This is the second in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns in Eastern Ontario.
You can find the first installment here.
For the past few years, I’ve been struck by intermittent doubts about whether we’re raising our children “right.” Our house is filled with a gaggle of teenagers. As our eldest nears university, his upbringing is a done deal, the question a moot point. As for the others, it is said that parents have a diminishing influence over their children around the age of 12, when peers take the upper hand.
Someone once told me that my boys should learn how to fight. But then shouldn’t my daughter, too? Over the years I’ve flattened a few drunk guys in bars who mistook my body for the Yellow Pages. I possess more fight than flight – an instinct necessarily mediated by having children – so I can see the attraction in that proposition. I believe in embracing confrontation when required, a useful superpower for the everyday hero and an effective complement to the word “No.” It creates boundaries for those who wish to trespass against us. I was bullied as a child and at some point – I don’t recall precisely when – I decided to change into the kind of person I wanted to be. I retain a measure of the fight reflex, which could sometimes be a stumbling block if I didn’t consider it a “reflective learning opportunity.”
My kids are lovers not fighters, critically thinking and feeling their way through the everyday conflicts of growing up and into themselves. And – I – we – use a primary measuring stick of empathy to determine whether they are turning out to be Decent Human Beings (they are). And I ask myself the questions: Have I provided enough? Have I listened enough? Have I loved them enough? I can honestly answer (mostly) yes, I believe I have, not without mistakes, of course. But it’s what I haven’t done that picks at the edges of my brain.
I worry that I haven’t ridden them hard enough about striving to do their best, preparing them to be competitive in a world that rewards hyper-competitiveness, a world of modern gladiators, a world of jumping through hoops. Should we have prepared them to be a little bit harder on the outside and a little less soft on the inside? Toughened them up for the school of hard knocks instead of beauty, decency and human kindness? Have we taught them to be nice – suckers, even – instead of scratching a little when necessary, stuffing down the feelings and keeping the eye on the prize, the “success” at end of the rainbow?
I have mixed feelings about the old saw that declares money doesn’t buy happiness. “I wonder if the Dragon Moms (and dads) have it right?” I ask my friends, who ask themselves the same question. In what seems like an increasingly unstable and corporate-driven world, survival seems to be about doing whatever it takes to get to (and stay at) the top of the pyramid. If “everybody’s doing it” and we’re not, are we just stooges of middle class brainwashing? Are we out of touch with reality? Does it help to be a little “off” in a world gone crazy?
A friend posted an article on Facebook from Vancouver’s Dr. Gabor Maté about Trump and Clinton’s childhoods that speaks to the root of the problem. Trump’s traumatic childhood and Clinton’s “opaque persona” isn’t fresh news, but this piece struck a nerve.
…What we perceive as the adult personality often reflects compensations a helpless child unwittingly adopted in order to survive. Such adaptations can become wired into the brain, persisting into adulthood. Underneath all psychiatric categories Trump manifests childhood trauma. His opponent Hillary Clinton evinces her own history of early suffering, even if milder and far more muted in its impact.
The ghostwriter [Tony] Schwartz reports that Trump had no recollection of his youth.
There is always a reason for such amnesia. People have poor recall of their childhoods when they found reality so painful that their minds had to repress awareness and push memories into the unconscious. “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” Trump admitted to a biographer.
According to biographers, Trump’s father was workaholic, ruthless, emotionally cold and authoritarian, a man who believed that life is a competition where the “killers” win. Donald’s elder brother drove himself into alcoholism, a common escape from pain, and to an early death. The younger, favoured child is now self-destructing on the world stage.
Lying is such an endemic aspect of his personality that he does so almost helplessly and reflexively. “Lying is second nature to him,” Tony Schwartz told The New Yorker. “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
How are such patterns compensations? Not paying attention, tuning out, is a way of coping with stress or emotional hurt. Narcissistic obsession with the self compensates for a lack of nurturing care. Grandiosity covers a deeply negative sense of self-worth. Bullying hides an unconscious conviction of weakness. Lying becomes a mode of survival in a harsh environment. Misogyny is a son’s outwardly projected revenge on a mother who was unable to protect him.
