Meaning

One of my girlfriends shared an article with me from The Atlantic entitled, There's More to Life Than Being Happy (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/). It is one of the things that I have been pondering off and on for the past year. I keep talking about being happy and trying to figure out how to be happy, but after reading the article, I realise that what I was calling happy is actually having meaning and purpose in my life, and not the actual goal of happiness. My brain shouted, "Yes! THAT'S what I meant!", and a peace settled down on me, and then an excitement because I really want to think about this some more.

Allow me to recap the article without repeating, because it is well worth reading: Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps (most of his family perished) and wrote a book about it and his theories on what makes people resilient - Meaning. Meaning and purpose give us a reason to exist, a responsibility to something outside of ourselves, a task that is uniquely ours which makes us indepensible. Suffering may be involved in that purpose, and so might happiness, but these are merely moments of time experienced with no real importance. And yet, we make happiness important - endless books and articles on how to be happy and achieve happiness, but happiness without meaning "characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life". Living a meaningful life involves giving rather than taking, and leads to more satisfaction and fulfillment down the road.

This year I have been taking my life apart and examining the little bits and pieces from all sides. After considering this article, I realise that I have been asking myself the wrong question, or at least I was not wording it correctly. I want a life with meaning, so how am I creating that now and how can I continue to do so? The biggest meaning right now is my children, but that cannot be my only responsibility. There must also be what I contribute to others through my photos, my words, my actions - they contribute to a purpose that will be with me long after my children are grown.

I'm not done thinking about this, I feel there is so much shifting for me at the moment. Seriously, read the article if you didn't - hopefully you'll be as excited as I am about it :-)

Resolve

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It's the beginning of the new year, so it's time for resolutions and reflections. When I woke up this morning, I thought the following: I am happy to be waking up in a warm bed, in a cozy dwelling. I am not hungry, I am not sick, I am alive and I can see the sunlight on the trees and the snow outside, making them sparkle. I have two beautiful children who dazzle me with their growing and person-ness. I have family who loves me and tries to take care of me. I have a few friends, just enough, who support me and love me in everything I do. I have a mind that thinks and creates and dreams and loves impossibly beautiful things.

Everything that I need or I want in this world is possible for me to grasp.

I am so very fortunate.

I just need to remember, and truly believe that. That is my resolution for this year. I will believe that I am fortunate, that I am beautiful just the way that I am. I will do the things that make me happy, and work from a sense of purpose rather than a sense of duty. I will believe in my friends' dreams and cheer them on as they climb. I will listen more. I will encourage my children and try to be the example. I will be my heart, I will listen to it and appreciate that it is unique and crazy and marvelous.

And I will try to ignore the parts of me, and the parts of others, who tell me different.

All the best for 2013. It will be a good year :-)

Seven

My little girl, today you are 7. Seven, what a year it's been! A year of kindergarten where you took over the class and were commended for helping other students; a year of Irish dancing which, well, you seemed to have fun with; a year of creating, and learning, and laughing, and make believe. You are still your brother's very best friend, and the two of you make worlds of fictional characters come alive. You live in a land of super heroes and Lego and barbies and stuffed hippos, each new story and game coming out of your mind in a flurry of rampant imagination. You point out the beauty of the moon, bright and still under the clouds, you laugh at Picasso and tell me he doesn't know how to draw a face properly, you sing along to Bob Marley in the back of the car, and dance to a beat that is yours and yours alone. You make friends without fear or judgement and have a way of making even the toughest playmates comply and you fill the world with the joy and wonder that you find all around you.

I love listening to your insights on life as we walk to the park, drive through the country, cruise the grocery store, and hike through the woods. There may be one too many fart jokes now, and the "Muthurrrrr" refrain has already begun, but I find your humour and silliness charming when paired with your mischievous grin and the twinkle in your eyes.

You are in a hurry to grow up, wanting to imitate the older girls, make yourself exotic, be the dramatic centre of attention - but when you and I are alone, and it's quiet, you lay down next to me and hold my hand and we talk and all the personas fall away and you are just you, and you are so damn beautiful that I want to gather you up and hold you forever. Never stop being you my little Noo, because I love the person you are and all the things you want to be and cannot wait to see where tomorrow brings you.

