The Softness of Winter

Photography, Writing

Winter is often harsh, bitter and cold in Canada. The cold and the wind snaps at our legs, scrapes our faces raw, and bites the tips of our fingers. Our eyes water, our noses run.

We celebrate our ability to tough it out. It makes us feel alive. And that experience of that special warm burn of our rosy skin as it begins to warm up. Only we who know the cold know that deliciousness. When we brave the elements, we say this is what being Canadian is about! We say it with a strange kind of almost manic exhilaration.

We have to tell ourselves that. Otherwise, how could we bear it, this unrelenting harshness? Day after day, week after week, month after month, when by March we are all snapping at one another.

But the truth is, when you’ve dressed properly, and you take the time to look, winter has a softness about it at times, maybe even a kind of sadness, as the day comes to a close, that it should be so reviled, so misunderstood. The dusting of snow caressing the curves of a field highlighting shapes we haven’t noticed before; the gentle but passionate colour of the sky embracing the earth: it’s not all icy blues and blinding whites. It never is.

Softness at times, like fighting lovers who pause, exhausted perhaps, to briefly remember the love they once shared, a small smile, a glimpse of softness, softness before it descends into darkness.

On style



I joined the Ajax Photography Club and went to a very interesting talk by Michael Willems on “Developing Your Photographic Style”. Quite by accident I decided to join the club when developing your style was a theme this year. Thank goodness!

Over the past few months “style” has been a weight I’ve been carrying around. I understood what it meant, but applying it to my photographic work was a whole other ball game. Pretty sure my earlier posts talked about or at least implied the pressure of trying to define my style. I just didn’t feel like waiting around for it to happen (just shoot long enough, you’ll find it). I’ve been doing all this too long. Secretly of course, I was quite sure I didn’t have one. I like to do too many things, experiment with too many things.

Once you know who you are, you’ll know what your style is, goes the advice.

I think not.

Not for me, anyway. It’s possible to get too close to your work. It’s possible to get lost in that low lying anxiety.

Michael Willems was the first I’ve encountered that actually had specific and actionable suggestions on how to tackle this question of style.

One of the more helpful take aways was the suggestion of going over your past work for those of us that have work to look back on which I do.

What patterns emerge? Certainly when I look at the work I’ve done that I’ve never intended to show anyone, I see a number of patterns.  Structures, empty rooms, skies, flat graphics, people – but specific kinds of shots (of course the rabbit heads!), and the requisite selfies.

With some of my work there has been a certain darkness and isolation that has been there since I started shooting, although much more muted than it was. There is also a kind of unreality of others, some fantasy based, some blown out highlights, over-saturation. When I think about what my obsessions are, there are identifiable ones. But rather than thinking that I just keep going after the new shiny object, (ie. I do too much and I need to just pick something) I suspect I am actually after something.

I have visual stories to tell, but I haven’t told them all, and I haven’t found a way to more accurately tell the ones I’m working on.

The new few shots are an exploration of the Lake Ontario. The lake and lakes in general have been a feature of my life except for when I lived in England. And when I lived there, I remember going to the Thames and feeling unsatisfied, and then taking a trip in December to the Highlands of Scotland (people thought I was mad) to get that water and land fix.  Later I remember asking my husband once why he took the Lakeshore instead of the Gardiner and I was surprised when he said, because you like to look at the water.

Well here are some of my looks.

Moral Dilemmas and Transformation

Uncategorized, Writing

I found this new moral dilemma. I’m always finding them.

This idea of shooting the town to express a kind of passive discontent that I felt, this sort of suffocation with the mundane, with routine, the conformity, the ugliness, but not even in a glamorous rock star ugly way, of the big box store malls.

The problem I felt was that I was starting to get to know people in this community who love it here. People who have originated from different countries that actually chose Canada, chose the suburbs, who are happy and thriving.  These people actually love the suburbs.  In fact some of them like the town of Ajax more than other suburbs they’ve lived in.

I was starting to feel that I was doing my new-found community of people a disservice. How would it make the people I’ve grown to care about feel if I showed their beloved home in any kind of negative light?

Well, I still may explore that, but I felt challenged to look at things in a new way. Not in the way they looked at it, because I can’t see it from their perspective, I can only see it from mine. But I asked myself what that negativity was about.

Back when I was growing up the suburbs there was a kind of darkness that was hidden in the suburbs and it lived in my house. It involved looking the other way. It involved not making waves.


Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that doesn’t still exist.  But I caught myself living in the past with it – almost because it was easy. I knew how I felt. I know I didn’t want to show myself as being the kind of person who sold themselves out and retreated quietly to domesticity either.

But now I wondered if it was possible to show other people a town in a new light, in a way that I wouldn’t feel bad about. Why was I falling back on easy?

I’ve been shooting at night for a couple of years now, long before this most recent project. Night shooting is not something that comes from my past. It’s not something that comes from any idea of who I should be and what I should be doing. It truly is this fascination I have for exploring a hidden world.

And I think this hidden world was what I wanted to show people that live here. Your town is full of town artifacts we haven’t really looked at.

But I don’t seek to show you something that you’ve seen already. I wish to transform what you’re usually used to seeing into something new. Because that was the journey that I needed to take for myself.

In life we often get stuck in roots, we get rooted in the past and our past beliefs, we get attached to the idea of who we are and it prevents us from living in the present, from being present and seeing things new. We get stuck in our own perceptions and into the belief that how we perceive the world is not only correct but is the only way to see the world.