Trump’s opponent also appears to have learned reality-denial at an early age. Her father, too, according to biographic reports, was harsh, verbally abusive, and dismissive of his daughter’s achievements. The opaque persona many now see as inauthentic would have developed as young Hillary Rodham’s protective shell. In an anecdote related by the former Secretary of State herself as an example of salutary character building, four-year-old Hillary runs into her home to escape neighbourhood bullies. “There is no room for cowards in this house,” says her mother, sending the child out into the street to face her tormentors. The real message was: “Do not feel or show your pain. You are on your own.” Over six decades later the candidate hides her pneumonia even from her doctor and from those closest to her. Repeatedly she has overlooked her husband’s outlandish infidelities, defending him against disgrace— no doubt suppressing her own emotional turmoil in the process…
…What does it say about our society that such deeply troubled individuals frequently rise to the top ruling circles, attaining wealth and power and even the admiration of millions?
We need not be perplexed that a Donald Trump can vie for the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth. We live in a culture where many people are hurt and, like the leaders they idolize, insulated against reality. Trauma is so commonplace that its manifestations have become the norm.
People who are anxious, fearful and aggrieved may be unable to recognize the flaws In those seeking power. They mistake desperate ambition for determination, see grandiosity as authority, paranoia as security, seductiveness as charm, dogmatism as decisiveness, selfishness as economic wisdom, manipulation as political savvy, lack of principles as flexibility. Trauma-induced defences such as venal dishonesty and aggressive self-promotion often lead to success.
The flaws of our leaders perfectly mirror the emotional underdevelopment of the society that elevates them to power…
With four teenagers in hand, it is too late to change course if we have been wrong; it is now up to them to make their way as life requires.
Since I cannot see into the future, I’m going to go with Gabor Maté’s deceptively easy/complex takeaway:
People, love your children well. The world depends on it.
I love living in a place with distinct seasons. What I particularly love is that just when I start to really, really enjoy something – swimming in the river, gardening, snowshoeing, falling leaves – it’s gone. Skating on the Rideau Canal in Burritt’s Rapids is like that. And its fleeting and unpredictable nature makes me appreciate it that much more.
The weather has been a roller coaster this year, from -20 to +8, never staying steady long enough to sustain ice suitable for skating. The upside of this most recent temperature pop was a quick melt and a quick freeze, leaving behind a glasslike surface that erased everything but the deepest curlicue tracks, traces of snowmobilers gone wild.
My daughter and I were first out this morning, rewarded by a glorious sunrise, a low winter sun that strew long shadows across the ice.
Although we brought shovels, no snowclearing was necessary. It was possible to skate from the village’s swing bridge almost to the lockstation, a rarity of length and a reflection of the excellent conditions. Just steps from the clumps of shore grasses and bullrushes, a fine small rink was cleared and hockey nets installed, a brilliant spot for the littlest of the village and their families.
The occasional car rumbled over the swing bridge but otherwise we were left alone with the rhythmic scrape and swoosh of our blades. We skated back and forth and back again, falling into a zen-like reverie as the sun warmed our faces and reddened our cheeks.
These are the days for making memories – unplanned, opportunistic and ephemeral. These are the days we all remember, which leave us yearning for more.
This is the first in a series of visual love letters to Smiths Falls, one of my favourite towns.
I’m from Vancouver, and while there are great things about the westcoast, I have called rural Ottawa home for the past 20 years.
The single best thing I love about living in the east is the riches of small towns and villages, roads that lead everywhere, chalk-full of opportunities to stop, talk to people, poke around and discover. Smiths Falls, just 20 minutes from where we live, has been my second home since the birth of our first child, when my in-laws sold up in Sudbury and moved to be close to us.