You are a fantastic, amazing girl and you make me proud to be your mom, you always will.

Happy Birthday

 

All my love, Momma

Daughters, some thoughts

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I've been thinking about Amanda Todd. Not about the tragedy of a young girl taking her life, and not about the outpouring of support and rage on all social media networks and across schools and communities, although the idea of a story this sad going viral because of a YouTube video and perhaps encouraging similar events because of the mass response scares me. I'm thinking about Amanda Todd because I have a daughter, and I want to understand what brought this ordinary girl to such a drastic decision. The media is talking about bullying. Bullying is bad, and I commend the seriousness with which this issue is now treated in most schools across the country. Bullying creates an endless cycle of mistreatment and abuse that effects everyone. But from what I understand, this girl's bullying problems started from some bad choices she made while communicating with cretins on the Internet (who take advantage of young girls on a regular basis and should be prosecuted). So maybe parents should be more careful about what their children do on the Internet, but the deeper issue is why girls go seeking attention online in the first place.

My first thought is lack of self esteem. We blame society and ourselves for not having enough self esteem. There are articles all over the Internet, Dove campaigns, and tons of self analysis and criticism of media, the modelling industry, advertising companies, and everyone else who tells us what a perfect woman should be.

So what is self esteem? As I type this I realise that I equate the lack of it with pictures of thin models and I couldn't be more wrong. Self esteem is knowing who you are, it's liking the great things about you and improving the things that are not so good. It's about being a good person and pursuing your dreams and living a life that you are proud of. It is being happy to be you.

We are born without any preconceptions of what we should be, but as we become aware of the world and ourselves we start to think about how we are viewed. This isn't a bad thing, but if we also start to compare ourselves to others when we do not know who we are, what we like, where we are going, then we latch on to an ideal created by someone else and compare ourselves to a figment of the imagination, that's when the issues start.

I was reading an article in Psychology Today about the myth of girls losing their self esteem in adolescence (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-women/201001/the-truth-about-women-and-self-esteem). According to the study, there is no significant change in adoloescence, and girls although more "anxious about their appearance" are more confident than boys in terms of academic achievement. What seems to make a difference is support, "For both girls and boys, those who felt supported by parents, teachers, and friends in expressing their points of view felt they had a stronger voice".

Adolescence is such a fragile time because we emerge from that bubble of being completely unaware to the question, "who am I?". It is important to have people in our lives who help us become who we are and not tell us who we should be.

I want to build a relationship with my daughter that allows her to share doubts and problems, and I want to help her to understand that she is beautiful and if people tell her she isn't she just won't believe them. But most importantly, I want her to know who she is so that she can make her own choices and be a happy person.

My goals for my children are countless, but I want them to understand that they are loved and that they have people in their lives who think they are wonderful, can listen without judgement, and will provide help when they need it. I think I'm on the right track, I'll read some more and get back to you.

Blue skies

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I took the day off today to get some things done, run on one of the last warm sunny days of the year, have a long lunch with a friend, and to pick up my kids early and go and do something fun. This time last year I was telling myself to enjoy my free days as much as I have enjoyed this one, but only a few weeks after being layed off, it was a much different world. I felt dejected, rejected, used, and a lot of other negative things that no longer matter. I look at all the things that have happened over the year, and I am wondering why I am even thinking about it at all. When I try to be retrospective I realise that there's nothing to see back there, everything's ahead of me or standing right in front of me. Hang on to the sweet memories and the love and the smiles and let the earth swallow up everything else. The memory of bad things may be good to prevent future wars or mass tragedies, but have no place in an individual life. Holding on to the pain, bitterness, and anger only weaken you further and steal your future happiness. When they happen, let them come, but when they are gone, let them go. Enjoy the sunny days, make time for the things that matter and feel how amazing most days can be.

Nine

Oh Ben, you are nine, where does the time go? I have blinked and another year has zoomed by and you are bigger and still so very beautiful.You continue to spread love and joy where ever you go, touching people and making the world kinder and sunnier. Your ability to notice and understand the feelings of others borders on telepathy and is a rare gift, rarer still considering who you are. You always have a kind encouraging word for friends, and you would share anything with your sister to make her happy, and you still walk up to my bed every morning and ask "for a cuddle please momma". Your selflessness continues to inspire me and proves to me that a gentle heart can have a much greater impact than cautious one.

