In defence of adults with teddy bears

A friend on Facebook shared a little image that got me thinking.

The image is a cartoon by Peter Chiykowski of RockPaperCynic.com. It’s called In Defense of Teddy Bears.

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This spoke to me for a number of reasons, mostly for the fact that I’ve always had a teddy bear or some sort of stuffed animal with me.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was diagnosed about 4 years ago, but hindsight being 20/20, I can safely say I’ve had it my whole life. Even before I had a name for my condition, I’d always found that soft cuddly things, like stuffed animals, helped calm me down. This might be why I have such a massive collection of stuffies.

I’ve always preferred stuffed animals to most other toys, partially because they can be hugged and squished without worry they’ll be damaged or broken.

I remember reading in a Cosmo article (back when I actually gave weight to the garbage in that mag) that after a certain age, a woman needs to send those stuffies to Goodwill because a REAL LIVE ADULT WOMAN wouldn’t have such things around their home. So, being young and stupid and trying to figure out how to adult in this world, I shoved most of the stuffies I had out of sight so I could be a REAL LIVE ADULT WOMAN.

Now that I’m well into my 30s, I realize just how ridiculous that advice was. It’s amazing how much clarity you gain once you pass the age of 29. There’s stuffies on the bookshelves in my living room, out in the open when people can see them. Do I care that some might think that childish? No, fuck those people! You don’t need that shit like that in your life!

The fact is, I need a stuffed animal with me. It doesn’t make me weak and less of a REAL LIVE ADULT WOMAN to have one. It’s part of how I’m able to survive in this world.

When I’m on little road trips or on a plane and there’s the potential for an increase in anxiety, I bring this little guy with me:

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I call him Coo.

He’s a Highland cow that I got in Scotland 10 years ago. He’s small and easily concealed—there are definitely situations when a stuffie doesn’t need to be out in the open, so he’s a good one to have.

And then there’s the situation I find myself these days: I live on site in a remote location where I’m the only woman for miles, surrounded by men with no proper locks on the doors to my living space.

Guess what? Sometimes I wonder if I’m truly safe, and that makes me anxious. So I have two stuffies with me out here.

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The panda bear I picked up at an Alice Cooper concert of all places a few years back, and the bunny has a Scentsy pack that smells like watermelon.

Like the comic says, a teddy bear, or a bunny, or a little cow will “make you remember how to be a person.” I feel more like a person with these stuffies nearby, knowing that I can put all that fear and anxiety in them and they’ll still be there the next time. We all need coping mechanisms, so who cares if that’s in the form of an animal that you keep on your bed or your couch?

We can still be REAL LIVE ADULTS and have a teddy bear.

-A.

The love of my life

There are few things in the world that make me happy the way photography does. Writing and photography, those are my passions.

In these days of having a camera on every smart phone, with the technology getting more and more advanced as the years go by, as well as the affordability of intro-level DSLRs,  anyone can call themselves a photographer.

I have been in awe of cameras and film and photographs for as long as I can remember. I always tried to have one of those cruddy little disposable cameras with me at any given time, and was given a little point and shoot one Christmas that I used until it broke. I loved it.

In Grade 10, I was introduced to the SLR camera and the wonders that is the darkroom. My high school had this tiny little darkroom in the art room that needed a long board leaned against the door to fully block out the light. There was a handful of film SLRs to share around and the teacher controlled just how much film and photo paper we got to use. We were only allowed to use 8X10s that were cut into fours.

It was amazing.

The photos I took back then were not great. We were taught about the rule of thirds and depth of field and all that, but honestly, I just loved developing the negatives and watching those terrible photos come to life in the developer.

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The view from my bedroom window, circa 1996.

Since that course was only offered for one term in one year, I didn’t have much to do with darkroom photography after that. Instead I bought cheap film cameras and took terrible pictures of my friends at Halloween parties and on road trips and just other random shit. The anticipation of taking that film to a photo lab and waiting in agony for an hour to see how the photos turned out, or didn’t turn out, was often the highlight of my day.

