Category Archives: musing

Great lives of my life: A party

So there was this party a few weeks ago. My party. A party where people came to a restaurant to see my photographs and hang out. My opening party.

I worried for weeks. What if nobody came? What if too many came and there wasn’t enough food? What if my dress was wrong or I looked weird? What if people really didn’t like my photos? And what if they actually told me? A constant flutter of worries.

These things would wake me up in the middle of night. Silly things.

Silly because it was such an amazing experience.

Two weeks ago I was standing in the restaurant, waiting breathlessly for that first person to arrive to my show. Wondering who it would be, who would follow. Within moments people started to arrive. First it was one person — someone I once worked with — and then two couples: friends and former workmates. And then suddenly the room was vibrating with people: the love of my life, friends, colleagues, my mom and brother. The lovely woman who cuts my hair and her lovely partner. My spinning instructor. Gym friends. The drinking crew. And people I haven’t seen in years — all in one room. A microcosm of my life, mixing and talking and laughing with each other. All there to support me.

It was more than overwhelming, more than heart-bursting, more than exhilarating.

Time passed like viscous liquid, with moments slowly descending and suspending. Words bubbling underwater. If only I could have captured them all before they dissolved.

People telling me which photographs they liked, sharing their interpretations, trying to guess where a photo was taken. Asking me which ones I liked best (and there are some).

(And I even sold three photographs — curiously, the three that I almost didn’t include in the collection. And one is one of my favourites.)

As the evening evaporated, and the great lives in my life trickled out the door, I downed a big glass of wine and smiled. One of the most genuine smiles that have cracked my face.

And then it was over. But there are no photos to prove it. The irony. I didn’t think to take any photos at my photo party.

This is not the party venue

But am I photographer, too?

facebook_promoToday is a very exciting day. One that has left me blinking in shock and wonder. Crackling.

Last night I hung my first photography show. I stood with the restaurant owner and hanger, directing them to place my photographs on the wall. My photographs. For people to see. Perchance to buy.

It was a thrilling moment, standing there in the quiet, moving my eyes along both walls. Seeing images that I captured. Remembering each of those moments — the light, the weather — and seeing them suspended. Framed and spread along the length of the brick walls, the narrative unfolding.

And in this weird, slow-motion moment I’m not quite sure who I am anymore. I’m a writer. I’m a creative person. I like spending time alone wandering alleys and streets thinking about what I see, turning these tableaus into stories. And until recently this has been only in words.

Photography: it’s both new and old to me. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos but never thought of them beyond holiday snaps. Last year, when I lost my job and suddenly had a lot more time on my hands, I started capturing everyday moments and focusing my now-no-longer-needed Photoshop skills on a different path. And didn’t notice the hours passing as I experimented with filters and post-processing. Tweaking and coaxing, and generally liking the end result.

In January, on a whim, I applied to a local restaurant to have a show. Quite unexpectedly, they accepted me.

And my life changed. This sounds cliché and dramatic. But it’s the truth.

I will write about the process, about the tremendous amount of work that ensued and the frenetic emotions that followed me around each day. Until this day: the moment where I looked up and saw my photographs on the wall.

Writing has been who I am for so long. I cannot remember not writing, not wanting to record or tell a story with words. Photography is new and curious. There is so much to learn. It has so much to give to me. It’s overwhelming.

Having this show doesn’t make me a photographer. And if I manage to sell one print — that doesn’t make me a photographer. But right now, in this moment, it doesn’t matter.

The sharpness that waits

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The interview is not going well. She is too
enthusiastic, too upbeat, and definitely too smiley.
All open lips and white teeth and brightness.

It’s all the polite interviewer can do
to staunch the flow of bright-red positivity
spewing from the wound of that mouth.
That great gush of giddiness.

Everything is amazing. Life is amazing.
And I will be amazing at this job.

She probably is the perfect candidate:
excited and determined (but thin-skinned),
unjaded and unaware of the hard, dark edges
that people carry under their coats. The sharpness
that waits. A different kind of bleed.

Getting the message

Sometimes a message reaches you right at the time you need it. Like there is some kind of human-connection force that listens, hears you, and puts the missive in motion.

It can take the form of an inbox note, an article posted to Twitter, an unexpected phone call, song lyrics that you never paid attention to before, a graffitied statement on a back alley wall, or even a misdirected text. There are infinite possibilities for these random (but somehow targeted) connections.

In my case it was a TED video shared by a friend on Facebook. In a 13-minute talk, singer and criticized crowdsource-funder Amanda Palmer posits letting people pay for music instead of making them pay. Based on her experiences as a street performer she learned that people with whom we make organic connections simply want to support us. In an organic kind of way. And after having made hundreds of meaningful interactions with strangers, in simple give-and-take situations, she broke free from her record company, asked for donations, and put her music out there for nothing (donations gratefully accepted).

