Dirk Moerkens in conversation with FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke
December 23, 2014
Note from Publisher/Editor Mark Kolke: since I started FACILITYCalgary 15 years ago, all the writing has been mine. I tried having someone write a technology column for a while but that didn’t gain traction. A little over two years ago at the urging of some friends, fans and sponsors I started interviewing fascinating people. That process has become both a weekly ritual and instructive opportunity - to walk around inside people’s lives. I’ve enjoyed it and, for the most part, so have they. This year one of my most interesting interviews was with Dirk Moerkens, in part because he’s an interesting guy with insights on the insurance industry which I thought readers would find valuable, and also because I found his personality intriguing.
Then he turned the tables – asked if he could interview me. Gulp. OK then. And here you have it. Please enjoy.
A conversation with Mark Kolke in the Ranchmen’s Club Library December 9th 2014 by Dirk C Moerkens.
I was one of the people that Mark interviewed and subsequently wrote about in this newsletter. The process got me thinking about my own aspirations as a writer.
It was then that I conceived the idea of interviewing Mark, and trying my hand at writing the piece for publication in Mark’s own Facility Calgary.
I proposed the idea to Mark and, apparently fearless, he agreed. Mark admitted to a degree of apprehension at the prospect of being interviewed, not knowing what the questions would be or how he would answer them. That lead me to ask about things he would have done if he had not been afraid to take the risk. There was a pause, and then another.
The words ‘Know Thyself’ were carved into the stone over the entrance portal of the temple of the Oracle at Delphi. Make no mistake about it, these are words with meaning and philosophers during the more than 2000 years since the inscription was first written have been trying to interpret and add substance to it. What they were doing was not just inwardly focused. They were also trying to make sense of the world and all of the wonders in it as reflected in the eyes and minds of the observers.
“Be Thyself” are good words to live by too, and in order to do justice to that sentiment, knowing your own mind, making good choices and coming to reasoned conclusions all depend on how well we know ourselves. Mark Kolke has explored his own mind and life experiences through the medium of his writing. If he had a motto, I speculate that it would read ‘Scribo, ergo sum’, ‘I write, therefore I am.’
Mark was born in Estevan Saskatchewan in 1951 where the family lived until 1959 when Dad got a job in Red Deer Alberta. Since that date Mark’s home turf has been defined by Highway 2. 1968 saw Mark in Grade 12 and a move to Calgary. A job opportunity beckoned in Edmonton in 1973 where he stayed until 1999 when he returned to Calgary.
Mentors and role models have a profound influence on our lives, and Mark is no different. Ask most of us and we would name those that had the most positive effect, but Mark took the question in a broader sense and wryly admitted he had good ones and bad ones.
His father was one of the people that Mark most wanted to be like, a man he characterizes by saying he has never met a nicer human being. Very kind, some would say meek, but definitely not lacking courage, a simple and hard working man.
One of his teachers in junior high was Bill Heinsen, grade 8 and 9 Science and home room as well as other activities in grades 6 and 7. Heinsen introduced Mark to culture in the form of classical music and the arts. To this day Mark loves a good play, the opera and the grand galleries of art museums in Ottawa and New York City. At the time we were talking about this we were having lunch in the Wolves Den at the Ranchmen’s Club, surrounded by various works from the club’s collection. He admits he doesn’t know much about art or why he likes some but not all of it, but he knows what he does like. ‘Every young person should have the chance to experience the great art treasures in the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, and take pride in the collection held in trust for Canadians, a rite of passage. If you have to make a choice, skip Parliament Hill, go to the National Gallery.’
He has had some terrible employers, people from whom he learned lots of bad habits it has taken decades to shake, and not yet with complete success. That is still a work in progress. The interesting thing about this is Mark is completely aware of those things he needs to change about himself, or at least try to, and is as transparent as possible about it. Truly ‘being himself’ without embarrassment or self-recrimination.
There really wasn’t anything he decided not to do out of fear, rather, there were all kinds of things he would do, or is doing, because he can. There was a dream about playing a key role in the creation of a fantastic building that never came to fruition, but any number of other things that did. As of this writing, Mark is developing a social media model or platform to assemble public speakers. He wants to set up a speakers' bureau and do more public speaking himself, and above all, more writing and storytelling.
