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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hamilton, here we come

So we're moving to Hamilton.

And not because The Grid recently highlighted the trend of Torontonians fleeing west. Or because Rob Ford is the mayor — at least for now. (On a side note, he was elected about three months after I moved back to Toronto, and the judge gave him the boot not long after we made the decision to move.)

It's not that Hamilton's politics are problem-free, which they aren't. And don't think I haven't noticed that Hamilton's beloved Tiger-Cats — which I was looking forward to loving too — will be playing home games in Guelph next year.

Truth is, we've had our eye on the city for quite some time. It was just a matter of making it happen.

Admittedly, our main motivation to be there is to buy a home, as we've been priced out of our neighbourhood. That's not a knock against Toronto, it's just the truth.

But while we'll be investing in (very reasonably priced) property, we'll also be investing in a community. As I walk through even the more shadowy areas of Hamilton, I see the blossoming cafes, I see the art, I hear the music.

Street music in Hamilton
As for the claims that Hamilton is too rough and gritty — anyone who has approached me on the street so far hasn't asked for any money, only for a few moments of my time, a smile and a handshake. Sure, I'm aware there are areas of Hamilton best to avoid. But that's true for any city I can think of.

Looking out the window of the second floor of my new workplace in Hamilton, I don't just see plumes of smoke rising; I see open green spaces, I see beautiful architecture, I see promise.

Yes, this is in Hamilton!

Don't get me wrong, I respect the steel mills that the city's history is built on, and I actually find the industrial sector quite beautiful. I hope the industry survives and thrives. But you'll probably hear the tagline "art is the new steel" from someone.

There's magic in the air during the regular art crawls (and Supercrawl) in the burgeoning James Street North area, with thousands taking to the streets to enjoy art of all kinds, right down to the tribal belly dancers.

There's also something very honest about Hamilton; it knows what it is, and it's not trying to be something else. Some other cities could take a lesson from that.

Toronto will always be my hometown. And while Hamilton is smaller, there seems to be something bigger happening there.

In the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy Toronto's Junction neighbourhood, which has come a long way itself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In defense of street photography vs 'creepshots'

I am a street photographer.

Sometimes I like to grab my camera and take to the streets to capture what I come across, and then share it via social media.

I do it for several reasons; one is for exercise. Another is because I love photography as an art. I do admittedly enjoy people-watching. Also, well… I like to share.

So I'm particularly disturbed by a story in the Toronto Sun about 'creepshots' — a collection of photos presumably only of women (I didn't see the images). The media attention has apparently prompted the moderators of said message board to set it to private access only.

The photos by one particular individual were brought to people's attention by an anonymous female. This "creep-shamer" was interviewed by the Toronto Standard and said she wants the laws changed to allow people to have their photos removed from a site if they want (but images associated with a crime are apparently OK, she adds).

I'm disturbed because this story might make some women fearful when they see a guy with a camera on the street. Yes, sometimes when I'm shooting photos of people on the street, I shoot photos of women — there sure are a lot of them out there, like say, half the population — but I'm really looking for interesting people and "slice of life" moments, I'm not zeroing in on females. If the subject of a photo I took was uncomfortable with it and contacted me, I would voluntarily remove it. Or, like what happened recently, I would gladly send them the original if they like it.

But I'm also disturbed because some idiot(s) are posting photos of women which, presumably, have clear intent to display the women in a sexual manner. Apparently taking public photos with "sexual intent" is actually illegal, according to a police source originally quoted in the Sun article (it has since been updated).

I completely respect people's rights. My rights included. So taking photos in public is a freedom I enjoy as a Canadian. However, while these creeper shots might be obvious, I think there's a grey area where I don't see how anyone can determine intent. I mean, if a girl happens to be in a photo, and she is deemed attractive by someone, does that person assume the photo was taken with ill intentions? How could they prove that?

The creeper photo people (we can't assume they're all men) need to use common sense. If someone's photos are all of women, and zoomed in on body parts, well yeah… of course I'm not going to defend that person, and of course they're going to draw criticism (and probably a lot of pervs).

But on the flipside, if laws are tightened for photos in public, what will that mean for news agencies? Security companies? Street photographers (who take the art more seriously?) One could argue that some of the most powerful and moving photos of all time have been candids.

