It was a cold Autumn morning when the wind came howling through the wooden doors. I went to the window to see what was stirring and saw a raven staring from the oaks against the dawn. I drew back sudden, splashing coffee on my sweater filled with the spatter of a life left unearthed, fearful, and tattered. I snarled at the thought that one day I could be free from the sounds that gathered around those wind swept trees. Looking down at my hands, bitter to the memories of my once able extremities now gnawing with the numbness of eternity withdrawing ever speedily away from me.
“Bah!” I yelled and trudged to the roadside to greet the mighty bird, maybe ask of it a question as to why I always hurt. But the raven was gone, left only to lure me out. Perhaps to bear witness to the things he couldn’t shout. So alone I stood shaking, my bones aching from that comfortable house now forsaken, casting a shadow upon my mystic doubt. It was to my surprise however, it had been watching me all along. It showed itself in the twinkling of a puddle on that cold autumn road. It spoke to me through its stare to which the tiny hair raised listening at attention wondering if perhaps it really cared.
My eyes swelled up at the mystery it beheld and I began to clench my heart at the merciless that it felt. Bent over breathing with lungs that gasped for air, I knew I felt the universe and the greatness was unfair. I had wished for so long that I may be free, to swallow up the fears that wash over me. Unease all along was nothing to despond, nothing to prepare, but building with interest in every share. Life pushed when I should have pulled not for fortune sake, but with an examined glow. To see the cracks that lay in fear, to see if light shone through the mirror. At that minute my heart squeezed tight at the eventful stint while the sun rose over the trees with a sarcastic glint.
Falling on that road an old forgotten man, bracing myself kneeling, it had been up to me not to disband, the one who should have cared, and at that final moment in the puddle I met my own despair. I crashed into another me, the version still standing looking down upon his able feet. My closing glance was at the raven who stood beside me craving– a life that was no longer there.
Feast young beast for that’s the last I have to share. A good cold meal that time has worked relentlessly to prepare.
If you enjoyed this poem please share, and/or leave a comment!
Chester Race Week
The Annual Fisherman’s regatta began in Chester, Nova Scotia over 150 years ago when fisherman first raced to the Halifax markets competing to sell their goods. It was hard work where the men woke up early and with bodies tempered by nature, learned from their own mistakes. Work was a must, and taking charge when weakness wasn’t an option lead to a trust in your brother, family, and your own autonomy. They used what they had and built what they didn’t, and teaching the young to do the same was part of their craft. If you didn’t have a voice, you could still stand your ground. A value was passed down through tradition that created able hands. Today, those hands carry the tradition forward into the Chester Race Week— the largest annual keelboat regatta race week in all of North America.
The Village of Chester was built by strong women and sturdy men. In 1782 the brave women of Chester dressed in red cloaks and marched around the blockhouse to resemble British soldiers, saving the village from a raid by American Privateers lying offshore. A testament to the teamwork that still holds true today. The volunteer-driven event has a full list of public-friendly functions with live music, delicious food, yacht races, as well as seminars from internationally renowned sailors, tacticians, boat builders and sailmakers. Beautifully built boats fill the harbours with a diversity of talent welcoming all levels to participate in this highly organized event, hosted by the Chester Yacht Club and joined by neighbouring clubs. Chester Race Week is made possible by the people in the community.
Volunteers were incredibly busy and helpful. As Holly said “All the people selling shirts, wrist bands and drink tickets at the booth (were available) at all hours over the four days.” Holly and Michael Dunn, were responsible for media relations. The other members of the organizing team included:
Pat Nelder - Co-Chair of Chester Race Week - Water
Cynthia Spraggs - Co-Chair of Chester Race Week - Land
Mary MacInnis - Sponsorship Director
Last Saturday, while gripping the ‘oh shit handle’ on the back of a Boston Whaler, I was reminded of a healthy respect for the ocean. Jack MacKinnon, a Chester Yacht Club tender operator, effortlessly navigated the boat through the rain, and wind. Jack casually looked back as the Whaler skipped over 5 foot waves and asked where we were from. When I said Ottawa, in an honest, but playful tone he responded, “Ever been on a boat before?” His accent brought a smile to my face. “Not like this, Jack!” I shouted nervously, squinting into the wind as the bright yellow sou’wester clung to my head in desperation. It occurred to me then, that the ocean teaches us through gripped fear that holds our presence with its enormous power, but to the seafarer it’s second nature. This year, over 1200 skilled mariners raced over 4 days in howling winds, with competition beckoning the curiosity of skippers even across the mighty Atlantic. Although, I was disappointed to discover there were no crew nor clubs representing Ontario, or Quebec. Two provinces with many sailors threaded throughout the St. Lawrence.