I always had some kind of camera with me. I snuck one of those drop-film cameras into my first ever arena concert and managed to take an insane close up of Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace when he came to our section during the encore.

I would sneak that little camera into many concerts after that night. Some people try to get weed or booze into shows—I smuggled in cameras.

It was right around that time in university that I made the decision to switch programs. I went from Liberal Arts with a focus on English to Fine Arts with a focus on—you guessed it—photography.

I purchased my first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel 2000, from London Drugs that was on sale because the model was being discontinued. It was a huge step up from the completely manual SLR I’d used in high school. The photos I took with it still weren’t great, but for the next couple years I studied and researched and practiced techniques to make myself better. I trained my eye to see the best angle and perspective for an image and learned how to use the priority and manual settings, the proper ISO and to use the ambient light as well as studio light.

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One of the first photos I ever developed in the darkroom at university. Self-portrait with ambient light from the prehistoric laptop, circa 2004.

I sought out photography exhibits and read up on other photographers—Cindy Sherman, Ed Burtynsky, Robert Mapplethorpe, Barbara Krueger, Richard Avedon to name a few. An exhibition of Katharina Sieverding’s self portraits at MoMA PS1 in New York City influenced the remainder of my intro year.

Images like this:

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Detail of ‘Stauffenbergblock I-XVI’ by Czech-born German artist Katharina Sieverding.

Lead me to try this:

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Solarized self-portrait, one of seven, circa 2004, by Aleisha Hendry.

The technique is called solarizing, where using a high contrast image, a print is exposed to light once it begins to develop in the chemical. It’s completely random—some turn out sharp like this one, others are milky and others only solarize halfway.

This all led to medium format film, multiple exposures on a single paper, cyanotypes, fibre paper, and more. I could get my film from the case into the developing canister fast than anyone, and eventually I knew exactly what filter was necessary for a print just by looking at the contact sheet. My hands perpetually stank like darkroom chemicals from pulling all nighters and I didn’t even care. I loved it that much.

In my final year, the curriculum made the jump to digital photography. I bought my first DSLR that year, a Canon Rebel XT. A fairly decent beginner-level DSLR at the time and similar to the SLR I already had. I used that camera for something like six years—finishing off my BFA and then into my career as a journalist—until it stopped holding a charge and was considered too old and outdated to bother repairing. Cameras like that can’t to be used as frequently as I did as a photojournalist and expect to last.

From there it was researching some slightly higher-end intermediate-level DSLRs. I wanted something of decent quality, not just something that was on sale. I finally settled on the Nikon D7000.

Oh, it was love at first shot.

The screen was larger, the film speed was better, and the battery lasted what felt like forever. This camera became an extension of my being, like part of my arm or my eye. I shot photos of everyday life, concerts, meetings, artists, sports, everything. It came with me everywhere.

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Billy Talent’s Benjamin Kowalewicz at the Encana Events Centre in Dawson Creek in 2013, by Aleisha Hendry

And then it was taken from me.

I stupidly left my vehicle unlocked while staying overnight in a town I no longer recognize as existing and someone helped themselves to it.

I felt like a hole had been punched right through my soul.

I’m fortunate that a co-worker had a similar model, the D7100, that he was looking to sell and gave me a really good deal. It was pretty damn similar, but it took a long time to feel like it was MY camera.

And then my tenure as a journalist came to an abrupt end. Suddenly I wasn’t keeping an eye out for a great photo or covering an event on a daily basis. It was…unsettling.

I was in a very dark place for awhile. Things that I had loved didn’t seem worth it anymore. I left my camera in its bag by the front hall closet for five months.

Let that sink in: Going from taking dozens to hundreds of photos a day for a decade to taking none. What I thought was my reason for being was gone. So I shut myself away and tried to ignore the void that had developed, no pun intended.

Finally, after re-evaluating life and starting on a completely different career path, I had two moments where I’d thought “why the FUCK isn’t my camera on the front seat?!”