Until a day ever comes when the law clamps down on public photography, I will happily wander around in my free time, camera in hand.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ode to Lake Ontario

A pristine waterline
is floating in doubt
on the shores of
Lake Ontario

The one they love to hate
The one they toe into with fear
yet lay obediently
at its side

 


'The water will kill you'
'You'll grow extra limbs'
they say
while sipping water
from a canteen filled with
Lake Ontario

The birds seem to know
They circle 'round
with songs of praise
while the sun directs smiles
upon the goldish sand

Our basin guarded by our tower
Our playground for bikes and bikinis
Our version of the ocean coast
deserves a nod in favour

at least before acid rain
and nuclear fears
trigger the next
damming story

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Duck Whisperer

From time to time, strangers approach me for a chat.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it's because I have a loner spirit, and the other loners pick up on that. Sometimes I reciprocate, sometimes my growing Toronto temperament gets the better of me and I just ignore them.

On this day, I headed down to Sunnyside Beach with the promise of sun and relaxation. The sun entertained me for a few minutes, but hid behind the clouds for good, even before the sweat from riding my bike to the beach had dried.

I glanced around at the wildlife, camera in hand, hoping to capture an interesting moment. Unlike all the expected things to see at a beach, there was a woman with a cowboy hat on, staring into the water. Ducks, geese and seagulls started flocking to her before she even flicked out the first breadcrumb.

They must know her, I thought. The birds all seemed so calm and patient as they approached. At that moment I already had a nickname for her: 'The Duck Whisperer'.

She seemed to run out of bread, and walked away. But she came back to the same spot moments later, staring at the calm winged animals, and then turned her attention to me.

That's when she approached. Almost walking by me, but stopping and turning as if we were already chatting and she had forgotten to tell me something.

She doesn't get down to the water much, she told me. But she loves the ducks. "I just love them."

She spoke fondly of Barrie, but I wasn't sure if she was from there. She’s in Toronto with the hopes of landing a job playing music at a seniors home. She needs just one more reference.

She was big into music when she was younger. In fact, she knew Mick Jagger. No, she dated him. No… they were engaged.


"I talked him into staying in music," said Nancy. She had shared her name by this point. "He didn't want to stay in music."

She drank a lot back then. She doesn't anymore, or so she says. She gets stage fright. Maybe the seniors offer a less judgmental atmosphere. I get stage fright too, I told her.

It was hard to tell if she was homeless. I didn't ask, it wasn't that important. She was just a person talking to me. I peeked into my wallet for anything to offer her, instinctively. I didn't have a single bill.

But she never asked me for money.

She did ask me for something else: she wanted me to take photos of the ducks to send to her. So I did. First I took pictures of the ducks, then her with the ducks, and then just her, smiling.

She has an email address (who doesn't) and she grabbed at my notepad to write it down, but I got to it first. I didn't want her to read what I was already scrawling about my first impression of her before we started talking.

She had a wide hat
and a matching gap 
between her teeth
she called to brown ducks
camouflaged by the overcast sky
on the brown shore



I had also already taken several pictures of her with the ducks and geese. But I didn't mention that.

She asked what I did. I told her I was in magazines. She joked that I’d better not put her picture in the magazine. I told her it was too late. She laughed. She had a sense of humour like anyone else. I told her don't worry, I don't write for Rolling Stone. (Or Mick Jagger).

I felt a drop of rain. She didn't feel it because the brim of her big hat deflected it.

I told her it was nice to meet her. She said the same. And how much she loves the ducks.

And I will send her the pictures. And maybe this post as well.

UPDATE: Aug 30 2012 - Happy to report I got a response from the Duck Whisperer. Here it is, unedited:

"Jeff ,Nancy the lady with the ducks,thanks for seading me the picture from the beach,it really cheared me up.Its Aug 11.2012 and the pictureform the6th ofJuly was agreat picure of a great day for me with the ducks,Ihaven't checked my e-mail in a while and forgot you were sending the pictures to me it made me so happy icoyuld cry,allIcan do is smile in that wonderful caption of a great day."

Monday, April 16, 2012

There are no cities

When I decided to move back to Toronto from the 'country', townies poked fun at me about moving to the big smoke where there's nothing but concrete and graffiti.


They said that people in the city weren't friendly like 'small town' folk. Truth is, I spent five years living north of Hwy. 7, and while it was pleasant for the most part, I didn't make many friends.


Was that my fault? Probably. But unless you grow up in those small towns and everyone knows you from their Grade 5 class, or novice hockey team, or your father was a prominent farmer or councillor, it is hard to be accepted into inner circles.


So when I finally took the plunge and traded dirt roads for streetcar tracks, I noticed something fairly quickly: I didn't move to a big, faceless, smoggy jungle as described by the small-townies.


My part of the city even has a name: The Junction. It is a thriving community, with stores and restaurants owned by locals. It organizes its own events and fundraisers. The residents take pride in making their piece of the city a better place.


It's as if someone took a small town and planted it in the middle of a metropolis. The Junction just landed its own farmer's market, adding to its 'small town' charm.


