Sunday, May 19, 2013


nicky was wearing cargo pants that night. he came out from behind a large tent in some field that may exist only in collected, dusty, grassy memories, and he made a cowboy-in-a-duel stance while howling to the sky and grinning at anyone near enough to see it. every pocket on his person contained a bottle of unopened labatt blue. 'draw.'

the man's enthusiasm and curiosity had always been contagious. i learned more from him on guts alone than i ever would from a text book or a conversation with a well-meaning, over-intentioned instructor. he led from beside, and sometimes from behind, but he was a companion with whom you could learn a lesson, any lesson, the hard way, and still feel like you had come out on top. when it was rock climbing, he went all-in. when it was cameras, he spent paper like it was tissue, and learned faster and better than anyone else how to process and print his own film. he read books that didn't come easy to him. he made acquaintances and awed them with his prowess in black and white and every zone in between. the whole time, i learned and listened and listened and yearned. there was always a frame to be exposed. there was always a point of interest. no one was uninteresting. curiosity could make anything cool enough. and perhaps his greatest gift of all: when you were the object of his curiosity, you felt like you were something worth knowing. few people in the world can make everyone they meet, let alone a few people they know and love, feel just this way. and inevitably, you would see yourself anew, and get fascinated by the potential only picked up by nicky's light meter, and then you could maybe start to risk being better. 

being flamboyant had come naturally to me for some time. although i was naturally shy, i had learned that being 'a good kid' meant getting myself largely ignored, so i built up a persona of some kind of artsyness, and every now and again, it would come out. by the time high school rolled around, i had lost much of my flamboyance, opting instead to fly only on stage, or on trip, or when i just couldn't help it anymore. turns out, nicky taught me how to be a little more quiet. it was always his fantasy to be discovered, doing his own hardcore thing in his own hardcore way, by accident, in secret, by one person (probably a really hot girl) who would recognize, and subsequently admire, just what it took and who he was to be doing what he was doing, unbeknownst to anyone. i wanted to tell everyone. i never felt like anything i was doing was good enough or loud enough to get noticed, i still don't, and i wasn't tall or good-looking or long-haired or guitar-playing enough to be cool, in secret or out loud. and when people said, 'hey nick!', i learned to stop looking up, because they were always addressing him. flamboyance was over, so i saved it for the stage, or for words, for places where it could roam and jingle and not look as ridiculous as it was. 

nicky taught me to be quiet. he taught me to contain my desires, to use them to drive my actions. he taught me to expose film, to shoot two frames in the quest for one good one, to print the hell out of that one until i got a good enough print, and to crop before i shot. he taught me about zones, about grain, about focus, about what is important and what to let go. the sharp end of a lens. the reason to push two stops. how many fruit gummies one should not eat in the middle of the night when it's minus forty in algonquin park. and even when we were walking down carlaw, wondering how the hell we would ever 'make it', ever get paid to do what we thought we were genius at (he was the only photo genius), when we were shooting completely different things and chasing different realities, he was leading from beside. we were complementing each other, tempering the drive with two different heats. 

that night ended up with nicky happy and asleep in a big green tent, and me happy and sleepless in a big blue suburban. it was the end of an era, and i missed so much of it so terribly, and couldn't wait for the next one to begin in earnest. i find myself hearing nicky in my head these days, exposing my shots, meeting new people, maintaining curiosity. there will always be something fascinating. thanks, nicky.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


it had been a long time since i held a girl in my arms long enough and close enough to feel her sobs wrack through my ribcage and press against my beating heart while hers beat faster and harder.
usually, the pain is a scraped knee or bruised shin or scary tumble from the two-wheeler. this pain was different. and in this pain, i saw so many more such embraces, embraces that will never keep her from growing up, from learning something the hard way, from my failings and shortcomings and hopes and fears. she cried like the little girl she is, a little shocked and confused by something that hurts but not on the outside. and i held her like the father i am, a little inept and confused by how far we've come and how much this one moment could teach us both and why it had been so long since i held this crying little girl and how many more times i would do this same thing in years to come.
it all came down to big brown eyes flooded with the tears of a lesson learned the hard way.
the main problem was figuring what lesson there was to be learned. was it the lesson that she is loved, no matter what she does or does not do? was it the lesson that not everyone wins? was it the lesson that she always wins if she tries her best? was it the lesson that some things will only happen for her if she wants them badly enough and makes them happen? was it the lesson that her dada's arms will always be big enough to hold her? was it the lesson that racing is just racing, and having a family to support her is worth more than any spot on an elementary track team? maybe it was the lesson that she, as a seasoned 8-year-old 5k racer, has a different engine that is not well suited to the limits imposed by a single 100m dash with other giggling second graders...
i love that child more than myself and then some. i know she needs to learn things. i know that some of these things will hurt, and that she will be better for it. and i know that she is already amazing and a better human being than i will ever be. and it really cracks me up when she makes my faces on her mother's features. but when she hurts, when she falls apart in her school hoodie and soaks my shoulder with big, sad girl tears, it rips me apart and turns me upside down. i don't know what to teach her. i just want to hold her, help her up, give her something to eat, and go on. but this moment is important, so important, and it cannot be bypassed.
so we hugged, and she cried, and then we talked. there were snacks. the little sister took it upon herself to break down as well because she was also having a hard day and didn't want to miss out on the teary action. and then it was time to go swimming, and then talk to mama over pre-dinner frozen yogurt, to re-learn all of these lessons. dinner took so long that the little one was asleep while the big one stayed up with mama and dada and we managed to double team her, cover all points and angles we could think of, and reinforce the main point: she is loved, and wonderful, and none of this is compromised by a 100m dash on a sunny day in grade two.