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.

Creative Process Rumination

The Artist's Journey

I’d go out at night, sometimes around 9 or 10, sometimes much later. I put jazz on the car radio. From time to time I would dictate notes on my iPhone, capturing my thoughts and contemplations as I spent hours alone.  I fill a thermos mug with wine and walk around in the dark in the neighborhood. I’m always keyed up and anxious, but I also love being out in the dark and the excitement of it.

What started as being a simple exercise of photographing your neighborhood turned out to be more complex the more I focused on it. I found myself thinking about what my photographs meant. I found myself thinking about what it meant to live here. All those hours alone contemplating my life here, how I came to be here, why I hadn’t left.

I found myself I found myself contemplating my conflicted feelings about being here.  And yet they were a part of who I was in some way that had to do with me figure out who I was as a teenager. Here I am at middle-age knowing full well the kind person that I am and yet dragging the past with me.

Conflicted between trying to make this place more beautiful more special, and at the same time driven to capture the worst of it. Back-and-forth I would go. I discover things in the process of it. Seeing what I’ve been drawn to, I see I’m looking for the drama that maybe isn’t there, creating the drama that maybe isn’t there.

Overcoming Fear

Blocks, The Artist's Journey

Fear, fear, fear. What am I afraid of?

Fear is a common block to getting stuff done, but it doesn’t always take shape the way you expect. Sometimes it hides underneath things so you don’t even recognize it’s fear. It often masks itself as procrastination. Sometimes we simply don’t know how to start or get going and the fear of the unknown keeps us shifting around for a distraction. Social media. Food. Getting our work space just right. The inspiration hunt.

What are you afraid of?

Fear of Success

I’ve read it’s common to be afraid of success. It that true? I recently hard that someone was afraid to admit they were a good artist because it meant no excuses. Or there is the pressure of having to perform to your standards. But I’ve never heard of anyone being afraid of success when they haven’t started – if that’s you tell me what it’s like for you. But when I hear it it’s kind of like a balm. Ah success, yes that’s what I’m afraid of. Well now, isn’t that silly?

I tell you what I’m afraid of: death. Let’s put things in perspective.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure on the other hand makes sense to all of us. We got it. It resonates because there is a kind of death in failure. Death of hopes, dreams and ego. And before you want to downplay the importance of ego like many people do, the ego doesn’t deserve its bad rap. Ego is us.

Tracks

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.

Roots

Photography

His ashes are lost. And by lost I mean somewhere in the house and have been for more than a decade. I had guarded them fiercely until we moved and the speed of which the movers moved my things into the house and the demands of my toddlers interfered with my ability to keep track of where everything was. 

Every year around his birthday we visit the tree and have a picnic. When the girls were younger they would hug and kiss the tree and say, “Hello Daddy” or perhaps wish him happy birthday and make me kiss it, too, the bark rough on my lips. One year we released a balloon into the sky. The following year we heard that this caused problems with animals so we stopped. Some years I hid tears. Most years I have a silent conversation with him.

He never answers.

He wanted to be thought of as a star. I asked him before he died: how should I describe you to the children? he thought about it and then said, as a star he said. We look up at the sky sometimes and wonder which one is Daddy. That one, the youngest sometimes says. Hello Daddy, she calls.

We said nothing of being a tree.

This tree. A gift from friends I mostly knew from the internet that felt so full of love and compassion and continues to mean so much. They can’t know how much. I spent hours researching every tree that was available to me to have planted until I decided on a Ginkgo for his love of asian culture, for its hardiness in surviving pollution and because its leaves are heart-shaped and represent love. But most years it’s still cold down by the lake in May. I discovered it’s leaves are later to come in than others. So it stands naked when we visit, the symbol of love having faded away last fall, or yet to unfold. 

The choice of where the tree was planted was done with far less deliberation. It was dark and wet when we went – the only time left available to us. The girls were whiny. Their little legs would only carry them so far. I wanted to be up the hill, well into the park. They didn’t like being out in the dark, and perhaps like me, felt the damp cold and the despairing loneliness of that night. I wanted to find the perfect place, but eventually had to give into the whining of the girls. I was conflicted. Caught between self-imposed obligations to the dead, and the aggravating limitations imposed on me by the temporary complaints of preschoolers. I owed it to him, to myself to find the right place, I owed it to their future selves.

In the end the preschoolers won. None of us were entirely happy about the location.

One of the girls expressed concern that the tree would be afraid in the dark. I explained that trees had long existed before there was electricity. I don’t know if she knew what I meant. I told her they liked the dark at night. And besides, the tree also would have friends around it. They wanted to go, they wanted to get home. They wanted the next thing. It did not have the feel of the reverent moment I hoped it would.

But in the end it is the tradition that ended up meaning something. A tradition that didn’t feel at all to me like a tradition. It was something I made up. Half based on his own tradition of visiting his own father’s resting place on his birthday. The mere repetition over time and the assumption from the girls that we are to go made it one. For them it will be the thing they always did. A picnic in the cold, wind blowing our food wrappings around, pictures, the easy play of children who do not carry around the emotional weight of it like I do. A reminder that they are connected with their father, and have a father,  even though they don’t remember him. I imagine after they have left the nest and flown away they will come back after I die to plant a tree and visit and known even if they can’t make it from time to time, that life’s energy goes on. Life is a force you can’t deny. That’s the lesson from this.

When I asked him what I should do with his ashes, he said he didn’t care. I believed he really didn’t. But I pushed him because I thought it should mean something. Maybe something to do with the kids when they were old enough to remember. How about the lake I asked him, without wondering if there were any legal issues with this. He thought about it. How about a river, he suggested. A river it was, then. When I move I will find them. We will let the ashes go then. Until then we have him. We just don’t know where.

 

The Unquenchable Thirst

Writing

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 jackieferrier.com with a focus on the creative, process and life.