See, I grew up in the Rocky Mountain trench and wildlife was always in abundance, so taking pictures of those animals as I saw them had become second nature. Bears, elk, moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, deer, birds, etc. I’ve got photos of them all.

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Stellar Jay, Bijoux Falls, circa 2012, by Aleisha Hendry.

But one late afternoon on my drive back to town I saw something I’d only ever seen once before in real life. On the side of the highway, was a wolf. Not a big dog, not a coyote, an actual wolf. I nearly slammed on the brakes and reached for my camera just on instinct, but it wasn’t there. It was back home where it had been for months.

The second incident was on the drive to another site, taking a winding narrow logging road in the middle of nowhere. I came around the corner and thought there were some dogs hanging out, but it wasn’t dogs.

It was four lynx. Actual, living, breathing, honest-to-god elusive-as-fuck lynx. My guess was a mother and three offspring. When I came around the corner they made their way over the snow bank on the side of the road and into the trees, but one of the little ones stopped and stared at me, much like my own cat does.

I silently screamed that I didn’t have my camera, as that little one sat still long enough for it to be a beautiful shot. Then it got up and followed its family.

I feel like that was what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson would call a ‘decisive moment.’ He said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

And thus, it became time to shake off the cobwebs and start shooting again.

I went and purchased a new memory card and held my camera for the first time in months. It felt good. Like, INSANELY good. I’ve missed it, so very much.

So maybe expect some photo posts from me in the near future? I may not be on assignment anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments in time for me to capture once again.

-A.

When the words won’t flow

In which I write about not being able to write.

Since embarking on a new career path I’ve been met with a copious amount of writing time.

At this moment, I’m sitting in a first aid shack somewhere in the backwoods of Northeastern BC, with all the hours of the day to come up with brilliant, wonderful, insightful and thought-provoking words.

You’d think they’d be pouring out. You’d be wrong.

See, I’ve been working on my short story writing in recent months. I’ve got several outlines for some weird-ass pieces and at least two that have first drafts. But trying to get anything else written has been a lesson in futility.

That’s part of the reason I started this blog. I wanted to be able to write a little each day so I didn’t fall off the wagon, as it were. When you go from writing thousands of words a day to maybe a few tweets if you’re lucky, it fucks you up. Ditto for going from using my camera every day to not using it for three months, but that’s a post for another day.

Even finding the words for a weekly rant like I used to do has been difficult. I think it’s mostly because the parameters have been lifted and I could literally write about what ever the hell I want that I can’t find the words beyond 280 characters. I’ve always wanted that freedom and now that I have it I’m at a loss as to what to do with it. Is that irony or just sad?

I’ve been crocheting like my life depended on it, blatantly ignoring the cramping in my hands. Clearly I’ve traded one creative outlet for another.

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I had a busy day yesterday.

However, words are my first love; they’ve helped keep my sanity reasonably in check for as long as I can remember. I can’t just not write, even though it’s felt like it recently.

Writers should be avid readers, and I’ve burned through so many books lately just because I have the time to sit down and read the shit out of them.

I’ve got a few short story collections with me at the moment—Neil Gaiman and Stephen King—to try and help with my own short story crafting. I’ve been a creative non-fiction writer for the last decade, so trying to write actual fiction has been daunting. I hate writing dialogue since it always sounds so stunted and fake when I do it, but reading the dialogue written by others always sounds natural.

I’m also terrified at the idea of someone reading these stories. Like I said, it’s not my usual style, so I’m worried I’m total garbage at it and should just stick to my opinion rants. But if I don’t try, I’ll never know if I can do it.

So yeah, that’s my spiel about not being able to write. All 500-some odd words of it.

Guess I can write when I want to.

-A.

Cant-stop-writing

Except when when there’s a ton of time to do so.

 

Let’s talk

Once again it’s the one day of the year that people post messages about the importance of mental health. It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day.

