Once again, it’s been forever since I posted photos. I haven’t actually made any derby photos since last October. But I occasionally photograph the weird things my kids make or do.
One of the first people I met through the local homeschool group was Wendy McDonnell, who hosts Family Matters, a weekly radio show on the local university station. Given that we’ve been on homeschool hours, I haven’t always woken up on time to listen to the whole show, which starts at 8 am on Sundays. The last few weeks I’ve almost grumbled that I woke up too late to even hear any of it, but I quickly shushed the grumbles since it meant I got to sleep in – still a luxury with my youngest.
But a change is coming in our lives. My husband and I are trading places starting on Tuesday. He lost his job, along with about 25 percent of his colleagues, a few weeks ago. With only four weeks’ severance, the pressure was on us to figure something out sooner than later. When I was searching around for freelance opportunities, I came upon a recent posting for my old job. I took a few days to think about it, and the more I thought about our options, the sweeter this one seemed. I know the job, I know a good chunk of the people, and it’s only a 20-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride from my house. With my husband staying home, I no longer have to fit drop-offs and pick-ups into my schedule. I’ll be able to enjoy the walk or bike ride in solitude. We won’t need the second car, which was always more expensive than predicted and about which I’ve always been ambivalent. My working will take the pressure of my husband’s job search, so he can find the right role and circumstances for him. It could even move some of my dreams forward.
So I’ve been practicing waking up earlier, and yesterday morning I was up early enough to hear all of Wendy’s show. And what serendipity! She interviewed Alex Baisley, a local person I’d never heard of before, who helps people connect with and work towards their dreams.
I have two big concerns about going back to work (one of them is not relevant here and is totally irrational anyways). The second concern is that I will need to stop pursuing my passions outside of work. Photography has largely taken a back seat in recent months, but I still want to finish my derby project and start another one. And I want to keep learning about sustainable food production and growing my own food and cooking nourishing meals. I had pretty much come to the conclusion just last night that maybe I need to choose between food and photography, and how much does that suck?
Anyways, yesterday morning’s show with Alex Baisley. It turns out it was actually a rerun from 2010 but that doesn’t lessen the serendipitous feeling for me. (I’m paraphrasing based on my memory, so I apologize for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations.) Baisley said that people often see dreams as a luxury (I know I do! And it makes me feel guilty about pursuing them) but he doesn’t see it that way. He says dreams are our way of growing and of being and doing more than we might have thought possible. He points to trees. It seems that the point of their existence is to grow as much as they can with the resources available to them before they die. Why would people be any different?
He talked about how he often has people write a list of 50 big dreams. And how they start out thinking that would be impossible but they manage it just fine. And then he has them pick just one and do five-minute actions to move towards it. It could just be Internet research (one of my own favourite obsessive tendencies). It could be a conversation with someone. It doesn’t have to be big at all. But he said that as you get further in your research and conversations, the dream seems more and more possible. As well, you may discover that four or five other dreams get taken care of in the process of chasing the first one. He pointed out that your dreams aren’t in conflict with one another because they all come from the same heart (yours), and maybe you just can’t see how they’re connected yet.
He also said that it’s important to talk about your dreams with other people. You can be self-deprecating and talk about what a crazy idea it is so you don’t sound obnoxious, and good things may come from the conversations. If you want to run a half-marathon, for example, you could find yourself talking to an experienced marathoner who gives you hot tips for training regimes or specific races. Some people may try to downgrade your dreams but you need the big dreams to get you off the couch. Running a 5k might be more doable than a half-marathon but it’s not exciting enough to get you training. And you’ll likely do a 5k on the way to the half-marathon anyways. It’s important to do things that you find at least a little bit exciting and a little bit scary.
The show gave me hope that I can find a way forward without giving up my other dreams and passions. In fact, I can imagine a future in which my husband and I say that his losing his job was the best thing to happen to us. I’ve learned so much about myself in the last two years, and I’m looking forward to applying that learning to my work life.
Do yourself a favour. Settle in with a cup of tea of glass of wine and listen to the whole podcast. I was rapt.
And if you’re local, don’t forget about my upcoming photography workshop. It’s one of my dreams to teach at least one workshop (preferably more), and the thought both thrills and terrifies me. I’d love to have enough people sign up to actually run it.
I’m going to be teaching a photography workshop at Trina Koster’s studio next month: Photographing Strangers. It’s limited to 10 participants, so sign up early. From the blurb:
Much of documentary photography is centred around engaging with people we don’t know and earning their trust. In this workshop you will begin to explore the process of doing just that. This workshop is primarily a shooting workshop, starting with discussion and inspiration on Friday night to get you going, shooting Saturday morning, and feedback in the afternoon on the photographs you made. Shooting will take place at a surprise location or event full of strangers to encounter and photograph.
