Thursday, December 31, 2020

Art therapy for the 2020 blues

Finally, episode 47 of my video journal is one for the history books. The last upload for 2020. It's 9:37, the clock is ticking fast now.

This process of creating video content is truly challenging.

I have an idea that I want to share, I have a vague impression in my mind, I know enough about the tools I have at my disposal to figure out how to combine the pieces into a whole that approximates my vision for the piece, and I have the time to devote to the project.

I really enjoy the work, and sometimes I feel that I have come fairly close to producing something that I like, at least in some respects.

The interesting thing is that every episode is built with content layer upon layer, upon layer, all created to some extent by me, or at least content that I select for inclusion. Sometimes, as here, my contribution is small compared to the work of others that I have sampled and mixed into the ultimate end product. Yet the soundtrack, the images, and the video clips are included, sequenced, and presented in a way that is unique. 

The only thing that is all mine, for which I am solely responsible, beyond the editing, is the narrative that seeks to bind the overall experience.

In this case, the biggest challenge was creating a narrative that conveyed the message I was striving to share. As the layers accumulate, each editing step adds an element of structure that, as the work progresses, creates a larger and larger shape that becomes less and less malleable.

The fear that wells up, is that there may not be a path through the content for a coherent narrative that conveys my intended message.

The thing that makes the challenge really exquisite is that while the vision for the ultimate message is constant, the narrative remains vague.

There are drafts of bits and pieces, outlines, snippets, that I create as the work progresses, that guide the editing, but, no final narrative that I know will work.

An easier path would be to write the narrative as I would with a paper, or an essay.

The reason I don't do that, is that reading a prepared script destroys the most important aspect of the narrative. When I have tried that, it ends up sounding stilted, like a middling high schooler reading a composition in the classroom.

The approach I used for this episode is to record the narrative once the editing is almost done.

I try to imagine that the camera I am speaking to is you, the viewer, and that we are having a conversation. 

While doing that, I need to make eye contact with you, to look you in the eye, not with so much intensity as to be unsettling, but with enough engagement with you that you will stay with me until my message is complete.

While striving to do that magic trick, I need to avoid hemming and hah-ing, and repetitive annoying speech mannerisms that is a large part of how we humans, who aren't network news anchors, tend to communicate with each other.

Finally, exspecially with the topic of this episode, how do I not come off as someone whose only incentive is to show off an art collectiion in a self-aggrandizing, pompous way.

The cumulative effect of doing this kind of creative work is that the fear of failure grows within me with each step I take. Every time I return to editing, I come to the keyboard with a feeling that I have missed the mark, that I will hate the thing that I thought was more or less allright when I last stepped away. 

Fortunately, so far, it's never quite as bad as I fear.

Then the tweaking continues, and the clips that I cut litter the virtual cutting room floor, and pile up as the episode progresses and approaches its final shape.

I hope I have achieved something close to what I was seeking.

Happy new year to all of you. Soon time to pop the cork on the bubbly!

The music for this episode of Life on two wheels is Hovering Thoughts by Spence, Sarabande by Joel Cummins, Night Snow and Hopeful Freedom by Asher Fulero, all made available courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library.

It's 9:49. I made it.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Taking stock as a new year looms

 I did something today I rarely do. 

Looking to copy a New York Times recipe for fried chicken and looking for a medium on my iPad paste the recipe into, I opened Pages, the Apple word processor. 

It was like opening a chest in the attic. Bits and pieces of draft correspondence, work-related memos from a time that has lost most of its relevance. Like a trove of old snapshots of infants long since adults, cars that are no longer, homes that have drifted from view.

Among the litter was an introspective piece I wrote that was intended as the landing page of a new blog that never saw the light of day. There is nothing I wrote that is not still absolutely true. Other than the dragon blog that never became more than a passing fancy. I did write here about dragon themes. You can find them with the help of Google, or click here where I have done the search for you.

Now I remember that I also used my iPad to create an image for the would-be blog. A dragon, for reasons that will shortly become apparent. I tried to find the image, but somehow. all my content in the app I used has somehow been blitzed into oblivion.

All that was in the fall of 2013, just over seven years ago. It turned out that the horizon I imagined where my world would change in a slow dreamy whirlwind was only two years away, events that I barely could have imagined at the time, with extremely positive outcomes I could never have foreseen. I wrote about that here.

I am struck by the candor of what I had proposed to publish for the world to see back in the fall of 2013. So struck, that I am publishing it here. I am setting it in italic to delineate past from present. 

“What's up?

I'm up!

I'm moving up, moving out, growing up, reaching out.

I was born in the year of the Dragon, but I didn't know it.

My mother gave me a Chinese autograph stamp one Christmas.  Made of jade, its base served as a pedestal for a dragon.  She told me my name was engraved in Chinese characters on the base and that it was a dragon stamp because I was born in the year of the dragon.

I no longer remember when that was, but it was many years ago.

2012 was the year of the Dragon.

For a long time, I didn't have a firm sense of who I was.

I recognize my mother's shy little boy in me.  That boy became a teenager, then a man.  A faithful husband.  A loving, caring father.  Not in any sense a dragon.

Somewhere along the way I struggled to understand who I might become.  Confidence was elusive.  Success was hard won.  I often felt that others achieved more easily, more certainly.   When I look back, I see a tentative me.  Some part of me always holding back.  Wary of committing myself.  Content to accept what was on offer.  Cautiously keeping to the middle of the road. 

My outlook was deeply coloured by my earliest experiences in school.

When I think about this (and I have to say that I thought about this many times in my life) a memory often comes to mind.  The flaming carrot-top, outspoken, goody-two-shoes, earnest-to-a-fault, whip-smart, front-row-sitting, teacher's pet, first grade class president.

