Tanked at the aquarium

I recently signed up for a 3-week photography workshop at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto, which basically means running around gob-smacked at coral reefs, sharks, jelly fish and kilometer after kilometer of living colour.

Here are some picks from Week 2.

Floater

grey waves

Terry’s biggest fear was pain. He had a particularly low threshold for it, and so the thought of his limbs bashing against the rocks had brought a clammy sweat to his palms.

Turns out, he was worried about nothing.

After the initial crunch of what used to be his left knee cap, the free rotation of his leg really didn’t hurt. Rather, it was more of a surreal distraction.

What actually bothered Terry was the unquenchable cold, as wave after wave of grey water sponged the heat from his flailing limbs.

Winter had come early to the Scarborough bluffs, and despite being well into April, showed no signs of releasing its crystalline grip on the world. More than one chunk of ice from the nearby shore added insult to stony injury as Terry rolled with the currents, thrown tantalizingly close to the pebbled beach only to be unceremoniously tugged back to the depths.

(Photo property of Gail Shotlander Photography)

(Photo property of Gail Shotlander Photography)

To all outward appearance, Terry was as lifeless as the shredded plastic bags that clung to his limbs as their paths crossed. Even the gulls had stopped their surveillance, his constant mobility keeping them from determining his potential as food.

Terry didn’t thrash. Nor did he scream.

What his lost will to live couldn’t achieve, the water completed as his body involuntarily pulled muscle-activating blood from his extremities, its focus completely on preserving his heart and mind. Ironically, these were the two things that first failed Terry.

In the grey waters under a grey sky, tumbling mindlessly with wave and wind, Terry knew his death was just a matter of time.

And oddly, for the first time in his life, Terry had all the time in the world.

Bloodied remembrance

Flag soldiers

I have no room for anger or hatred in my life, but I find myself perplexed, frustrated and saddened by the events of this past week that saw three men, three soldiers killed or wounded. And all of the efforts to understand or explain the reasoning of the two perpetrators, both killed, do nothing to assuage these feelings.

The two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal in Quebec, were crossing a parking lot in front of a recruitment centre when they were run over by their assailant. One of the men wasn’t even in uniform.

And in a messed up irony that could only accompany a death, the third soldier in Ottawa was standing guard over a war memorial to his fallen predecessors. His only defence from the gun man that took his life? An unloaded gun pointed at the ground out of remembrance and reverence to The Unknown Soldier.

For soldiers to fall in battle or in zones of conflict is painful, but somehow more acceptable as a known risk. For men to die while pursuing peaceful administrative activities or activities of honour is simply unfathomable.

While I am not yet ready to weep for the deaths of the two murderers, I mourn for their families and their communities, who have suffered losses as well. Without more information, I cannot blame anyone other than he who drove the car, he who pulled the trigger.

But even as I grieve, even as I question, I take heart and solace in the arms of my community. The people of Canada have not cornered the market in fortitude and endurance, but we are strong. And in times like this, times that matter most, we speak with one voice, we grieve with one heart and we love with one soul.

Despite the pain of our loss, we only grow stronger when events like this happen. And when faced with the uncertainty and fear of these events, that strength, that resolve will keep us whole, will keep us secure.

The coming Remembrance Day will be a touch sadder this year because the poppies will be more bloodied and the graves they mark will be a little fresher.

Peace.

 

Only the names of the deceased officers have been released: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24 (left, above), and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53.

soldier_andfield_of_poppies

Traveller

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Cloud shadows slink among verdant hills

As winged scorpions speckle the air.

The modest murmur of breeze and wave

Is punctuated by staccato calls

Of feathered sentries, alarumed

By movements both broad and subtle.

A sudden stillness hijacks all,

Water rent astride by bow and oar.

A lone traveller, immune to life,

Slices the water in a multihued dugout;

Eye set on the horizon, oblivious

To anguished muscles and sinews,

Passing through the natural world

And yet so much a part of it.

Eddies left behind are enveloped

Quickly by unseen currents;

And all that was before

Is as it was again; peaceful, silent.

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My Creative Journey – Part One

What follows are a few thoughts on why I write…the moments in my life that led me to embrace my passion. It is an incredibly personal story and I hope it doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable, but rather helps them reflect on why they embrace their own passions.