Photography, Writing

Once when I was travelling from Ajax to Toronto the radio was talking fog. I had no idea what they were talking about. It was beautiful and sunny on the 401. I don’t even know if there were clouds in the sky that morning. But right around the DVP I saw it. A giant cloud lay nestled down the hill that lead to city.

I was at that point where I knew everything was going to change and I was at that moment where I tried to imagine it, but at the same time wanted to hold on to my perception of the beautiful bright sunny day. I wanted to freeze the transformation the way you can hold two simultaneous thoughts in your head at once, as if transformation was not defined by the passage of time. I wanted to understand it. 

Sure enough I entered the cloud of dense fog, and no longer was it a sunny day. The essence of transformation was lost.The sunny day was something that happened before, sometime in the past, a memory. Today it was foggy. At least for me.

The Unquenchable Thirst


There comes a time in your life when you need to take stock of things. Are you really where you want to be? Is your life following a path closely matched to your values? Actually what are your values? Are they the same as they used to be? Are you doing what you have always wanted to do? Are you wanting? Are you listening to that little voice?

I’ve been stuck a long time. Or maybe I’ve always been. But it’s twisted into a kind of existential crisis in the last few years. I’ve started to know what I don’t want, but that isn’t the best way to define you’re life. I haven’t known how to define myself for people, and so I’ve just hidden away. There were all sorts of things I couldn’t talk about because I just sounded like a fraud (oh, you do that and that AND that?). I had this unquenchable thirst to do so many things, to learn so many things but no clear way forward down the single path that we are expected to find. What do you do, people wanted to know. Everything, nothing, I learned to say.

See, by saying I did this (whatever my current job or pre-occupation was) meant I would get to be known for that, and what about all the other stuff? What about when I get tired of the this or move on to the next thing? Who was I then?  I enjoy doing too many things and they don’t fit tidily under one umbrella. How do I market myself? This seems to be the thread that goes through everything. So instead of developing my personal brand, marketing myself for what I do, I hide. I avoid the questions. I change the subject. This is the dilemma of a multipotentialite.

In some ways it became worst when I discovered my kids were cognitively gifted. I started researching giftedness in hope to better understand the complicated life I have with my kids. In my travels I came across a blog by Paula Proper, Your Rainforest Mind. And suddenly I was no longer reading about my kids. I was reading about myself.  I don’t mean giftedness, either, I mean the state of being too much. Too intense, too interested, too emotional, too thinking, too analytical, too this, too that. Not enough and too much. And you know you’ve hit on something when tears that seem to come from an ancient long-buried place appear, and your pain is getting unearthed, and you’re like, holy f***, I can’t unsee this. There I was. Right there. And so were others.

And one night I thought about how my life was and I realized I had no purpose. Sure, I’m a mother and my kids need me, but what if I had never had kids? Surely I am more than a mother. I have nothing to give to others. Nothing I want to give. Nothing of value. Those were the thoughts of that night.

See, there is a kind of corruption that happens when we don’t follow our paths. It was not that I was interested in programming, learning french, writing, photography, building websites, dogs, designing, video editing, physics, social media, business strategy, soccer, how the brain works, cognitive therapy, positive psychology (oh, there’s more). But I thought it was.  How do you follow a path when you’ve got many? Just imagine what I could accomplish if I could commit to something! It was not that. 

It was this intellectual drifting. It was my being authentic in the wrong place. It was letting fear dictate. It was about mailing it in.

And this little whisper in my ear. Art. Oh little voice. What is even art?

I fought it for a million reasons. Because, how does art help anyone? (And I’m not saying you, dear artists of my tribe, I am saying me. And yes, I can pinpoint the experiences that lead to this belief, but you can psychoanalyze me later).


But it refused to leave me alone. This is your purpose, it said back then, it always has been and you’ve been denying it.

This deeply upsets me. It’s a pain that has to do with living, that had to do with life itself.  Like a sin against the self. Like I’ve been denying the very gift of life. We have a responsibility and a duty to make the most of this gift. And I’ve been squandering it.

I’ve been squandering it. 

The thing about business is that it’s all about the other people. What do they want and need? It’s easy to hide in the quest of pleasing others. The pursuit of art was too narcissistic. Too impractical. And too revealing!  And how are you going to make a living from that?

After a lot of heart searching and research I realized in art, what your tribe wants and needs is whatever your personal work and vision is. You can only go inwards for that. That is what they are looking for. That work helps certain others see the world differently.  It expands their world.

I haven’t been able to tell people what I really do because I was hiding who I am, what I feel, what I believe. 

My most authentic creative work and some of my best writing has been on two secret blogs. One blog was just to have a place in the world where, although in a fictionalized format, I could tell the real truth without fear. I had to answer to no one and no one knew who I was.  And people responded. But I didn’t think I should be “wasting time” (another theme in my life).

The other was for the special audience of one but over time grew into a larger audience and I felt myself hiding once again because I was developing relationships with those people and I lost the authenticity as my need to please them was too great and I felt I was becoming to known. Artist can’t please people with their art. They must make art that pleases themselves. 

I don’t know yet what my “niche” is. But this blog is about becoming unstuck. A kind of unravelling. A coming clean. Journeys of creative process. Of what it means to be alive.

And also, a search for my tribe. After reading Paula’s blog I’m coming to the conclusion I have one, and I just haven’t been looking. I think you, my fellow tribes people, are out there; fellow creators, fellow doubters, fellow thinkers, fellow multipotentialites, fellow hiders. You are out there.

I can’t predict where this blog will go. And I can certainly promise spelling mistakes. But what I can promise is that I’m aiming for something real. I offer you an intimate view into the mind of another.

Re-launching with a focus on the creative, process and life.