When each series of yachts lined up for their countdown, they orchestrated themselves as if there had been a visible start-line. The crew and their skipper could maneuver on a dime, and I marveled at the expertise. Names, lingo, and slang slung from the men and women aboard the boats while sails tightened to the wind. The shouting of friendly rivalry comes with a sense of social inclusion that makes you feel at home. Across Canada, East Coasters are known for their warm inclusiveness. At the end of each race day sailors relax on their boats having drinks and snacks. When sea legs loosen they wander, three sheets to the wind, to the Foc’sle, Nova Scotia's oldest pub, and The Rope Loft for food and celebration.
Whether you come for competition, or vacation in search of an authentic east-coast experience, set your sail to Chester, Nova Scotia and join in on the tradition. Sailors across Canada – heed the call and head to Nova Scotia for the 2018 Chester Race Week.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
—Viktor E. Frankl
Photo by Todd Cameron
When I first met Heather it started with chirps and chatter over our mutual interest of martial arts. We clicked like a binary code, as if we had known each other for decades. Heather and I sparked into conversation with “Yes!”, and “Of course!”. Smiles and exclamation marks flared out with hand gestures from simple understandings that have a common surprise when considered. Heather has the clear eyed spirit to uplift those around her, an honest playful smile, and a faint hint of an east coast accent. She is also a 911 emergency dispatcher here in Ottawa. A line of work that demands a certain fortification of understanding.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to sit in on some of the calls received by emergency dispatchers and it was an experience I haven’t forgotten. It was only an hour, but I was glad to be unplugged afterwards. The nerve-racking, heart-wrenching, sweat-inducing calls received, one after the other, were enough to make one drift into wide-eyed existentialism by the end of it. I could easily see how long term exposure to that kind of stress could increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and poor health.
Imagine for a moment walking towards your office and your heartbeat starts to increase from the triggers of familiarity. You try and shrug it off, but the signs of anxiety come narrowing into focus. You think about reaching out to a coworker or supervisor that day, but you're worried that the topic of your feelings will be awkward, belittled, or judged. Perhaps even looked at like a sickness— contagious if uttered. Your mouth starts to dry as vapid greetings to your colleagues restrict in your throat from an uneasiness and shortness of breath. On the way to your workstation your feet feel cold and your hands begin to tingle while you sit down to type. A deep breath in, and you’ve collected yourself into the callused calm that allows you to perform your work with incredible poise. You plug into phone calls perpetuated of people in dire need of help for the next 11 hours. To say that stress has a central theme among emergency dispatchers would be a truism, however, one that leaves out the metallic back of the mouth taste of the experience that I had, for just one hour.
“I can't do this, unless I find a way to deal with the stress."
When Heather casually told me what she did for work, I imagined that there weren’t many happy endings to her day. It must take great effort to cultivate the thoughts that create positive feelings championing these individuals to answer the call of us in need of help, day in and day out. Heather explains, that many people cope with stress by pretending it doesn't exist, or knowing and choosing to ignore it. Others, by stupefying themselves with alcohol, drugs, sex, eating, outward blame and anger, staying busy, or seeking adrenaline boosting activities. Some of these may look healthy on the surface, but if we aren't able to be still and sit with our pain it will demand we examine it at the least convenient of times.
Acknowledging and defining our stress, depression and anxiety takes a mammoth amount of courage and compassion for oneself; considerable patience in a fog of desperation. “To be able to change what you thought was beyond your control is incredibly self-empowering.” I scrambled to scribble her words while Heather spoke. Heather also notes that the process is difficult, and cultivating your positive inner dialogue takes practice, but it’s paramount in the search for equanimity.
Types of stress like, compassion stress, occupational stress, critical incident stress, cumulative stress, PTSD, as well as, the spectrum of depression and forms of anxiety need to be further addressed among our emergency first responders. I was hard pressed to find emergency dispatchers categorically in the same company as first responders, yet they deal with real time suffering and are a critical component to the outcome of emergency calls. After nearly a decade of working as an Ottawa emergency dispatcher, Heather has tussled with time finding ways of dealing with the cost of caring. During one of the many conversations about the deeper meanings of life, I asked Heather about her insights into stress, compassion, and ways of engaging her own mental health.
"I had to get better at being myself” She explained with a fidget of her fingers.
Sitting with close company talking about life’s trivialities while inside you're suffering from your own realities is individual in its circumstance, yet it is happening to an increasing number of people in our society. However, anxiety or depression could convince us that we are all alone, lost in our struggles— a prisoner to ourselves. Heather explains that when she acknowledged her depression she began to observe it like an outsider looking in. It wasn’t a mystery anymore, but a defined problem, and a solution became a beacon of hope.
