Awkward Sibling Photo…

Kills me every time.

awkward

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Saturday evening…

 “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.”  Susan Sontag

I quite agree.  Interestingly, Sontag called this in 1997, long before we were broadcasting our daily lives on social media.  But I really love a rainy night, hot tea and tall white tapers every now and then.  You can find the rest of Susan Sontag’s  compelling article on Aesthetic Consumerism and the Violence of Photography here.   But don’t let it stop you.

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Farewell Professor Snape…

Saddened today again at the passing of Professor Severus Snape.  I only knew Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, he was my favourite Harry Potter character.  My kids grew up on Harry Potter books and movies.  Just a little lighter than Lord of the Rings, but equally transporting.  Our actors, musicians, artists, writers, tell us truths about the world and ultimately ourselves, softened or sometimes sharpened, via story.  Even as adults we treasure our storytellers.  I suspect this may be why we feel their loss so keenly.

We had a brief snowfall recently.  I watched the flakes outside my window, light ones drifting haphazardly toward the ground, almost dancing; others larger and heavier, less able to resist the pull of gravity.   The entire skyscape was spotted with snowflakes of different sizes, weights, designs, falling at different speeds.  Because I’m a little melancholy by nature,  I imagined each snowflake as a life.  As all of the lives of all of the people who have ever inhabited this planet, every century of people in history. I wanted to yell, “STOP!” and suspend the whole picture, freeze frame us all forever…

Farewell Professor Snape, Alan Rickman.  It’s been a sad week for British artists.

ALAN RICKMAN as Severus Snape in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”  PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION

 

Farewell Thin White Duke…

My heart seized a little this morning at the news of David Bowie’s passing.  It’s kind of silly how you can miss someone you’ve never known and haven’t even really thought of in a while. Suddenly every Bowie song of my adolescence was replaying in my head. I was there, floating in my tin can with Major Tom at the launch of Apollo 11.  I saw Mary Lou Parkinson and myself in her bedroom belting out “Rebel, Rebel you tore your dress!” before we even knew what a quaalude was.  My melancholic teenage heart resonated with “Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes!”  Strange fascination, fascinating me was right up my alley.  Old songs are bittersweet things, aren’t they?

I think there must be something deeper, more personally existential that we feel when a pop icon dies.  Some part of us dies also.  It’s a swift, unwelcome reminder of the transience of all human life. When I was about eighteen, I recall my dad in his green brocade recliner in our living room, quietly mourning the passing of a movie personality.  I didn’t get why he even cared.  I get it now.

I’m back studying art history this fall, taking a class on Gender, Art and Society.  It always amazes me how much I don’t know that I don’t know.  I hadn’t really even considered questions of gender upon art, besides the obvious historical lack of attention to female artists.  But gender in art is a big topic, one that Bowie was among the first to challenge. His flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust paved the way not only for performance art, but also for more wide-spread acceptance of sexual fluidity.

My kids don’t know who Bowie is or the impact he’s had on music, performance art and culture. He’s been called a genius and a visionary and perhaps rightly so.  We can thank him for glam rock, New Romanticismfor pioneering rock video, for marrying theater and popular music, for ushering in punk, for making androgyny acceptable.  I can’t help but think that music might look very different without his influence.

UK artist Helen Green paid creative homage to five decades of Bowie’s chameleon like transformations in her beautiful animated gif.  I always appreciate when art inspires art. It helps us all live on.

 

Hello 2016…

Woke this first day of January to the bright singing of birds outside my bedroom window. “How fitting for robins to ring in the New Year!” I mused, passing over the crest of consciousness.  Then realized the opening song of 2016 was actually the whistling of my nose.

It’s been a lovely holiday season this year.  On Christmas Eve, I watched my oldest daughter’s engagement proposal unfold in my living room.  He dropped to one knee declaring his love, asking for her hand.  “Yes! yes!’  she nodded silently as he slipped the ring onto her finger.  I sat there bawling, amazed and honored to be privy to this tender, hope filled moment.  The next day, my oldest son, who’s been teaching English in Korea for nearly two years, arrived home for Christmas. We’ve talked via Facetime every week since he left on his grand adventure but nothing compares to that first warm moment of spotting each other in person.  We returned from the airport to the best celebration ever;  all five kids home, a new fiancée and boyfriend at the table for dinner, hilarity, flying wrapping paper, inevitable bugging.  It was the stuff Christmas movies are made of, it still makes my nose whistle.

As usual, I’m opening the new year reflecting on the one past.  Twenty fifteen saw us through many things, both wonderful and terrifying.  I became a full-time student and went on an Art and Culture tour  with my university to Berlin.  The summer of 2015 was tumultuous with my oldest daughter’s health issue.  How fortunate that we were near a world class PE and Thrombosis centre when she became ill. One of my sons survived a potentially fatal tractor accident on the golf course greens he maintained.  My youngest daughter started her first full-time job, my oldest son renewed his teaching contract overseas, my youngest son is looking into studying abroad again.  The pendulum never stops swinging. As they say, the only thing constant is change.

I’m not big on marking the new year with resolutions or defining words and yet find myself thinking on a few anyways.  I think it was Charles Darwin who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.”  Darwin of course, was referring to the evolution of species, but adaptability to change is equally important in our psychological lives.  Buddhists call this ability to roll with the punches acceptance or non attachment.  Call it what you want ~ I want it.  I’ve also been thinking about emotional buoyancy.  I thought I made up an awesome new term, but I just googled it and found this serendipitous quote:

quoteup2
Now that I’m in advanced middle-age [58 years old] I’ve discovered a certain buoyancy. Life weighs heavily upon one’s shoulders, but then you find that, with a certain kind of shrug, it will just lift off for a moment or two.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

I’ve always liked Leonard’s gritty forthrightness. So in spite of myself, here I am with two words for 2016 ~ adaptability and buoyancy. Maybe I’ll change them to something else next week, or forget them altogether, but for now, I guess they’re as good as any.

