Give thanks by giving back

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends and truthfully anyone who just likes the narcosis of turkey and pumpkin pie, no matter what time of year.

I have an abundance of reasons to be thankful this year, as with all previous, but perhaps my greatest thanks is for my ability and resources to give back to my communities: financially, spiritually, however love is needed.

Below, I describe a couple of projects I have underway that will hopefully bear fruit for any number of groups.

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Opportunity #1

As an avid fan of the Toronto Marlies hockey team and avid photographer, I have been combining my passions by photographing the home games.

A couple of years ago, I took that one step further by designing a photo calendar for the hockey season (Oct to Sep), listing all the games & many player birthdays.

The first year, it was just a gift from me to many of the other season seat holders.

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Last year, I sold them to anyone interested simply to cover my expenses. At the end of last season, however, my ticket agent & friend Wayne arranged to have the team sign the calendar and we auctioned it off with a team-signed stick on Facebook.

I was blown away.

Between the winning bid and two matching bids, we raised $1050 for You Can Play (American link), a group that supports inclusiveness in sports with a focus on the LGBTQ community.

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This year, I am doing the same, but donating $5 from every sale (calendars are $20) to the MLSE Foundation, an org that uses sports to build communities.

Of the 75 calendars I ordered, I only have 16 left after the two-day home opener this weekend (both Toronto victories). Fans from as far away as the United Kingdom are jumping on-board to help support my effort, the team and the MLSE Foundation.

If you’re interested in supporting the effort by purchasing a calendar, feel free to reach out to me on my Facebook page or via my Twitter page. And you can find my photography (not just hockey) on my Instagram account.

Also, Wayne is again having one signed by the team, so watch another auction in the coming months!

100 Days to a Better World

Opportunity #2

I love walking all over the city of Toronto and pretty much anywhere else I visit, photographing both the wildlife and the urban art landscape of graffiti and murals. With that in mind, I recently decided to see if I could use that walking habit to raise some money for charity.

100 Days To A Better World is the result.

For 100 days (to Dec 25), I will record my daily walking distance and my total to-date, inviting people to sponsor my distance (per km).

When the 100 days is completed and the cumulative distance is known, those lovely individuals can then donate their total sponsorship to a charity of THEIR choice.

Rather than focus on a charity I think is worthy, I want to convince people to give their money to groups they think are worthy. We spread the love.

To date, with the generous support of many people, I am earning about $3.30/km.

As of October 8 (Day 23), my total distance is 263.41 km (158 miles); so, we have already raised $870 for various charities.

I appreciate that some people may have an upper limit on what they can afford – in case I go crazy and hit 1000 km (I am frighteningly on pace for that). No problem.

If they can’t afford any money but are willing to cheer me on, then I am honoured to have their support.

Just in doing the exercise, in having the conversation, I feel that I am making this a better world. That charitable organizations may also benefit is the icing.

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Making a difference in the world doesn’t have to be difficult or even cost you anything financially.

It can centre on your passions, the things you do in everyday life and/or that bring you joy. It is as much about offering your time and spirit as anything.

It is about being open and loving. It is about being thankful.

I wish everyone all the best both in this season of thanks and throughout the months and years ahead.

The Incoherent Blues

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As I rode the streetcar home last night, a streetcar busy with revelers heading downtown to party in the various bars and clubs, a louder-than-expected noise rose from the front. The sound was vaguely human and from its rising volume, I could only assume was approaching my area in the back.

Suddenly, an awkwardly rampaging bear of a man burst through the crowd, intent more on maintaining his feet than malevolence. It was just one of the many street denizens that populate Toronto, and this one was exceptionally inebriated, and loudly so.

Proving the theory that if you fall in all directions at the same time, you will stay on your feet, this tottering mass of humanity somehow lurched itself to a seat near the back of the streetcar, announcing to everyone—real or imaginary—that he had arrived.

His volume remained ear-splitting and mentally crushing, yet despite sounding like he was irritated with someone or something—Why are curse words so easy to enunciate under even the worst of conditions, while every other word remains a garbled mess?—he remained relatively harmless.