And this is not unique to The Junction. There are many proud and independent communities across Toronto (The Annex, The Beach, Riverdale, Parkdale, etc.) that could likely exist on their own if you lifted them up and planted them in the wilderness.


Same could probably apply for other major cities made up of distinct — and named — communities. (See Vancouver or NYC, for example.)


The divide between Toronto's downtown and its suburbs (helped along by its current mayor) is just like the attitude the northerners had about the city, and vice versa. Many are only concerned with what will benefit or impact their own backyard and immediate neighbours, and that's no different north or south of Hwy. 7.


The divide within Toronto is also evident when someone in the east or west end gets invited downtown — "but that's so far!" they say. It might as well be a long drive to the middle of nowhere for many people. They don't want to leave their corner of the city; everything they need is where they are.


So while of course they have more people, cities don't have one cohesive group of people. It is just a large collection of smaller communities packed closely together.


I just wish the city had less traffic. And friendlier people. You know, like small towns.

Friday, January 27, 2012

If I had a time machine

If I had a time machine, I wouldn't use it for silly things like trying to talk leaders out of world wars or hanging out with medieval chicks. 


No sir. 


If I had a time machine, I would visit the dawn of man to hear the first ever joke. Perhaps it was just a loud fart that made the other cavemen laugh? 


If I had a time machine, I would go back and see who first discovered that drinking rotten honey (or rotten grapes) was a good decision.


If I had a time machine, I would streak naked onto the ice during the 1993 Stanley Cup semis between the Leafs and the Kings just as Gretzky was about to score a deciding goal (sorry Gretz, I love you). 


If I had a time machine, I would visit my 18-year-old self and kick his ass.


If I had a time machine, I would do what I could to keep most of the music bands in the 80's (and 90's and recently) from ever happening.


If I had a time machine, I would not have bought a Ford.


If I had a time machine, I would go far into the future to prove that teenagers will eventually lose their fingers and just have thumbs for texting. 


If I had a time machine, I would also travel (hopefully not too far) into the future to warn my children that I'm a bit weird, and to not copy that trait.


If I had a time machine, I'd be rich. Because I could sell it on eBay. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dear high school: I forgive you

High school made me a better person.

That's how I'm now seeing what was, at the time, a long nightmare I couldn't wake up from. 

It probably started with the realization in Grade 9 that I was no longer 'coo'l. While I was liked by most in grade school (that is of course debatable), it seems going from the minors to the big leagues was not a good move for my career. 

It wasn't just me that realized I had lost something in translation. My 'friends' from elementary school sniffed my coming social mediocrity early and jumped ship. Some of them even became somewhat hostile towards me, laughing rather than defending. 

My grades slipped. I went from getting A+'s without trying in Grade 8 to my first C+, which devastated me. And my mom. I grew a lot faster than my body weight could keep up to (I still haven't caught up to that growth spurt). I got quieter, kept my head down, and wore boring plaid shirts pretty much all the same for lack of trying. 

I found myself pretending to be sick as a way to avoid class. It didn't work; luckily my mom wouldn't fall for it. I skipped classes against my usually compliant nature. The guilty feeling made it hardly worth the free time. 

Girls paid attention to me in elementary school, when it really didn't count. My high school years were barren in the relationship department. I might've had my chances, but lacked the confidence to notice them.

I didn't even go to my high school prom. My excuse? No one asked me. 

I didn't join any school sports and I was not on the yearbook committee. I didn't drive or smoke or drink (until late in high school) or any other cool adult-like things. 

But I did manage to find the strength to get through it all. I graduated with a 69 average, hardly good enough for university or the honour roll, but I went on to a (mostly) successful college career.

Why?

I learned from high school that putting energy into being popular was wasted energy. Most of those who had status then are nowhere to be found now, like stars that burn out from shining too brightly and too quickly. 

I learned that looking forward rather than backwards was important, although admittedly very tough to do. Especially when you're an awkward 17-year-old. 

I didn't come out of high school with a lot of respect, but at least I respected myself. 

I'm grateful today for high school, because I learned how to push through when I didn't think I had it in me. It's that same strength I drew on early in my journalism career, and the same strength and determination that ultimately won me awards for writing. It wasn't talent. 

I know this same strength will carry me through other challenges in life, and help me appreciate the successes. 

So for you young students who think school is a waste, think again. It's more than math and science. It's learning about who your real friends are, and more importantly, who you are. 

Not to mention, these days having high school as a stepping stone to higher education is basically essential to having a decent career. 

So, it took me half my life to say this, but… thank you, high school. You're forgiven.