daughter and handled and organized by my older daughter.

Full circle back to wondrous daughters and that timely night seven months ago when a woman I’d never met before tapped my shoulder and called me up. Be careful what you wish for because life works in mysterious ways and if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen until you realize that it’s all just a bowl of cherries. With a cherry on top.

Deb: I think the universe keeps itself very busy telling us what our next
path is and, more specifically, what our next window of opportunity
is. When I first met you, Barb, as you know I kinda wrote you off as a
beautiful blonde with talent and charm but nothing to offer me in the
way of deep friendship. Universe had other plans. Then I listened at
the end of each meeting to your assessment of your day’s work for our
film. Your contacts, your excitement, your zeal. And I was shamed.
Maybe the universe is poking you. Xo

PS We have a very special 3-way coming up this Friday (actually a 4-way…And some very handsome men might be involved…)

PPS Kiss Me Kate teased us about not announcing our shows when they are on. So we’re going to give a little shout-out to Deb’s show, Single White Spenny, which airs on Thursday nights at 9:30pm––she plays Spenny’s depraved mom. And you can find Barbara on episodes 3 and 5 of Good Dog on HBO Canada as Ken Finkleman’s bitter ex-wife.


  1. Nice post it
    And barb it sounds like a great chance at trying something new. sometimes I think people Do have to get outside of their comfort zone in order to relize how much of a great chance something is. Because If u don't do it when h have the chance then who knows when u will ever have that chance again.


  2. Thanks, Lyndsie. You're right about the importance of grabbing that opportunity when it comes. Often we turn our backs out of fear or uncertainty. I certainly learned that it pays to go for it!

  3. I can only imagine all the things you both do that you don't tell us about. Two amazing women with lots to share. Wish I could see some of your work on US TV. Also, great daughters, Barbara the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

  4. I wish our stuff showed on American TV too, Madge. Hopefully soon!! (and thanks, you're a peach)

  5. I think it's always easier to stretch uncomfortably on behalf of someone else's need or for a good cause than it is to do something reaching on your own behalf.

    I looked through all of the event pictures in the flickr pool.

    First of all, I kept thinking, "Michele's photography, videography, etc. will soon be featured in fancy schmancy shows like this. Should already be."

    From the bit of the photographs/artwork I saw in the photostream, ooooooooOOooooo, I wish I could've been there to see the whole show. Very cool assortment of pieces. My favorite parts were the herbalism photograph and the woman with the embroidery scissors, bottles of essential oils, etc. It made me think of the olden times (and, actually, modern times back in the hollers in Appalachia) where the older, eccentric wise woman living on the edge of the village would mix the potions and remedies and midwife for the village. (Of course, sadly, lots of those funky old chics ended up getting accused of witchcraft, but anyway...) It seems amazingly appropriate to weave herbalism and folk cures into a show about women and health given women's role in folk medicine through history.

    The talisman themed photographs were also a very cool touch. Very beautifully done.

    The collage of vintage nurse themed romance novels cracked me up! What a cool thing to include!

    It looks like the evening was a joyful success. And, I'm so glad that you found joy in working on the project.

  6. That's very exciting! The universe does seem to have plans for us, we just have to watch for them and take them when they come our way.

    Doing phone calls is WAY out of my comfort zone. How I hate making phone calls. Well, except for calling the insurance company. I love to call them up and yell at them. :)

  7. Hey Rigel, I hoped you might feel inclined to scroll through the shots! The artist/herbalist was indeed a special addition. She'd created a special concoction just for the show which commemorates women's health issues. She said the pills could be ingested or kept as art. I loved her! And I agree with you about stretching on behalf of others is easier -- but if we're diligent, we can use those newfound skills to enrich our own lives too.

    Molly, you like a few other readers here (Rigel, April, Elle, for example) always surprise me when you confess to communication issues -- you are all so exceptionally articulate!! (but getting mad at bad insurance people can be satisfying :)

  8. Barbara -

    Saying things in writing is quadrillion-fold times easier than saying things with voice to face. To start with, there's none of that gut twisting eye contact nonsense...

  9. Apparently comfort zones are made to be broken ;)

    Who wants to go next :)

  10. July 7, Barbara. :P

  11. I really enjoyed your post, Barb! I, too, have experienced how the universe (though, I believe it's God :)) works in mysterious ways! You see, I work as a cashier at a grocery store. In the past year, our store has hired and transferred people that have become some of my closest friends! Also, these new people have given me opportunities (at and outside work) that I never could have foreseen for myself! Serendipity, for sure!
    Oh, if the four-way is who I THINK it will be, we are in for SUCH a good time! :)

  12. Whoops! Ignore the first one, guys... I addressed the wrong "Middle-Ager"! :/

  13. lol, Beth!! Been there, done that. I thought I'd expedite things by removing the first one. Hope that's okay (I know that commenters can't do that, am I right?)

    Anyway, thanks for your great comment! And as for Friday's post ... you will just have to wait and see .... di-di-di-di-di...

  14. Thanks for fixing that! Can't wait for Friday's post! :)

  15. I'm still scrinching up my face and spluttery giggling over the use of "Deb" and "depraved" in the same sentence. No matter the context, there's something too funky weird about that! ;) I guess it's just further proof that she's a good actor.

  16. "Exceptionally articulate"- You're too kind, Barbara. And I'm glad the event turned out so well for you. Sometimes the universe really, really knows what it's doing!

    I'm looking forward to Friday's post. It should be very interesting, indeed, with two extra perspectives. :)

  17. Rigel, yup, Deb is THAT good :)

    April, not "too kind", just callin' 'em as I sees 'em.


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