Had this been the extent of the interaction, he would have remained white noise in my background (I’m not sure, but perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that), and I would have blissfully gone back to contemplating the photos I had just taken at a hockey game or taken in the sights that passed outside my window.

But something changed.

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From somewhere within the mental and chemical maelstrom that struggled to maintain its physical if not social integrity behind me, beauty arose in the form of music.

Even though the man himself remained incoherent, magic happened when he placed a small harmonica against his lips. Riffs of Blues music poured forth in brief bursts.

Between these bursts, he continued his bilious bellowings; there was no attempt at lyrics to the best my ear could discern.

But the man mountain’s inner song rose slowly, incidental music to a life of struggle and dysfunction, signs perhaps that at one time, this free-range citizen was more free spirit.

The tide of revelers ebbed and flowed around the music man for several minutes as we continued our way across the city, most doing their best to ignore the intruder other than to throw incredulous glances or bemused smiles to one another.

Eventually, the music stopped as the human-encased chaos plunged out the back door into the night.

And if only in the smallest way, he left me changed as what otherwise would have been a self-indulgent ride across the city became a wondrous duel between incapacity and limitless capacity.

I hope he found repose.

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Artists I adore (and you should follow)

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Barnaby Dixon – puppetry

As many of you know, I am nutso for puppetry and have somehow managed to know some amazingly talented puppeteers. But as much as I adore my friends, one fellow blows me away not just for his skill as a puppeteer, but also as a puppet designer.

For a guy that looks like he’s 12—I’m over 50, so you all look 12 to me—Barnaby Dixon seems ancient in his craft and wisdom. From the very first YouTube video I watched, he has dazzled me with his love of the art form, his ability to bring the inanimate to life, and his presentation style that draws you in and makes you feel like this is a private conversation. Stellar!

Visit Barnaby’s web site, Facebook page and Twitter account

 

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Baram & Snieckus – comedy

I know, I know. I have to get past my addiction to these beautiful sketch and improv wunderkinds. But I can’t help myself.

Apart, Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are wonderfully funny and vulnerable and endearing, but together, they rocket off the charts.

As I have reviewed previously (see below), Baram & Snieckus are to the modern era what Stiller & Meara and Nichols & May were to theirs, people who express the challenges and wonders of social awkwardness, allowing us to laugh at the things that frighten us in our daily lives.

No one is more neurotic than Matt…until Naomi erupts in her own mental mushroom cloud.

And that this husband-and-wife team are beautiful, friendly, giving, caring people is an absolute bonus.

You can follow Matt & Naomi on their web site, Facebook page or Twitter.

 

See also:

You and Me Both – A revue review

Still Figuring It Out: Baram & Snieckus

 

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Filippa Levemark – visual arts

As a photographer, I adore nature. As a writer, I adore bizarre or interesting juxtapositions. Thus, I had no choice but to fall in love with Filippa Levemark’s work.

With the seemingly simplest of compositions, Filippa combines nature and human infrastructure to powerfully demonstrate that the two worlds are one and the same. Try as it might, humanity cannot hold itself as distinct from the wildlife that surrounds us, nor should it.

Her work is beautifully approachable and yet is rife with meaning, offering depths that may be missed at first glance.

Based in Sweden, my greatest hope is to find a way for her to bring her works to Canada.

You can follow Filippa on her web site, Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

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Irene Carl Sankoff & David Hein – musical theatre

As a student at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre several years ago, I had the great fortune to meet and do improv with a gorgeous and talented actress named Irene Sankoff, a truly giving performer.

Years later, I heard that Irene and her husband David Hein had created the somewhat autobiographical stage musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which played to wonderful reviews in Toronto. What I didn’t realize was that the musical would explode in the theatre world both in Canada and abroad, setting these two up as a creative force of nature.

And just this past year, they have repeated (and likely surpassed) that success with a new musical Come From Away, based on events in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11 when hundreds of air passengers found themselves suddenly grounded.