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I need to be creative on my terms.

When I was younger, it was all about acquiring knowledge and being recognized for having acquired that knowledge. In hindsight, I’m not exactly sure what I was planning to do with that knowledge.

In some respects, it was about solving a puzzle, which could range from how does this alarm clock work to how does the universe work. On another level, I think it was about control. Knowing how the universe worked meant knowing that there was a broader sense of organization out there; that the laws of physics and mathematics still held even when my own life seemed in constant flux. The subtle irony of entropy only occurred later.

But it was also about control in the sense that I couldn’t be expected to come up with answers, with solutions, until I had all the information I needed to make that decision. The aggravating reality of that method of control is it only works when you’re the one asking the questions. Nobody else is willing to wait until I have all of the info I need.

At the same time, I needed the safety of analysis and knowledge, I’ve also had a need to be creative. A need that has only recently blossomed as a regular part of my life.

When I was young, I was constantly creating new worlds through my stories. First, as play scenarios and then as the written word. I constantly developed short stories that took me in a million directions. Again, this might have been an attempt at control.

When I wrote, I was the master of my universe. I was the one who decided who lived and who died, who was allied and who was the enemy. I was the protagonist and the antagonist.

It was in 1977, as I started high school, that I first noticed the strength of my writing. That summer, my life changed with the release of Star Wars. So deeply effected was I by the characters and the story, that I immediately went home and started working on the sequel. My version took a very different turn than George Lucas’s—although there were some subplot overlaps—but over the next few weeks, I hand wrote 400 pages of dialogue.

I shared the script with my Grade 9 English teacher, who was impressed with the volume if not the content (my words, not hers). It was in her class that I first realized the power of my words to still and disturb an audience.

On day, Ms. Philp gave us a writing assignment that started with the sentence “I couldn’t believe it when I heard that sound.” It was supposed to be an in-class assignment, but I was onto something and asked if I could take it home to finish it. I guess she sensed something—that this was important to me—and she said yes. While I didn’t finish the story, I did hand her several pages the next day.

After reading the story herself, she decided to read it to the class. Whereas most people had written stories about funny sounds, spooky sounds or weird sounds, I had written about a man who comes upon a murder in an alleyway, first by the sound of bone and sinew breaking, and then by sight. I wrote about the fear and indecision in the witness’s heart as the murderer sees him and he flees for his life.

As Ms. Philp read the story aloud, there was silence in the room—a room of 14 and 15 year olds. No one said a word until she was done reading. It was magical for me.

I wish I could say that there was a rousing round of applause at the end and that this was the day that I decided to become a professional writer. There was no round of applause—although my class seemed to appreciate my story—and Ms. Philp continued to be supportive of my efforts, but there was no effort to foster this creative desire in a young boy struggling to define his world.

The opportunity was there. Everything was laid out for someone to recognize, but nobody tapped into it. Writing continued to be a strange little quirk of my life. I guess it was just easier to find ways to support my interest in science and history by buying me more books, taking me to the Science Centre.

What do you do for a budding writer? Get him a pen and a notebook? Buy him a typewriter?

Eventually, someone did buy me a typewriter—a vehicle to do my homework. But it quickly became the vehicle for my creative outlet, much to my mother’s chagrin. The muse hits me when I have time to be alone with my thoughts. When my day isn’t cluttered with requests for attention and responsibilities. Unfortunately, in my childhood home, those times only tended to occur when my family was asleep.

Routinely, my mother would yell down from her bedroom for me to stop wailing away at the keys. Loudly pounding them into submission. Watching the letter hammers get stuck because the thoughts occurred to me and be translated through my fingertips faster than the typewriter could accommodate. She wanted to be supportive, but not at the cost of a good night’s sleep.

It took no time at all before I had an incredible portfolio of work—half-finished thoughts, short stories—but they languished unread by anyone other than me. I had given voice to the creative urges in my soul but no one heard that voice. It was the proverbial tree in a forest. With no one to even acknowledge the existence of my efforts, did they really exist.

Where was my mentor to guide me through this process? Someone to help me hone my voice. To make my stories better. To help me get my voice heard.

To be continued…