Grade three was so much better than two: an enthusiastic teacher and two lovely helpers who appreciated your gifts all gave you room to be yourself and encouraged you to believe in yourself and now you are a confident and enthusiastic reader and a creative writer. You made up your own poem on a walk home one evening and everytime I look at it framed on my wall I burst with pride.

You can converse about Spiderman, story plots, and The Magic Flute. In addition to being a scientist and inventor, you have recently added Lego master builder to your c.v., and I believe you are on the right track about that, the bricks dance between your fingers and become worlds that I marvel at. In addition to your academic and creative achievements, you also managed to complete a 10k run for charity and have started karate which you are patiently teaching your sister at home.

With every accomplishment you are becoming more mature, more aware, and more able to perceive and challenge things in your life that you feel are unfair or wrong. You can stand up for yourself and are a loyal friend and these traits will protect you when you need it most.

You are everything you should be and so much more, your light and sweetness are unique in this world.

I love you more than ever, Momma

The day Joe McNally took my picture

Photo by Joe McNally - Montreal, 2012 Have you ever noticed that the day you leave the house without makeup is the day that a world-famous, award-winning photographer wants to take your picture? Until a few days ago, me neither......

Days after said event I am still smiling big humongous smiles to myself, and I probably will for a very long time. In fact, I may never think that I am ordinary ever again.

I went to a lighting seminar given by Joe McNally, the One Light, Two Light seminar tour. I had heard the name before and I knew he was a big name, National Geographic, Life, Sports Illustrated, etc, but I had no idea who he really was until I stumbled on a YouTube video where he was sitting down with Scott Kelby and critiquing amateur portfolios. He had some very basic advice to give which I had not thought about and was exceedingly useful. He discussed technique, improvements, and how to present yourself to your clients. But the part that I found most interesting was his philosophy on what he does for a living and how he approaches his job and his art and the things that a photographer has to think about in order to create a photo that speaks for itself. I found myself nodding my head and listening intently because it all made so much sense and was articulate, thoughtful, and simple. I am always impressed when a talented person doesn't take himself seriously, knows he is fallible and just like everyone else is this world - hoping to discover wonder and the things that make us smile when we step out the door. As I watched the video clip, I wanted him to keep talking so I could extract all the information out of his brain and understand how he thinks about creating work with meaning.

Sometimes things come into your life at the right time and have a tremendous impact. I wanted to sit down with this guy and have a beer and listen to him talk about everything.

When I discovered that he would be giving a seminar in Montreal a week later, I signed up right away.

I went with my friend Irene, a professional photographer who is always looking to improve her skills. We found parking, and after some brief confusion about the location, we arrived at the right place and found some seats in the room that weren't at the very back, probably middle-esque. All the front seat were taken by the people who knew exactly where they were going and probably arrived quite early. (As an aside, our moment of confusion landed us in a location that I am going back to photograph.) There were about 300 people there, the room was large and dark and fairly soul sucking.

The seminar started and Joe came out and after an intro and asked us for any specific problems or challenges that we came to solve. As usual, almost no one said anything, which is a shame because this can really set the tone for how the day goes. A few people contributed, and I got up the courage to raise my hand and say something. It seems that once I psych myself up to ask a question, I can't really stop.

He warned the audience that he would be looking around the room for audience members to demonstrate with and started in with lighting and very basic principles and moving through different techniques. I was taking it in, but I was really paying attention to Joe's attitude and the way that he spoke to the people he was shooting and his assistant. He did point this out at the end, but I noticed how polite he was with his assistant Drew and the kind approach he had to the subjects, saying very little, but also trying to make them feel at ease. My friend Marilyn also has an excellent and natural way of talking to her clients and I love that they can make it look so easy when they have so many things going on in their heads.