And while this was the general gist of the talk, and gave me a “hell yeah” moment, it wasn’t my key takeaway. After all, disenchanted artists offering their music for free is not a new concept. No, there was one specific thing that Palmer touched upon which felt like a direct communication to me, one of those random-but-incredibly-direct messages: Accepting yourself as an artist is “about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”

Basically, don’t be an artist for the celebrity (connection-less, adoration from afar), and don’t try to create art to please the naysayers, the people who scoff at your creative efforts or tell you to get a real job. Accept the love from everyday interactions with people who are moved by your work. Accept the support from people who draw something from what you create.

It’s enough.

In the past few months I’ve been engaging in a new creative venture, uncertain and unsure. And I’ve been going through a somewhat crippling crisis of confidence, worrying about what other people think. Did I imagine that eyebrow raising? Do those dissers in the online artistic communities have a point? Always half-expecting the “who do you think you are?” reaction. This has been unsettling and challenging.

Palmer’s message somehow found me. Today, in this moment. It discovered a way through the cacophony of so many people’s words and reached me. Just at the right time.

Being an artist is difficult. It’s about putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. Ugh. But shutting out the noise of the naysayers and letting the yessers yell louder is what will help us get there.

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The dark unsaid

Recently I tweeted about a short story that really shook me: the achingly slow unravelled suspense of it, the seductive and beautiful movement toward a horrific end. But an exquisite end: one that the reader knows is coming, knows what’s happening, and yet, it is never mentioned. The event is never spelled out but we all know what’s going on. And we feel complicit in it. There is a guiltiness to it. Because we enjoyed getting there.

When the author replied I told him that what I love most about his writing is the “dark unsaid.” Writing is at its most glorious when it tells a story with implication, when it alludes to events — or the potential of events — without ever naming them. Acts of violence hinted at. The possibility of evil teased. Unexpected deaths detailed without words. The gradually developing picture of something that has gone terribly wrong.

The dark unsaid. Provocative. Damaging.

Great writing leaves a mark — but not a visible one.

Hot coffee and cold lavs

The bathrooms here are always freezing. But you forget.

At the back of the room, or down the creaking stairs and labyrinth of hallways, the doorway seems acceptable. There is usually a piece of art or an ornate mirror outside, advertising a destination similar to the warm, wood-floored, gently-lit cocoon of hot beverage drinkers you just left.

And then you enter, warmed to brimming with coffee or tea, skin flushed with the cosy expanse of heat. Unknowingly vulnerable. Because then it hits: the sadistic slap of cold. The freezing back-hander of the Toronto coffee shop bog. Smacks the happily caffeinated grin right off your face. And then blinking and gasping in the damp aftermath, the chill spreads over your skin. Cold and creeping, and you can barely think anything other than Get me out of here. And those few minutes freezes into forever. It makes your eyes water. Finally you leave, hands still numb from the gush of glacial tap water. Arctic cold and miserable.

This is their plan, you see: chilly customers need more hot coffee.

Apocalypse not

Tomorrow might be the end of the world. These words might be the last ones I write.

Drops from the sky

But am I worried? No. Because the Apocalypse is not upon us. The Earth is not going to explode into tiny fragments and disperse into the universe. Why? Because NASA says so. So nah, all ye doomsayers. Note: I would have preferred a statement by the lovely Professor Brian Cox, but that doesn’t seem to have surfaced anywhere.

Why oh why do we get our knickers in a twist about the end of the world? Every few years there seems to be a diabolical threat to humanity: from asteroids hurtling toward our precious planet to fire-and-brimstone judgement days sponsored by [insert religious cult here].

My theory is that we’re bored. We’re people: we get up, go to work, take care of our families, cook dinner, watch some TV. Every once in a while we go out with friends or take a nice trip. But the daily grind can get a little ho-hum. We need — perhaps crave — some distraction.

So, if one person interprets a “sign,” has a seemingly prophetic dream, is visited by an apparition, or somehow comes to the conclusion that our fair Earth is about to meet its certain end, well, a few people are bound to perk up. Armageddon — if anything — is exciting. And the better the story, the more quickly people will share it. And the more it’s shared the more people will believe its truth.

The end of the world gives us something to focus on. When there is no World Cup or royal wedding to look forward to, the Apocalypse serves as a handy alternative.

Yes, there will be fanatics. Which is both head-scratching and heartbreaking. We do not want to see believers inflicting violence on others or themselves.

Aside from this grim downside, there are actually some positive potential outcomes of our looming and ultimate demise.

  1. Builds community. All over the world people are talking about the Apocalypse. We all live on the Earth, and its end affects all of us. It brings us together in the spirit of collective finality. Plus, it’s a great topic to toss around on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.
  2. Encourages creativity. The writers and artists of the world have a deep, rich vein of subject matter to mine. Stories and songs and photos. Heck, it gave me something to write about today.
  3. Serves as a life wake-up call. There’s nothing like a looming Armageddon to make a person take stock of their life. Do I need to make some changes in my life? Am I happy enough? Should I learn to surf or play the sousaphone? Should I call my Mom tonight?
  4. Great excuse for a party. If anything, Doomsday makes a great excuse for some celebratory snacks and cool cocktails, no? If we’re all about to meet our glorious end, why not face it with a Bourbon sour and a smile on our faces?

If this is my last-ever post (and it won’t be), I raise my glass.