Happy 2016.  May your nose whistle and your spirit be buoyant.

 

 

About last week…

Like much of the world, I’ve been trying to process last week’s events in Paris.  To be honest, I’ve also been trying to ignore them.  The same way as I’ve been trying to ignore the outpouring of grief and outrage from Beirut, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. I simply don’t have the heart to take on all that pain and loss. Perhaps that is selfish of me.

They say even years later, people remember exactly what they were doing when “X”  event happened.  I was working on an anthropology paper in my studio when my news feed lit up with reports of the Paris attacks.  We have friends in Paris, this is the second time this year I’ve sent anxious queries about their well being. My kids and I spent a week in 2014 in the Republique district of Paris where much of the chaos took place. Somehow that makes it even more disturbing.

It’s only been the past few years that I’ve taken a more concerted interest in world events, politics, history. I’m not a political scientist or historian, but I know enough now to understand that as barbaric as terrorism is, there are complex root issues behind it.  On Friday night  I watched PBS’s documentary, ‘Losing Iraq’, which follows the growth of Isis. It helps me to understand the history of  middle eastern conflict and to revisit the impact of our bungled western, imperialistic, capitalistic involvement there.  I also read an excellent article on the Paris-Response-Retribution-Cycle.  None of this of course, negates the loss and pain of  those directly involved. But it’s important just the same, to examine world events through a sociological lens and ask “why?”

My son was working on a paper for his political science course this weekend. His class is analyzing Sartre’s play, Dirty Hands. Dirty Hands was written near the end of the second world war and examines whether it’s possible in politics and war, to emerge without dirty hands, no matter how idealistic the intent. We also talked about the Machiavellian question of whether the end justifies the means.  The timing of this discussion almost seems ironic.  Dirty hands, everywhere.

My generation of Canadians and our children haven’t directly experienced war, we live relatively free from that threat.  I can’t imagine the terror I’d feel over one my kids being drafted or voluntarily signing up for the military.  I’m not sure I could cope with it. There is nothing I value more than their lives. I also can’t imagine losing a child to join the fight for religious extremist ideals or as a casualty of a terrorist attack. My parent heart literally quivers and shrinks at the prospect.  I want the world to be a safe, peaceful, predictable place but not have it cost anything.  Perhaps that’s selfish of me also.

I feel pretty impotent in light of all this suffering and chaos. Besides exercising my right to vote, which I didn’t even do this year, my opinions and impact are negligible at best.  I hope we keep our borders open to refugees fleeing from terrorism because they need help. I hope those inflicting acts of terror are stopped but I’d rather it came as a result of negotiation, not loss of lives.  I hate that words like ‘neutralized’ are used in place of killed. For god’s sake, call it what it is. I wish we could all just play nice, understand, support each other and revel in the short, precious time we share on this breath-taking planet. On the other hand, if anyone threatened one of my own, I’d come out shooting like an Ozark Mountain hillbilly.

I have a friend who used to be museum curator in Ontario.  She moved to Iraq several years ago to teach photography in schools and help kids with heart problems.  This morning I came across a pic of her in a Libyan hospital holding a baby post surgery, wearing a hijab. She’s pretty much a rock star in my books.  I sent her a quick note saying so and she replied, ‘You and I are more similar than you think. It’s only ever about loving the person in front of you.’  I was glad to hear that.  Most of the time, it takes everything I’ve got just to handle the political, economic and religious diversities of my own home and head, let alone the world.

A great many people more eloquent than I have shared their insights online.  I appreciate Anne Lamott’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartening reflections.  Vox has a great short video info graphic called Syria’s War  which visually illustrates some of the political factors in the middle east.  My friend Scott explains the psychology behind ‘Why We Care More about Paris’. 

As for me, I’m just trying to figure it all out.  On Friday afternoon, saddened and conflicted after hearing the news, I stepped outside and clipped back the French lavender and oregano on my deck. In a moment of mindfulness, I cupped my hands over my face, drinking in the heady scent of the season’s last blooms.  Then I came inside, listened to stories of my kid’s days, served up some chicken soup and hung a string of  christmas lights. I’m not sure I can do much besides that.

Carl Jung tells us, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

I sure hope christmas lights count.

It’s been awhile…

Woke to the sound of downpour this morning but the sky is now brightening a little in ombre shades of mauve and blue grey.  Ah November,  last gasp of autumn’s splendor.

November is a welcome month this year.  It marks the three-month point of my twenty-three year old daughter’s recovery from a sudden, unprovoked deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.  I spent much of late summer and early fall learning everything I never wanted to know about blood clots.  Like many parents, I’ve gone through some difficult things with my kids, but this one pretty much took the cake.  I still can’t quite write about it without a sweep of panic.  Things are ok now, we’re adjusting to a new normal that includes life long blood thinners. I’ve never been so thankful for the progress of science and medicine, for kind, philosophical specialists and for healing.

Learning to breathe again, to not live in constant fear, to allow the larger the world to return to focus is continuing to be a process.   Striving to ‘become something‘ (an art conservator, a graduate, whatever) no longer seems as essential as simply being and being present when it matters most.  I read a lovely thing this morning written by French philosopher and Nobel prize-winning author, Albert Camus.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

Happy Fall.  Happy Winter.  It’s nice to be back.

camus