Monthly Archives: November 2007

If I thought it didn’t matter what I wrote

Every day, I get up and write. Some days, it is the best activity ever invented. Some days it is like pulling teeth. Most days I wonder why I bother.

Not last week. Last week I went to a public consultation for the Commission d’agglomeration de Montreal sur le developpement economique. They were studying whether to fund an expansion of Ile Sans Fil. In the remarks period, I expressed my support for the plan, as a researcher studying municipal and community wireless.

Then the committee members asked their questions. The mayor of St-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the West Island, started his questions by saying, ‘I don’t know much about these issues. So I asked a friend to recommend me some reading. He sent me an article by Alison Powell and Leslie Regan Shade.”

Then he read the words we wrote, the critical questions we had asked about the sustainability of community wireless networking projects. Sitting in a leather seat in a marble hall, I realized those words had made a difference.

The next day, the mayor of Ste-Anne followed up with me, and we had a long conversation about the role of technology projects in economic development strategies, the expansion of open-source organizational models, and the scalability of wireless networks. At the end of the conversation he thanked me and Leslie for writing the way that we did: clearly, informatively, elegantly.

If I thought it didn’t matter what I wrote, how I wrote . . .I’ve changed my mind. Now, I’m off to bed, because tomorrow, I have to get up and start again.

Reunion Tour

Here I am in a basement conference room, sitting next to Sascha and Dharma. Mike is behind me, and Tracey is over there, sitting next to Gabe from Murmur. And of course, the CRACIN gang is spread around.

(International Community Wireless Networking Expert Mimi Gabor was also glimpsed, briefly. Photographs to follow . . .)

This is billed as the CWIRP workshop, but we think it should be the Reunion Tour. I feel privileged to be part of this great group of colleagues and friends. Sure, we are doing work that we feel is changing the way we think about communications, community, and democracy, but we are also building relationships that make arriving in a strange city feel like coming home.

Let’s sing that song again, one more time . . . .

All those other lives I never lived

I recently applied for a conference to be held in Montreal in May. The brochure for the conference was illustrated with “typical” Montreal images: curving metal staircases, lights on the St-Lawrence seaway, neon signs on St-Catherine. An offer of what the city is meant to give to tourists.

Biking home in the golden light this afternoon I passed hundreds of “typical” blocks of flats, engaging in my usual habit of imagining “what would my life be like if I lived somewhere else — on the Plateau, downtown, in St-Henri . . ” I imagined the tiny but important differences from my life at Jean-Talon. A different vegetable market. Fewer Mexican restaurants. Another cafe with different owners. Would they remember my allonge, collect my forgotten mittens for me?

Next month, I will live in a Victorian row house in West London. From the back window of that house, you can see the planes land at Heathrow, above the rows of chimneys, the thick trees full of birds. The London tourist brochures show images of these white-fronted terrace houses, window boxes full of flowers. The brochures include pictures taken down along the Thames where I run sometimes, past houseboats and waterfront pubs and parks. Beyond what’s in the pictures, the river has surprising beauty. The city noise falls away, leaving the sound of rowing skiffs, clinking glasses, and geese. On the far bank, bicycles careen through mud left by high tide, against the backdrop of wild parkland. Even in winter, the trees are green.

By the time I come back to Montreal it will be spring. I have never lived through a winter with no snow, without the bitter cold jab of air in the nose on a February morning. This feeling is never described in a tourist brochure. Neither is the precise quality of light reflected at 4 pm through my office window.

The fact is, we can never know what things, exactly, change our lives. I came to Montreal almost by accident, but living here has given me something I never could have imagined. Paris, too. As I prepare for a new life, in another city, I wonder — not even daring to imagine — what surprising beauty I will find.