Although I spend most of my waking hours exploring and photographing people, places and things, it’s odd that I’ve never spent time photographing the town. It’s a wonder of a place – (mostly) street after street of intact heritage houses – modest to grand houses built for business scions and workers alike, set on the Rideau Canal with accessible waterfront, gorgeous parks, and a wonderful hospital.
Like Rome, all roads lead to Smiths Falls.
I love riding New York’s subway system – just not as much as I love walking the city.
Riding necessitates paying attention to lines and stops and tracks – my mind can’t wander for fear of ending up in who-knows-where – but walking favours mental and corporeal freedom, especially when time holds no sway.
However, my penchant for perambulation has its downside: walking New York means I’ve all but missed the MTA Underground Art Museum, an Ali Baba-on-steroids-sized treasure trove. Continue reading New York and the MTA Underground Art Museum
Every Christmas since I’ve been an adult, I’ve used my mom’s recipe to make bottle upon bottle of homemade Baileys, which I’ve distributed to friends and neighbours.
The original recipe card is so well-used it’s begun to look like an ancient artifact. You’d think I’d have memorized it by now, but every year I pull it out of the drawer and diligently check that I’m getting everything right. The stuff is so damn good as is, I leave no room for improvisation.
For everybody who’s ever asked me for my ‘secret’ recipe over the years and to whom I’ve replied “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” I have a Christmas gift just for you.
Here it is:
1 cup Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lite cream (coffee cream)
1 1/2 cups rye
2 tsp cocoa (frys)
1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee
2 medium eggs
Put in blender in same order as above and mix. Makes 32 ozs. Keep in fridge (Note: it lasts @ 3 weeks if refrigerated).
This leaves you two choices: Try out the recipe for yourself, or wait until I show up at your door with my annual bottle. Because – ready or not – here I come! (ps. If you haven’t returned last year’s empty bottle, now is definitely the time)
A very merry Christmas to all my friends and family near and far and those interesting souls with whom I have yet to cross paths.
All the best,
It’s more fun than Pez and more addictive than crack.
I nearly lost my mind when I stepped into District Taco and spotted the Art-O-Mat® against the wall. It’s a refurbished cigarette machine, but instead of vending cancer sticks, it dispatches micro art pieces for five bucks a hit.
Of course, I immediately started plugging it with money and pulling the levers. Continue reading My Brain on Art-O-Mat®
It’s curious how one can routinely walk the same path for so long, then alter a single element and watch the common unfold in an uncommon way.
This night (and day) I put aside my camera bag – a constant – and tucked my iPhone in my vest pocket. Without the weight, my body felt lighter and my step quicker. I was free to simply look, feel and shoot instead of forever adjusting, adjusting.
The place I’ve known since childhood transformed into dots and streaks and lines and colours, shadows and refracted light. Graininess replaced the sharp, movement the ever-steady, drifting into the abstract unknown. Continue reading Walking the White Rock Pier
Reading to children is inextricably intertwined with the idea of home, comfort and love. These five children’s books by authors better known for their adult writing, are available in first edition form from Peter Harrington, London’s leading rare book firm. And because we all love a good backstory, the home lives of the authors prove as interesting as the books themselves.
This piece is reproduced with permission from its author, Rachel Chanter, and Peter Harrington Rare Books. Continue reading “Too fancy and ingenious”: Children’s Books by Adult Writers
I didn’t so much as meet Larry Racioppo as find him. Home from NYC and working on this piece, I admired his photographic work on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum site and he agreed to lend me an image. Turns out, he’s lived a fascinating life; he’s been a NYC taxi driver in the early 80’s, staff photographer for the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development during the city’s lowest (and scariest) point, and a well-respected photo documentarian and keeper of knowledge of life, pre-gentrification, in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Check out his site at www.larryracioppo.com. Continue reading Larry’s Christmas Cards