You love looking at great photographs of people but for whatever reason you’re struggling to make them yourself. Maybe you’ve been photographing your friends and family and you want to expand but don’t know how to meet people or approach them. Maybe you’ve been photographing landscapes and you want to try photographing people but the whole idea is terrifying. Whatever your situation, this workshop will bump you up against the edges of your comfort zone and hopefully help you move beyond it. To get the most of this workshop, be prepared to get a little bit uncomfortable.
I hope to see you there!
For months now I have been thinking about how much this year sucked. I was always careful to clarify that it could have been much worse, it’s not like it was tragic or anything, but it has been very, very difficult. We had all kinds of illness last winter with pertussis (aka Whooping Cough), which we only figured out in hindsight. My baby had feeding problems galore, partly due to multiple food intolerances (gluten, dairy, soy, corn and tomatoes that we know of), which are still problematic today, and partly due to the severe nutritional deficiencies we discovered in August/September (a vicious circle). The challenges continued through the fall with the baby still losing his appetite for days or weeks, and a couple of very stressful nursing strikes, and I felt really, really overwhelmed this fall, trying to get all the different supplements into him and tempting him to eat food. We’ve also had to change our diet drastically, going from mostly vegetarian fare heavy with wheat, tomatoes, corn and cheese, to largely meat and vegetable-type meals with gluten-free, home-baked snacks. It was so difficult, many nights I wished I could just not eat anything, because I just couldn’t figure out what to make.
Anyways, just now I asked my husband how we wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We won’t be getting a babysitter and leaving the house or anything, but I felt like we needed to consciously say goodbye to 2012 (the phrase, “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out,” kept going through my mind) and articulate some hopes and dreams for 2013. And then we started talking about the things that didn’t suck. So here are the reasons 2012 didn’t suck as much I thought it did:
1. My husband got a new job that he really likes!
2. I was part of an amazing exhibition at a public gallery, for which a catalogue with a critical essay was produced!
3. I got a grant to pay for most of my exhibition costs!
4. My oldest started homeschooling! Although he was doing fine in school, my husband and I got really excited about the possibilities that homeschooling could offer him.
5. We grew food in a community garden — and harvested 50 pounds of potatoes, 25 pounds of carrots, 12 pounds of chard, 6 pounds of beets and unweighed basil, cilantro, lettuce and cayenne peppers. Not bad for a first effort!
6. Despite his ongoing eating and nutrition issues, my youngest has been developing like mad, well ahead on pretty much all the milestones, and he’s showing signs of a wicked sense of humour. He certainly keeps us on our toes and it often feels relentless and exhausting, but he is also a big joy.
7. We’re transforming our whole diet and way of cooking.
8. We’ve transformed our grocery shopping and are buying a lot more local food and grass-fed meats.
9. I tried many new skills. I experimented with canning and sewing and am looking forward to doing more next year.
10. I quit my job to begin a new, more home-based life.
As my husband and I thought of the good things about 2012, we realized that it’s really been a year of transformation on almost every front. No wonder it felt so hard!
I’ve been pretty overwhelmed lately, in large part due to the continuing health challenges of my youngest. We discovered he has severe anemia due to both iron and B12 deficiencies, and have begun a regimen of heavy doses of various supplements and renewed efforts to tempt the poor kid to eat. Today we had good news that after a month of supplementation his hemoglobin is in the normal range, which is encouraging. It will take a long time for all his body systems to recover, but this is definitely a good step.
Back in June, I photographed a few derby girls that I didn’t post here from some reason. And I had another shoot last weekend. Here are the results.
I also don’t think I mentioned here that I updated my web gallery with a wider collection of Yes these bones shall live.
Today I took my kids to the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre to see Janet Morton’s 20-year retrospective, The Ravelled Sleeve. I confess, I had never heard of her before I found out about the exhibition. This seems insane to me, since she lives here in my very own town, and her work (now that I’ve seen it) thrills me. My six-year-old was equally rapt throughout the exhibition. We watched one of her videos, Strange Music, all the way from start to finish without a pause, and we both agreed that it was our favourite piece of the whole show. We were spellbound.