I take part in this mostly because I want to see as much money as possible go to mental health initiatives in Canada. But I also take part because I have mental illnesses.

I have long suffered from depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It took me many years to admit it to myself since I’d always viewed it as a weakness… going on meds was something “other” people did. I wasn’t like them, I was stronger than that.

But I wasn’t.

When the bad thoughts are running through your mind and people around you don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, it wears you down. It’s like being trapped in a maze and you can’t find your way out… you’re just going in circles and finding the same dead ends.

Thankfully, I found my way out. It didn’t happen overnight, and there were a few stumbles along the way, but it did happen.

My experience isn’t everyone else’s, some may have a harder time getting through, while others find the path with little trouble. Never think your own experience isn’t valid because others seem to be having a harder time.

If you need to take medication, take it. It you need a personal day, take it. If you need a walk, take it. Whatever keeps you going, do it.

Don’t be afraid to talk.

-A.

Oprah for president?

If you didn’t watch the Golden Globes last night, you may have missed the future president of the United States making a speech.

Here, give it a watch, I’ll wait.

After that glorious speech, many on social media were calling for Ms. Winfrey to run for the highest office in the land in 2020. And really, why the hell not? If America is all about having celebrities run their country, they could do a hell of a lot worse (and currently are).

Oprah comes from nothing, built herself up and created an empire that is actually successful! She didn’t get any handouts to get herself started and hasn’t gone bankrupt several times over—you want a businessperson running the country, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one!

Imagine having a woman this eloquent giving a press conference, or the State of the Union address, or hell, even an inauguration speech—feeling uplifted and inspired rather than ‘holy shit, what have we done?!’

Yes, she’s got little experience in political office, but Winfrey’s a damn smart woman, and damn smart people know that when they don’t know something, they turn to advisors and those with experience in such matters to help guide them to make the best decisions for the people.

Also, there wouldn’t be any tweets letting her followers and the world know that she’s “like, really smart”—smart people don’t have to say they’re smart, their actions tend to prove that point.

While I think America should veer away from this disastrous experiment in allowing non-politicians to run their country, if Ms. Winfrey did decide to throw her name in the race in two years, I wouldn’t be against it (especially sitting from the sidelines north of the 49th parallel).

However, there are currently plenty of women in office right now that have the right experience and could be potential candidates, with the proper support. So maybe look to them as well? Just a thought.

Side Note: I fucking LOVE Oprah’s glasses. Seriously, glasses aren’t seen as a hinderance to looking amazing anymore. You can go to a gala and rock your glasses rather than cram plastic bits into your eyes—LOVE IT!

-A.

 

Getting (more) crafty in 2018

It’s a brand new year. A new chapter in the book of life, a blank slate on which we can paint anything. Anything is possible at the start of a new calendar!

Or some bullshit like that.

Why we all feel the need to better ourselves in January I don’t even know. Perhaps it’s because we tend to feel like sloths after all that Christmas food and a total lack of exercise—the holidays are over, now we can get back on track!

You could make that argument after Thanksgiving as well, but no one ever seems to.

I don’t really believe in making resolutions about diets and exercise, since I feel that’s something that ought to be done year round. Rather, I’m going to set a goal for myself that I know I can actually achieve and won’t give up on in February.

I want to master the crochet Magic Ring. I’ve gotten the whole crocheting flat things down pretty well—washcloths, hand towels, scarfs, hats, etc. Now I’d like to try and make more 3D stuff, so I’m looking at amigurumi.

Wikipedia tells me amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures. I like small creatures, so I think this will be fun.

However, it takes some practice. Crocheting in the round isn’t something I’ve done a lot of, so I need to get the starter magic ring down, as pretty much all amigurumi patterns start with that.

This was my first attempt, which isn’t too terrible.

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I had no stuffing to fill it with, so it’ll probably just wind up being a toy for the cats.

So that’s my crafty goal for 2018. I plan to have a whole horde of little yarn creatures by the end of the year.

Happy New Year, folks.

-A.