“It takes a deliberate reflection into the best practices of helping someone. First, I had to learn how to connect without draining myself and to energize my body and mind each day in the ways that suited my lifestyle.” Practicing mindfulness is Heather's first step to conscious decision making. Considering how she feels and why, then becoming open to the possibility that she can change that feeling. Heather finds her peace of mind through yoga, meditation, talking to her friends, spending time with her cats, and her relentless pursuit of self-awareness.
Emergency dispatchers are the first point of contact with the public. They are assigned to decode through distress all necessary information before sending it to the appropriate emergency personnel. Little can we appreciate the level of on-point multitasking that the emergency dispatcher must undergo managing emotions, working under pressure, making rapid and effective decisions, and relaying the correct information for the most supportive outcome for all people involved. Relief for all levels of emergency responders should be understood, encouraged, and supported. It seems intuitive to foster the personal care for the people who serve as a lifeline for police, and public.
The statistics on mental health are fundamentally flawed since the nature of the affliction are most deceptive in its silence. The terminology that we have previously prescribed has only driven the voice further inward in reluctance to become one of the many labelled as sick. However, we have begun to recognize that stress, depression, and anxiety are more of a function of the normal human condition— mental health. “One of the biggest barriers to my own healing was that I couldn’t live openly, and couldn’t ask help from anyone” she recalls feeling.
Heather and first responders alike, experience a role that merits a closer look at what it means to manage our personal mental health. She has taught me how to be more self-monitoring, and compassionate to myself first, in the pursuit of helping others. Fostering a healthy work environment, as well as individual mental health should be at the forefront of our services. It should start with them.
I was taught recently that the answers aren’t in the branches, they're at the root. Life will undoubtedly give us, tragedies, emergencies, and hangups, yet there are those that will always be there to answer the call. The root of our services, our emergency dispatchers.
“I think what I love the most is being able to be there for someone in need of help.”
"Passion, like discriminating taste, grows on its use. You more likely act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action."
– Maria Popova
Follow your passion? That’s bad advice. At least, in part. Before you follow anything consider what may be pulling you towards it, or pushing you. Advertizing is telling us to do something. However, calls to fancy free action in the moment aren't necessarily the best foot forward for our future. Put down your Oak scented beard oil and your glamping paddle pillow along with your lackadaisical wanderlust for a moment. Instead, just sit in silence and think. The further we can see into our future, the more powerful we become. We're able to get a better look at what we’re lining up in the equation that we’re creating.
You're sitting in your office on your allotted 15 minute break surfing Craigslist, Best of Reddit, before falling upon Draw a Stickman. You think about how cool it would be, no, rewarding to see a stickman that you yourself created when you glance up and right, constructing imagery of your future self. Shit. The not too distant future looks pretty banal. You're in the same ergonomic swivel chair with the abused coffee break breath, but now with an inventory of stickman drawings, craving shitty carbs and wearing extravegantly coloured socks. You begin to fantasize about quitting your job during a sunny day when Renegades by the X- Ambassadors come on the radio. All those advertizments of people quitting their 9-5 jobs and becoming brew masters, travel photographers, or off-roading jeep drivers seems within reach. However, the reality is you've squandered so much free time (time outside of work, and breaks within it) getting the quick feel-goods, but have forgotten about the search for the meaning of it all. We have forgotten to talk to ourselves, to ask ourseleves questions. When we begin to ask oursleves the big questions, our self-satified mediocrity shakes apart and discovery echoes through the cracks a depth of ones own true heart. A voice of vocation is heard back. Stickman...sticks...wood...woodworking. Of course! You realize that you've actually loved woodworking since building that locker divider in Junior High. Authority figures during your youth scared choice and dreams into a pensionable career promising antidotes from suffering, but confining you to the hours of employment for a life sentance of 30+ years.
Oops, hey, 15 minutes are up desk jockey and work isn't paying you to realize the power of your passion. However, the next day instead of sitting around the office for lunch, engaging in breezy chitchat, you grab the carpenter's apron from your locker, run over to the Ottawa City Woodshop, and sign yourself up for a membership. Every lunch hour for the foreseeable future is now dedicated to creating products from reclaimed wood. Six months later with a disciplined schedule that snowballs an excited pursuit, you've found yourself with an inventory of products and a lifestyle career in healthy development. Your heart is fully committed even when your time is divided. Passion increases productivity in both careers because quality coheres itself to your character from a discovery of aptitude and an additional income stream.
Follow your passion? No. Bring it with you wherever you go. Never be pushed into passion, but driven to your own discoveries.
"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."
