Walking with Friends

Yokohama, Japan. May 10, 2014.

Some days are for walking.

It happens that two of my closest friends were born on the same day, a year apart. Seems like a grand coincidence to me, though I’m sure the astrologers would say that it makes perfect sense.

Every year, when their birthday comes around, I try to spend at least part of the day walking, taking pictures of what their birthday would look like if they could spend it with me, since I am so very rarely able to spend it with either of them. This year, their birthdays fell on a Saturday, a day without obligations, a day I could spend as it chose to unfold, the kind of day that is best spent with friends.

Is it odd that thinking of far away friends can make you more present where you are?

Some of the very best things are odd.

Ginza

Tokyo, Japan. May 2014.

Sometimes we forget to be tourists in the places we live. Having visitors helps. On this occasion, we ventured into Ginza, headed for the Laduree Tea Room, but arrived too early and had to wait outside a bit before we could go in. The waiting was exceptional, as the day was clear and temperate and given to people-watching.

I took this photograph in the window of a department store. A line of brightly coloured pedestrians makes its way through the monochrome of sand-dune beach-brush, a black-and-white couple sits on steps imagined from the crosswalk zebra and a spectrum of silver sand spills out into the city streets under facades of glass and brick and the signage of the city while an icon of fashion turns the other cheek. Even as the spring becomes the summer, it’s all about the layers.

The Trees and the Chill

Outside Krakow, Poland. December 2008.

An upcoming staff and parent art exhibit at our school has given me good occasion to have a look back through some of the older photographs I’ve taken, but not shared or printed.

I took these photographs on the morning of New Year’s Eve in 2008. We were visiting Poland for the first time and we wanted to visit Auschwitz. We didn’t want to be part of a big tour; we wanted to go more quietly, so we hired a private guide who recommended that we leave at from Krakow at dawn. It was one of those mornings where the clear blue skies and warm sunlight made me think it should feel warm, but the air was so crisp and clean and cold that it froze the inside of my nose with every breath.

And that was the contrast of the day. The road to Auschwitz was watched over by stands of trees that seemed full and sparse at the same time; the early light cut between them, warming their bark and green needles and moss, and stretched out their shadows to define them in hyper-reality. And yet there was also an emptiness about them, the space between so palpable and full of absence. That negative space pervaded the camps at Birkenau, but where the trees were draped in the daybreak’s radiance, the remains of Birkenau were chilling in every way.

There was a wreath somewhere along the way. I’m not even sure that I saw it as our car sped by, but my camera caught it, its bright flowers aflame in the interstice. I don’t know why that wreath was there, or who placed it, or when, or whether it was marked by ceremony or if it was just set down, unnoticed by all the cars racing toward their imposed importances beyond the vanishing points of the hills and roads. But it’s frozen there now in a photograph at least, a testament of someone’s loss that without specific reference, without a name or story of how and why, becomes symbolic of all the losses I can’t imagine in those woods, along those roads. And more than that, it leaves me considering that only where love survives can we really remember.

Eat The Frog – Production Stills

Yokohama, Japan. March 2014.

I mentioned a while back, that I work with a group of student filmmakers–The Filmeisters–after school. Last year they made one 42 minute zombie epic called Diploma. This year the group almost tripled in size, so we are making more, shorter films.

The first, “The Bureau of Broken Hearts and Faucets” is written and directed by Jun Sekiya, who wrote and directed Diploma last year. It’s the story of young man who wants to sue Love for the five disastrous relationships he’s had in the last year. Another project is a music video, and we have at least three new scripts in development. The last project is this one, “Eat the Frog,” a film about the fragility of those first moments of attraction. The script is here, in an earlier post.

I wrote the film almost seven years ago, as an acting exercise for students who wanted to play something more emotionally sensitive than the big musicals we do as school productions. Then I used it to help new screenwriters understand screenplay formatting. Last year, a couple of students filmed part of it, but lost all of their footage before editing. This year, the students helped me to rewrite the script and bring it up to date a bit. They insist that the fact that characters talk on the phone makes it too implausible, but I stuck with it. You gotta dance with them that brung ya.

It is difficult to teach filmmaking and direct a movie at the same time, and I’m afraid the film will suffer for it in attention to detail, but in the bigger picture, I hope there are some more students now who have fallen in love with the process of filmmaking. And there are still a lot of beautiful moments to savour, in the filming, and in the film.

These are production stills from the footage we shot.

Carousel Cherub

Florence, Italy. August, 2008.

Went looking through the archives today and stumbled upon this. There are a lot of photographs from this period that I took and meant to share and never really got around to it.

I imagine there is a land somewhere, populated by the things we meant to do but didn’t, a wind that whispers the things we meant to say, where lost orphaned socks wash up on the banks of the laundry river and keys dangle like dew from the laden branches of trees. A land divided into provinces: the county of regret and the territory of missed opportunity, and perhaps, behind high impenetrable walls, a small but triumphant fiefdom of things-we-meant-to-say-but-it-turned-out-way-better-that-we-didn’t.

The beautiful thing about the land we never got around to, though, is that we can still visit, at least some of the time. I plan to go back soon. I’ll let you know what I find.

Shimoda Surf

Shimoda, Japan. March 2014.

Yokohama is on the sea, it’s true, but there’s sea and then there’s sea.

We took the train this weekend, down to the bottom of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda, a city in a small town, a place more the size of the one I grew up in, than the one where I currently live.

It felt like sliding into an old pair of jeans, the ones with the frayed hems and the paint-drops and the many-times-laundered stains of a life, the small (unfashionable) tears at the knees. Not respectable jeans for wearing out, but the ones you change into when you’re home and have nothing to prove and know you can stay a while.

I grew up near beach towns. Something about their off-season solitude and in-season crush that makes beach towns themselves ephemeral, permanently temporary. Places where the human endeavours aspire to good-enough-for-now and perfection is left to nature, and the time saved between is spent in lazy appreciation of now, before we pack up and drive home with the sand still in our eyelashes.

I was a windsurfer once, but these days the lick of the wind on my face is pleasure enough, and to sit and squint my eyes and read the swells and watch the surfers dance along the break.

Nourish 2014

Yokohama, Japan. February 2014.

I have a lot to catch up on. I designed this poster for this year’s Nourish conference at school. It is a Saturday workshop about wellness, and this year’s conference was, well, nourishing. In no particular order, some reminders from the day of the things that nourish us:

• Community – what we give and receive with those to whom we belong.
• 6-Second Cuddles – longer, if you wish.
• Passions – football and coffee specifically, but choose your own.
• Making a place your own and becoming a regular.
• Running – for exercise and meditation and the practice of noticing.
• Self-awareness – for understanding yourself and others.
• Not making any one thing too big – it’s all just stuff that needs doing.
• Spark – identifying that thing that makes your life hopeful and meaningful.

I left the conference thinking of a lot of things that have nourished me, one of which is a love of cinema. And then I thought of Stranger Than Fiction, a film I was teaching in my English class, in which the closing monologue goes like this:

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick.

What nourishes you?