The musical just completed a spectacularly successful run in Toronto and begins Broadway previews on Feb 18 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, where it is sure to sell out quickly.

But like my Baram & Snieckus comment above, what makes these two particularly special is that they are genuinely wonderful people and have such love for their craft and for the people who come see the show.

Recently, on a frigid Toronto morning, the pair brought coffee and donuts to fans waiting for rush tickets to their final Toronto performance (Toronto Star article). The pair and performers from the show entertained the small crowd, singing songs and chatting with the chilled throng. That is simply beautiful.

Follow Irene & David’s adventures on their web site, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Winging it

One of the hazards of taking the camera out for one reason is that it never goes back into the closet.

Taking a cue from the deliciously mild temperatures but dazzling sun yesterday, I took a wander over to see my grandparents at a nearby cemetery. On the way, I wandered through a small dose of wetlands to find some feathered friends.

Awake with love – Canada

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I have been a very lucky man.

I was lucky enough to be born in a great country. In my almost 50 years, I have not known war. When I have been sick, I have been able to find treatment. When I have been poor, I have been able to find support. When I have been lonely, I have been able to find friends. And a lot of that is because I live in Canada.

Canada is not a perfect country—it is no Shangri-La—but it is a good proxy. And today, July 1, it is 146 years old.

Being so free, however, I have often been complacent about how good things are for me. I have forgotten what went into creating this haven. Forgotten how my life has compared to those living elsewhere.

One of the great things about living in a cosmopolitan centre like Toronto is that I get the opportunity to meet many of the people who started elsewhere.

Several years ago, in the span of just a few months, I played host to a couple of post-doctoral researchers who came to Toronto to work at the Hospital for Sick Children. One was a researcher from Moscow, the other a student from Beijing. Both rented a room in my house, and while the rent money was nice, the life lesson was more valuable.

Wei marveled at the space available in this thriving metropolis; that he could go for a walk and find places where he saw no one. He also marveled at the speed and insanity of NHL hockey on Saturday nights (just because it’s cliché doesn’t, mean it’s untrue).

Sergei was reminded of home in some ways, and amusingly found Torontonians a bit repressed (ah, our Scottish banker roots were showing through). At the same time, when I informed him that yes indeed, public consumption of alcohol was illegal in our parks, he marveled that no one stopped him or that the police didn’t arrive suddenly. And he was grateful at the open welcome he received from everyone including my family. Our cookies were a little stale, but then, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d mistaken dog biscuits for cookies (we call them Sergei cookies, now).

As I would listen to both of these men recount their lives back home, I gained a new appreciation for what I had…and for what I took for granted.

From my geographically central location, I have had the luxury of traveling most of my country. I’ve taken in its historical sites—Fortress of Louisbourg, Quebec Citadel, Plains of Abraham—visited some of the most majestic landscape I could hope to see—the Shield of Northern Ontario, the Fraser River valley, the Bay of Fundy, the Lachine Rapids—participated in amazing cultural festivals—the Stratford Festival, Pride Week, Fringe Toronto, Caribana—and met amazing people.

I am a lucky man to live in such a beautiful, dazzling country.

Happy birthday, Canada. I love you more today than I did yesterday, and I will love you even more tomorrow.

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RC Scanner – Toronto markets

As I continue to plunge my way through a series of magazine features and a new screenwriting class, I haven’t had as much time to write for the blog, so here is another dip into my personal photo archives.

For all its concrete canyons, Toronto has some amazing neighbourhoods and open markets. Two, in particular, form the core of the city, places where the entire city–people of a thousand backgrounds–can gather to shop, drink and talk: Chinatown and Kensington Market.

Between the Signs

One thing I love about signs is they can say so much more than the words written on them. Whether there is a subtext within the words or it is simply a matter of context, each sign tells a story that you might not see at first glance.

PS I just realized that a lie (li) takes you from “obvious” to “oblivious”…lovin’ me some words today.