What I loved about that video in particular was that it was so compelling, I enjoyed just experiencing it. Normally at galleries, my mind is in a rush. I buzz from piece to piece, deciding quickly whether I like it or not and moving on. If I’m good, I will be sure to take long enough to find one reason for my opinion. But with this video, I just watched and listened (the tuba music was absolutely lovely) as the tuba player played and the gray yarn knitted up the tuba. Every once in a while the yarn would move under the player’s hand, and I felt a moment of mild tension, wondering if it would get tangled or pause the music (it didn’t). Sometimes the camera zoomed in on the player’s hand, fingering the valves, or other details.
As I watched and listened, different thoughts and details came into my mind. I noticed the player’s breath, and how the sound of it didn’t sync with the movement in the video. And I thought about intimacy, how intimate it is to hear someone’s breath and to notice the faint marks on the backs of their hands. I thought about the person behind the video camera, and wondered if she felt uncomfortable with that intimacy. (I assume the artist was the one unravelling the yarn?) I noticed the visual rhythm of the yarn’s backward unravelling and enjoyed how it met the song’s rhythm.I thought about what mad knitting skills Morton must have, to have figured out how to knit around the tuba’s winding details, about how long it must have taken, and what it must be like to spend that much time making something only to unravel it. I thought about the impermanence of life and art.
I say that’s my favourite piece, but I loved them all. This one, “Cozy,” was a close second. It really does feel cozy, and it reminds me of that amazing workshop with Alec Soth.
I felt like the whole show was about impermanence and vulnerability, but maybe that’s just because of my tornado thing and the fact that two of her pieces had funnel shapes. It was just all so brilliant. If you’re in the area, do yourself a favour and see this show before it closes Nov. 11.
I have adored Jen Davis’s work ever since I first saw it a few years ago. I love it for so many reasons. She’s one of the few self-portraitists whose body is not slender. Her photographs are complicated. They engage with the experience of having a body that becomes almost public property in the way that our fat-hating culture loads so much bullshit on it. People see a fat body and easily leap to ideas, assumptions and judgments about the person, the whole life inside. Many people have written smarter words about this than I can at the moment, so I will quote liberally from them.
First, a note on my use of the word fat. “[T]he word ‘fat’ is usually a put down. Fat, when used as an adjective describing a person, has become synonymous with some really negative words like-lazy, ugly, smelly, stupid and disorganized. It is often assumed that fat people have no will power or have ‘let themselves go’, it even prejudices some people on the quality of a persons parenting or work ethic depending on their size. But the big one is health. If you are fat you are automatically unhealthy and any or all health issues are directly related to your weight, which is not always the case.”
(from Free Range in Suburbia)
I am using the word fat as a neutral adjective, without the value judgments that can often be associated with it. I want to reclaim the word fat so it doesn’t carry all that other bullshit with it.
“There is nothing I can do, as a person with a fat body, that is deemed acceptable by my society except not have a fat body. Actively trying to not have a fat body while loathing my fat body and policing other fat bodies and agreeing yes I am disgusting no of course I am not working hard enough yes I’m lazy no you don’t have to like me yes hate me hate me more I’m sorry I’m sorry I’ll diet more and more and more eat less and less and less — this is the one thing approved of. It’s the one thing I’m allowed to do. And it’s still not enough, never enough, because then I am pathologized for hating myself (because they demanded it) for focusing too much on food (because they demanded it) for still, despite all that STILL, existing as a fat body.”
“My not dieting is pathologized by a culture that says fat = unhealthy. My not having dieted is pathologized. My having accidentally lost weight is pathologized. If I admit to “less than perfect” eating, now or in the past, I am pathologized. If I talk about eating “well”, in a way that doesn’t endorse restricted eating, if I hold up having a healthy, loving relationship with food as my ideal instead of weight loss, I am pathologized. If I say I eat healthfully, I am called a liar. If I reject the paradigm of “healthy” food, I am called delusional and in denial.”
(from Feeding my Boychick)
“In our society as it is today, fat people are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If a person is caught eating in public (going to a restaurant, even a nice one and not the stereotypical fast food restaurant), many people think they have the right to comment on what the fat person is eating. If the fatty is having something high in calories or carbs or whatever-the-latest-diet-baddy-is-today, the person feels justified in telling them how to eat better. ”Are you really sure you should be eating that?” I’ve heard that all too often.
“However, even if the fatty is being a Good Fatty (TM), and only eating a salad (with low cal/low fat/low taste dressing on the side!), they are still subject to revilement. ”That’s not going to help you!” and “If you ate that way all the time you wouldn’t be as fat as you are!” are said to fatties who dare to eat in public.
“It is commonly assumed that all fat people are lazy and never, ever, EVER exercise. After all, it’s evident because they are so fat! When a fat person DOES try to exercise in public, they shamed by hearing cat calls. They are told they are deluding themselves because if they really did exercise they wouldn’t be that fat. They are told they should never attempt that exercise until they lose weight.