More travel, some of it off the beaten path, perhaps a journey up the Amazon River by boat in a fashion that would enable him to really see it. A journey to some new places, but also back to those that are familiar, like Maui where he can pack all his luggage into a carry-on bag, doesn’t need a tour guide or a map, and can always find something new in a familiar setting in what is arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Other interests include food, and not just the eating, but also the preparation, holding court in the kitchen while cooking for friends, an interest that went back to adolescence and an aspiration to be a chef. To this day he expresses mixed feelings about not having been able to do that.
Whatever it is that he decides to do one thing is certain; he is going to write about it. It always comes back to the writing, the need to express, teach and share. There is a desire to contribute and make a difference in the lives of others that was not apparent when he first started writing and public speaking.
Through his daily column writings [ http://markmusing.com] he has shared with us his view of the world in such simple things as the morning walks with Gusta, his 10-year-old golden retriever, fondly referred to as ‘his blonde bitch’. Mark has had dogs for years, real dogs, no lapdogs for him, certainly not. After being without for a number of years he got a dog that “needs at least as much exercise as I do,” a nod at keeping in shape. The morning walks were an established habit long before he adopted Gusta, but having the companionship just made them that much better.
Writing a daily column started as a gauntlet tossed down before his daughter in a smart ass gesture of encouragement to write a book she had been talking about. The object of the exercise was to demonstrate that all it took was to put pen to paper, or hands on keys, to start something that would take on a life of its own.
“I wanted to foster knowledge and opportunity for my children in the way they were raised, and now for my grandchildren. I have contemporaries who did this for their kids. I never had that growing up, and had to figure out how to do that on my own.”
I didn’t find out if his daughter ever wrote that book, but Mark learned he had the discipline for writing. ‘I write so that I can learn what I think; it helps me to organize my thoughts.’ It’s more than just that now for Mark, it’s proof of life, a philosophical proposition, and something he can’t go a day without doing.
The greatest compliments he believes he has received stem from his writing and public speaking, and the power it has given him to move people, changing some lives for the better, and even saving a few. Having consciously stepped back from the brink of disaster 28 years ago when he decided to stay sober, he understands despair. He now understands what he can do about it and maybe improve other lives as well as enrich his own. There were a couple of times when he knew what he was doing, and others where the influence of his words found someone who needed to read them, and find comfort. He told me that these tales belong to others and for that reason was reluctant to tell me the story. The fact there is another person out there with a tale to tell is good enough for him.
It became increasingly evident that Mark has a great deal of empathy, able to vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others, emotionally and intellectually. The writing has provided an outlet which has become a mirror for his reflections.
We all have our regrets, circumstances we would like to change or choices to take back and do over. When I asked the question Mark once again took it in a much broader context, and his answer suggested that he probably wouldn’t change anything about his life. Instead, he responded with a ‘What if’ scenario, and went back to the very beginning, saying he would have liked to have been born into a different family, one where alcoholism was not present, and one in which his mother would not have been the desperately coping co-dependent spouse. This from a man who described his father as the nicest human being he could ever hope to meet. A contradiction? Possibly, but the answer given was not about what he would have changed, but instead, ‘What if’ things had been different?
He would have liked a family that was better educated about the world that could have opened his eyes to the possibilities and wonders that much sooner. Having enjoyed a number of conversations with Mark, I can testify that his eyes are certainly wide open now. It’s never too late for that.
In closing, it turns out there was one thing he probably wouldn’t do because he would be somewhat wary if not actually afraid, and that is a third marriage. Two ex-wives and two divorces are enough for any man. The way things are now he has all he needs. The house is comfortable and paid for as is the car, there is money for groceries and business continues to provide satisfaction. The market is probably going to be going through the downward curve of the cycle, but he’s seen that before and knows how to deal with it. Right now the priority is finding a way to spend more time in Maui. And of course to keep writing.
I’m looking forward to the next conversation with my friend, Mark Kolke. I have no idea where it will lead but it’s guaranteed to be thought provoking.
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