When Joe said that he would be choosing audience members, I do what I always do at every show that asks for volunteers from the audience - I secretly hope I get picked. When I was a kid I wanted to be picked to go up on stage to be part of magic tricks, or touch snakes, or get hypnotized, whatever, I wasn't fussy, it just looked like fun. Of course it almost never happened, and when it did my tendency was to freeze like a deer in headlights once I got on stage and only 6 hours later think of something witty I could have said instead of simulating a taxidermied human. Last year I got pulled into an improv sketch and you could almost see the pain on the audiences' faces. That night I woke up at 3am and thought of a whole bunch of stuff I could have done and said. If only the audience had been there to witness it....

So despite my track record, I'm still hoping, hoping, hoping, because to hell with me looking like a moron, I really wanted to be photographed by Joe McNally because how many times is that going to happen to me unless I suddenly realise we are related? How cool would it be to have that memory for the rest of my life?

At some point I noticed that he was looking over in my general direction fairly often, but then I looked behind me and realised that there were two very pretty twenty-somethings sitting there. Nuts. To make myself feel better I asked a couple more questions mostly because as he continued to talk and I watched him work my mind just filled up with all this stuff I wanted to know. He was talking about lighting this huge telescope and I'm listening to how hard it was but wondering what is the process to even start a project like that? You can do all the research and drag the equipment out there, but what is going through your mind once you arrive with your truckloads of boxes? That wasn't a question I asked, but I wanted to. In fact, I wanted to be out there lighting the damn thing with him and his assistant and idly wondered if I was too old to do stuff like that.

The seminar continued and he picked other audience members, and they were all interesting, and one woman was such a hoot that we all voted for her to come back in at the end. My brain was making its concession speeches to itself as the afternoon went on, Joe was explaining something and moving over closer to our side of the room. Then he stopped, looking somewhere kind of near me I thought, and said. "I have to photograph you before the end of the day" (or something like that, honestly, I cannot be relied on for direct quotes). I automatically looked behind me, and he said, "no, you in the purple shirt looking confused". To reward Joe for listening to the telepathic requests of "pick me" that I had been sending all day, I immediately asked another question. I think that I said thank you first, although perhaps I only said it in my head. My brain instantly went into "Eeeeeeeee" mode, so I have no idea what he said until the next break. I'm glad they gave us a workbook.

I then had to sit on the information that not only had a famous photographer picked me out of a crowded room, but that had I known, I may have made more of an effort on my appearance that day instead of leaving the house with no makeup (this is fairly common, but I do make an effort occasionally), hurrying to get my kids dropped off at camp with all their gear, and trying to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast in the car and not spill too much of it on myself. I am fairly certain I had some of my daughter's scrambled eggs in my hair when Joe finally called me up on stage (as a reward for asking so many questions of course). He and Drew were very nice, I was nervous as heck and more than likely pulled a Bambi on ice, but for a few minutes I was up there in front of a soft box getting my picture taken by a normal guy with a camera who happens to be one of the best at what he does. And when you think that I only realised two weeks ago how much I admire him and now I've met him and he's taken my picture, well, you have to admit that this was pretty freakin' incredible.

So, what did I take away from this experience? For starters, I learned quite a bit about lighting and am now inspired to take my little speedlite out and use it instead of just hiding it in my bag. I was also filled with confidence to have such a great photographer tell us that we all screw up and it's expected, and to share his stories of his moments of failure and panic with us. I was also incredibly hopeful when I saw how enthusiastic he still is about what he does most of the time. This combined with the truly bizarre and coincidental circumstances that created this day for me make me believe that I am on the right path. And of course having someone I admire and am using as a mentor walk up to me and say he wants to take my picture, well, I don't think the universe could align any more perfectly. It is a moment that I will take out on my tough days and bask in.

And the verdict: everyone agrees that this is a good picture and the light is wonderful, which is what it was meant to demonstrate. Did it capture me? My friends say no, but that wasn't the purpose and the picture has  meaning to me as a fantastic memory.  It speaks to me of all the hope and wondrous things that I am discovering and the life that lies ahead. Still, if Joe wanted another kick at the can, I wouldn't say no.

Joe, thank you so much and I hope I didn't embarrass you with this, and if you and Drew come back and take my picture again, I promise I'll buy you that beer :-)