“It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t world, if you happen to be fat.
“[...] To get get rid of my fat body, you have got to get rid of me.
Almost everything that is being aimed at fat people is being aimed at getting rid of them, of us. ‘I don’t want to see you, you are gross, disgusting, a slob, stupid, lazy! I don’t want to know you even exist! Get out of my sight. Preferably, go eat a gun!’”
(from A Day in the (Fat) Life) (The horrible sentences in her last paragraph have actually been said to the author.)
And in case you think that the concern with fatness is really about health, here’s just one study to contradict that idea.
* * *
Jen Davis’s photos subvert some of that bullshit, and they resist the typical weight-loss narrative we see everywhere. In her photos, you can’t NOT look at her. There is great ambivalence in the photos, for sure. She’s not always comfortable being looked at, I think, but I don’t see misery. When I see emotional discomfort in the photos, it’s often a result of the outside world pushing in on Davis, or its potential to (it’s the too-tight jeans that are the problem, the people looking at her and maybe thinking some of the thoughts I’ve quoted above, not Davis’s body. Or at least that’s how I see the photos.
The Oprah magazine just did a story on her that makes me very sad. And I don’t know how to write about it without disrespecting Davis’s right to live her life however she damn well chooses, without finding myself among all the shitty and supposedly well-intentioned commenters on fat bodies. But I still feel deeply sad that we live in a world that is so fucked up, it makes sense, after a lifetime of pain and isolation, to ask someone to cut into your contentious body and tie up a part of it — with no less than a 40 to 50 percent chance of failure — in an effort to make it less contentious. Davis made herself vulnerable in doing the story, and I don’t want to shit on that or her in any way.
What bothers me the most is that the Oprah story just reduces Jen Davis and her wonderful, complicated self-portraits to parts in yet another weight-loss narrative, where the person loses weight and lives happily ever. Now the photos are relegated to the role of evidence of that time she used to be fat and unhappy, a time on which the door is now closed because she has lost weight and become happy and confident. Of course, it’s just Oprah, and of course they would do a story like that, a story that just trots out all the usual narratives we have for women. This is why I avoid those dumb-ass magazines. But I still just feel so sad about this whole state of affairs. (I wonder if every blog post I write now will be about how fucked up this world is.)
The story begins with a description of Davis’s physical appearance, reinforcing the idea that the only way a woman can realize her true potential or selfhood or whatever is through physical beauty (She “has the kind of straight blonde hair the rest of us have to fake.” Imagine if women could find a way to just love ourselves as we are; what would the Oprah Empire do then?). The discussion of her accomplishments — exhibitions in France, Spain and Italy; the New York freakin’ Times featuring her work; awards, grants, residencies and invitations to give lectures about her work — merits only one small paragraph on the second page of the article. No, what really matters is her appearance and the age-old story of The Ugly Duckling. What really matters is romantic love, as the story is book-ended with quotes from Davis about how she wants a romantic partner and she’s 34 and has never had a boyfriend (you know, the Never Been Kissed story, except that in Davis’s case she’s not exactly virginal – there is tremendous sexuality in some of her self-portraits and especially her webcam series). (Don’t get me wrong, romantic love is great and important and I think she more than deserves to experience that. But the Oprah story makes it sound like the problem was always centred in Davis’s body, not our fat-hating world and the wounds it inflicts.)
I feel like this article has reduced a full, rich, complex human life to a trope. I don’t know Davis personally at all, and this is the first interview with her I’ve read. But I wish I could give her a big hug. I would tell her that she is beautiful and awesome now, but she has also been beautiful and awesome all along and she will remain beautiful and awesome for the rest of the her life, regardless of her body’s shape.
Do yourself a favour and look at all the her beautiful work on her website.
I quit my day job today. I’m officially still on unpaid leave, but I’ve given my notice that I won’t be returning. I really struggled with my letter of resignation. My first inclination was not to say anything about my reasons for leaving. But then it was only one or two sentences long and sounded rather terse. And my google of sample letters showed that the polite thing is to explain why. That was hard, especially knowing that the letter wasn’t only to my manager (who already knew my reasons) but to my file, where someone who’s never met me might look on it in the future. There were words right there, ripe for the picking, words we’ve all heard: “I’m going to focus on my family.” But I don’t like those words. For one thing, it sounds like when I’m working I’m not focused on my family, and that’s just incorrect. And for another, it sounds self-sacrificing, like I’m doing this only for the benefit of my family. Which is not true. If I continued working, my family would be fine of course.