And there I was, lurking in the back rows, one of two non french-speaking kids in a sea of glib easy-speakers, unable to understand, barely coping, a fish out of water, isolated, wary, sometimes mocked, usually ignored, I might as well have been on an alien planet learning to breathe water.

I consoled myself by thinking that carrot-top had made the critical error of peaking too early.  In first grade.  I liked to think that by sixth grade he was slowly cruising to the bottom, headed to the back of the class, washed up, soon to be expelled.  I am now certain that he excelled all along. 

That early French immersion challenge my parents tossed my way was the right thing for me.  Eventually, pretty quickly in fact, I became fluent in my father's mother-tongue and the culture of Quebec.  A critical skill that serves me well to this day.  It was a harsh way to learn though.  No mercy.  Thrown into the deep end to learn how to swim on my own.

Those early years in school coloured my life.  They made me a believer in the importance of surfing the life-curve, moving slowly and warily to find the right wave that would let me ride to safety.

At some point this strategy began ebbing, threats loomed.  By then I had responsibilities to shoulder.  It wasn't just me.  My family depended on me.  For food, for shelter, for lessons.  If I was content to live quietly, it wouldn't do for those who depended on me.

In time, facing my fears, forcing myself into the unknown, I began to find confidence that I never had.  I found it easier to venture out when the objective was to serve others.  To ensure I was a reliable source of support for my family.  To contribute to the success of my firm, my community, my profession.

Today, I can say this.  I have the curiosity and courage to meet challenges head on.  I have learned to walk, eyes open and looking forward, towards the things that intimidate.  I have learned to deal with the fear of the unknown that paralyzes, by reaching out to learn.  I have, more than once, found myself in challenging situations, when the risks were tangible.  I always felt that learning was the key.  That's my weapon of choice.

That attitude led me to volunteer.  

More recently, I have learned to reach out for things I want.  To assert myself.

All those lessons.  And here I am.

I may be close to becoming the dragon that was lurking in me all this time.

That is the theme I will explore here.

I'm in no rush, so don't expect a flood of posts.

I'm working on a huge project.  Although I have enjoyed a lot of success, and the beginning of an amazing adventure is in sight, there is still a lot to do.  I think of it as rolling a boulder up a hill.  I'm close to cresting the hill.  I have some momentum.  The rest, as they say, may well be a downward slope with less pushing and more guiding to do.

Time will tell.

One of the skills I have is that I can write.  I just don't know how well I can write.

Like many would be writers, I have a novel in the works.  So far I haven't had much time to devote to it.  I have too many full-time jobs at present.

I may decide to try some of the material from the novel out here.  Just to see if anyone likes it.  One of the harshest critiques of someone's writing I have come across is this: "That's not writing, that's typing!"  I sincerely hope never to hear any criticism quite that mean-spirited 

So there you have it.

The bare beginning of yet another blog.”

I like what I wrote back then. The novel? I haven't touched it. Still too many jobs. It's a little sad, if I have to maintain that soul-bearing candor.

Maybe 2021 will be a year that sees me return to the draft.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A different kind of Christmas celebration

Well... it was just the two of us here, cloistered and sheltered from the pandemic in our intimate warm physical space.

With just our presents, just our presence, and a light sparkling blanket of fresh snow to console us.

Until kids and grandkids burst on the scene, virtually. Thanks to Zoom, FaceTime, and some creative and thoughtful planning, we were able to share brunch, open gifts, marvel and laugh with the toddlers, shed some tears, comfort each other, and chat with family, and friends... almost all the ingredients for a successful Christmas celebration.

Against tall odds, my darling daughter and 2020 secret Santa, managed to get her hands on gifts that I had regretted having put on my Elfster wishlist.

I know, it sounds like I no longer wanted them. Not true, I truly wanted them very, very much.

The regret was because the gifts I was most hoping for are rare and possibly really, really hard to get. I regretted setting a task doomed to almost certain failure.

In the end Lauren's tenacity was no match for mere rarity. A mad eleventh-hour dash to Curbside Cycle following a series of online misunderstandings and e-commerce snafus, made my Christmas wishes a reality.


Presenting for the first time on this journal, a couple of Brompton accessories that ensure that Susan and I  will be able to go anywhere we want with our Bromptons, and take them into even the most discerning destinations, be it tucked in beside our table for two in a fancy restaurant, or the cloakroom at the museum.

To the left, a black bag for the Brompton that discretely cloaks the bike from the prying eyes of doormen, concierges, maitre D's, limousine drivers, and other stern, watchful guardians of civility and good order. It's a discrete saddlebag and rides out-of-the-way until it gets its call to service. Think of it as the Brompton's go-anywhere tuxedo.

To the right, the ingenious Brompton tool kit.

It's ingenious first because all the tools needed to do 90% of the mechanical tasks that might become necessary to allow a Brompton adventure to reach a successful conclusion are stored in a crafty custom round container : three wrenches, a ratchet with the necessary bits to fit the Brompton's bits, tire levers, an inner tube patch, and some sandpaper. Flat tire? No problem. Need to re-install the seat you removed to fit your Brompton into your suitcase? No problem.

The other reason that it, like the Brompton itself, is ingenious, is that the toolkit tucks right inside the front section of the Brompton frame that is accessible when the bike is folded. With a tiny bit of ingenuity, you can store a brand new inner tube in the rear section of the frame. 

All invisible and hidden out of the way until the inevitable flat tire becomes an issue that might otherwise put an end to a delightful Sunday escapade.

Thank you Lauren, you are amazing!

My very best wishes to all of you for safe and happy holidays, with the hope that 2021 sees an end to all the drama of 2020.

There is nothing I want more than this.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.