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Guilty (Caught up in the frenzy)

On Friday twenty children and six adults were murdered at an elementary school in Connecticut, U.S.A. The horrifying news story spread at light speed around the world to our billions of constantly connected devices. Within hours the world was watching. And for any update available.

I was one of these people, watching for these updates. I wanted to know everything. What caused the mass shooting? How many total dead? And the more and more macabre: What were the ages of the children? What were their stories?

I am not proud of this morbid curiosity in the face of absolute shock, of sickening violence. At the time I convinced myself that it was related to my previous jobs in online media: the drive to be the first to break news, to share the heartbreaking stories and iconic photos that will be most remembered in the months and years following the tragedy. Because in many cases, that is what the news has become: the first at any cost. Keep the viewers coming back to your site because you have the latest details, the best photos. Reach, clicks, revenue.

When the Gawker story “Is this Ryan Lanza, the Connecticut shooter?” showed up in my Facebook feed I fell for that dangled question mark at the end of the headline. I clicked. I added to the publication’s reach and revenue. Did I believe that I was viewing the Facebook page (and then Twitter feed) of a killer? No. Because of my editorial work I read most things with skepticism and a load of doubt. But the trace possibility that I was reading words written by someone responsible for such horror was compelling. What would his last words be? What clues to his madness did he leave behind? Yes, I got wrapped up in and moved on, knowing that eventually these answers would be known.

But given our climate of need-to-know info culture, our ability to consume information and react at blinding rates, this kind of reporting can be toxic — not to mention irreparably damaging.

In “I am Facebook friends with Ryan Lanza” (Salon.com) cartoonist Matt Bors writes about being Facebook friends with Ryan Lanza — the brother of the alleged school shooter. I think his his account of trying to put the record straight (i.e. Ryan Lanza was not the school shooter) and the vitriol he experienced at the hands of rabid tweeters/texters and media should be recommended reading for any journalist. Our rush to judgement and our overwhelming need-to-know-everything-now appetite steamrolls innocent people, leaves behind a flotsam of misinformation, and creates hysteria.

Yes, like millions of others, I read those articles. I checked out that suspect Twitter feed. And while I’d like say, well I’m an editor and I know how to read these things, blah, blah, blah , I still engaged, and I let myself wonder. This has given me pause for thought. And makes me wonder if it’s even possible now to slow down and resume responsible news reporting. I’m not so sure we can.

How tragedy teaches geography

Hearing today’s horrific news about the shooting deaths of twenty young children and seven adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gave me pause for thought (of course). But it also reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1996:

Tragedy teaches geography

How disquieting that earthquakes,
airline crashes and murdered children
help to impress location in our minds
more clearly than a textbook;
how in a few minutes of news we learn
those key details: the topography,
climate, and exact longitude and latitude
of a town split wide open by death;
how suddenly we know the weather
outside a small cathedral in Dunblane.

Similarly and no less tragic, in the Dunblane school massacre sixteen children and one adult were killed before the shooter committed suicide.

This is more of a fragment than a poem; I could never seem to arrange the words to evoke the feeling or bring the meaning intended. Over the years I added place names and took them out — Lockerbie, Bam, Waco, Oklahoma, Hungerford, and then Phuket, Haiti, Columbine, Blacksburg (I could easily, and sadly, go on). But I always left in Dunblane. It was that shooting that prompted the poem. It was that shooting that I remember most as I watch news coverage of the Newtown massacre.

In 1996 I was in my twenties, a few years out of university. What struck me in the following days in that suddenly I knew exactly where this little Scottish town was located. And I will continue to remember. Like a pin pressed into a map marking the latest location of profound tragedy and human loss. Those pins, glowing red across the countries. Towns and cities I may never have known until a bomb exploded, a earthquake rattled, or a shooter opened fire.

This fragment will be revisited again and again. I’m quite certain that it will never quite capture what I want to say. Maybe I’ve already said it here.

12.12.12: not just for freaks

I could not let the day go by without mentioning it, especially given that today is the last major sequential date for almost another century. 1.1.1 won’t happen until 3001.

Beyond the numerical significance, people — mainly the religious/superstitious and astrologers who are damp with anticipation — see today as incredibly “lucky.” Babies born today are being celebrated for their bright and prosperous futures, couples with expectations of constant wedded bliss are getting married by the boatloads, and those in perpetual search of miracles await the great bestowing of the extraordinary. Hell, even the Pope waited until today to tap out his first tweet.

As long as the craziness is kept to a minimum (i.e. no forced births/marriages/leaps of faith), I don’t begrudge celebrating the occasion. As humans we like to think that unique planet alignments and rare sequences of numbers mean have an elevated meaning: that the formation signifies something special. Usually luck. If anything, it’s fun. It gives us (and marketing agencies) something to look forward to.

Me, I’m not buying a lottery ticket, heading to Vegas, taking any big risks, or preparing myself for the apocalypse.

I just think that numbers are incredibly cool. I’m a sucker for the numerically unusual. Patterns and sequences give us structure and boundaries. But they are also are good for the mind, for exploring, for creativity.

Time to write now, I think.

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