I’m quitting for me. Here’s where it gets really hard to articulate, because the only words I can think of around what I want to do smack of laziness and privilege. I want to hang out with my kids during the few years they aren’t embarrassed by me (and time is short on this with my oldest). I want to make, grow, and eat good food. I want to make and think about good photographs (and if I ever grow my brain cells back maybe write about them too). I want to walk most places we need to go (this one will take a while for many reasons). I want to be able to give small gifts to people that I make myself (this one will also take a while since I have few skills in this area right now). If my kids are grumpy and having a low-energy day or the weather sucks, I want to spend a day veging out with them. If the day is sunny and beautiful and warm, I want to spend a good chunk of it outside with them. I want my kids to have real summer holidays and to enjoy unstructured time. This is all purely selfish, isn’t it?
I have done paid work since I was 14. Even earlier actually, as my dad paid me to muck out horse stalls from about the age of 11 or so. I’ve grown up with a very strong work ethic. I’ve shovelled shit for all kinds of people, I’ve even taken it when one of those people lectured me about my shit-shovelling technique in front of a client, I’ve packed brake pads, I’ve packed plastics rolls, I’ve sold futons and cameras, I’ve stuffed envelopes for days on end until my fingers were shredded. And I’ve done professional work like writing Minister’s letters, and leading a plain language campaign for a public sector organization. It’s taken me a very long time to feel kind of ok about no longer earning money.
Our society is so messed up. The only way we know how to value anything now is by attaching a dollar figure. And domestic work and raising children don’t contribute to the GDP. If you’re not using your time to make money, you’re just wasting it and mooching off others. The home has become a place where nothing happens. I’ve noticed that when people ask what we did on a weekend, and we passed an enjoyable weekend hanging out at home, it doesn’t make for a very interesting report. I find myself feeling weird and lazy, and yet we made and ate good food and hung out together. What’s wrong with that? Once upon a time, the home was the centre of work for both men and women. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start hunting and making my own leather jackets. I’m just becoming increasingly aware of these assumptions and biases.
I have worried that it’s not the best economic time to try this. I may not have an easy time getting a job again if I need to. But I keep thinking about that dream I had when I was pregnant with my youngest and how that shack looked like shelter but would actually become more dangerous than the open space when the tornado hit. So I’m standing here in the open space now, hoping the storm won’t hit me.
* * *
This morning my youngest said his clearest word yet: Go. He says it very carefully and slowly so it sounds like a song, a whistle almost: Kohhh. Sometimes he misses the first consonant and says Doh. Sometimes he makes two syllables: Dagoh. But his meaning is clear; he accompanies the song with pointing out the big living room window to the backyard.
It seems fitting he said it first on the same day I sent in my resignation. Here we go.
Is there a word for actively making gratitude? Giving thanks seems too weak. I mean chasing down the thing you’re grateful for in your mind and staring down the idea of living without it and feeling so relieved you don’t have to actually live that way you can feel it all through your body.
This afternoon you were sleeping in our bed. Your brother and dad had gone off swimming, and I was resisting joining you, even though I needed a nap. The house was just so peaceful, it was tempting to stay up and do something all by myself. In quiet. But then you stirred and I panicked that you might have a short nap and I would miss my opportunity to sleep entirely. So I lay down beside you and just watched you breathe. The bruise on your forehead was faded to yellow. And I thought about that time last week when I thought you were dead while I dialled 9-1-1. You went so still, and while I thought you were dead, I also couldn’t believe it. You were just alive, a minute ago; you couldn’t possibly be dead. But that’s how it is with life and death, isn’t it? One minute it’s there and the next it’s gone. I didn’t want to look; I figured let the paramedics tell me when they arrived.
So today, I watched you breathe, in and out in and out. Totally fine. And I am grateful. More than grateful.
On Tuesday, I met Smashley Massacre and River. Usually, I meet each derby girl in her home and we get to know each other and I get to scout her space. Then I come back another time and make pictures. This time, I combined everything into one visit. I’m trusting my instinct and experience more in my shooting decisions for this project, and this most recent shoot helped. I’m hoping to travel and photograph derby girls a bit further from home, but I’ve been uncertain about how the time constraints of travelling would affect my work. But I think it’s going to be ok.
Tuesday was my quickest shoot ever. I couldn’t keep the camera out for long because darling River was fascinated by it. I managed to squeeze four frames with River in it: one to check exposure, one where Smashley’s face was blurry while River nursed, this one, and one when both of them were a blur because he noticed my camera and needed to come explore again. I shot some more frames with just Smashley, but they just didn’t come close to this one.