– Joseph Campbell
I was biking west bound along the Parkway past Parliament toward the sunset on the last Friday of July. I had the audiobook, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius playing in my headphones and a smile from ear to ear from the beauty laid out before me. Cruising along with the philosophical insights calmly theorized by a Roman Emperor almost two thousand years before my time, I couldn't help but feel humbled by the privileges fought for the future in a history we could hardly relate to. To my surprise, I came across dozens of intricately placed stone figures mysteriously gazing out from the cusp of the dark waters of the Ottawa River. When I pulled my bike in for a closer look, or rather, when I was pulled in, I couldn’t help but notice the nordic fairyland feeling drifting in as the sun slowly descended. The kid-curious suspicion in me questioned that these fantastical figures weren’t created, but perhaps just came about. Maybe even walked about.
There was a man moseying over to each individual, couple, and family, answering questions about the display of self-expression. When he made his way to me he slowly became shorter than I had perceived, which somehow made the experience more enchanting. He was white haired and weathered, with a spark of knowing in his eyes that held my attention. For a split second the thought of shaking him down for secrets and gold coins crossed my mind, but passed at the immediacy of the social proximity. The man smiled and simply said, “Hello”. I excitedly and promptly asked him if this was his handy work, with what I’m sure looked like a bug-eyed expression of whimsical wildness across my face. He explained effortlessly that it was his heart. His pursuit in life was that of truth. He worked in accordance with nature, and discovered an absolute amidst the relentless conviction of change that nature negotiates with time. “Nature is Truth”, he said. It took me back visibly in the choke of words for a second, before fumbling out a sensible sentence. I told him that the last words of the audiobook I was listening to before pausing at the spectacle, was of Marcus Aurelius saying the exact same thing. He looked at me with a surrender and said, “That’s beautiful”. We both acknowledged the oddity of the meaningful coincidence before he extended his gnarly stone crushed hand with the introduction, “I’m John”.
John Ceprano is a painter, photographer, and rock sculptor who has integrated himself into the heart of Ottawa tourism and into the imagination of those who encounter his creations. You can discover more about John here. I've found that when exploring more of my own community, I'm continuously surprised by the beautiful nature of the land, and it's people.
"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."
He was across the street from me when I slowed my pace to a stop. Something about the scene had caught hold of me. The man, perhaps in his early seventies, was sitting on a curb outside of a self-serve car wash lot, but not a car in sight. He sat under the warm glow of an orange lamp that buzzed with a frigid desperation, and I watched him through the steam of my breath against the cold.
He had on a dark winter peacoat, tuque, blue jeans, and big bulky black boots, yet no gloves. One hand held a cigarette just before his lips while the other arm hugged his knee. He sat slightly reclined as if in thought with no concern for time. I watched the smoke from his cigarette slowly spiral up, almost held in still by the cold winter air. What was he thinking of, or waiting for, I wondered.
I should have gone to speak with him, but I was frozen in my observation. The scene felt sad, but free with a poetic adornment about it. Not a give up, but rather a letting go. There was no observable tension in the scene despite the temperature.
His movements were as slow as the unhurried smoke. I stood mesmerized while imagining his tales of love, loss, and adventures over his years. That’s all I can do now. Just imagine. A moment lost is gone forever. Maybe that was his moment though, and my lesson.
Guest post: Jacob Reddick
Slicked with an oil glazed altruism and fuelled by a desperate desire for authenticity, the hipster strives for a uniqueness while moving like the Monarch Butterfly. The perfect example of when in doubt of self, flutter Lemming-like to a mindless social norm. Now don’t get me wrong, none of this is a “bad” thing on the surface. Until you’re sitting on the patio of your favourite Mexican restaurant in the hot humid summer sun, awkwardly navigating a nacho full of guacamole through the sweaty pine scented sadness of your loosening identity.
A strange transformation started to occur...
As their beards slowly, even creepily grew stretching out like swirly straws from squirrely shifty eyed millennial’s, they were able to mask their pain of empty pride with comical twirling mustaches, and economic downturn clothing made fashionable. The pretentiously perplexed political prowess of the hipster even exceeds the ability of their lazy lackluster statements, giving way to the psychopath armchair activist and same dank coverage of the confused expectations of beard oil. When does a subculture become a mental illness? My thought is that hipsters may contribute zero as a subculture to society in large, and my fear is that none of what they aim to showcase holds value or meaning, as it was thoughtlessly assimilated from other cultures and the historical significance. A mindless amalgamation of styles for the sake of something that evades our knowing. Or at least mine.
Imagine more men grew beards for the challenge of hiking a mountain in the dead of winter to honour ancestors who crashed through wave and cut through forest to provide for us the leisure time that we so easily waste away. Instead, we dainty ourselves with a freshness of manufactured innocence, and shamelessly act in a manner that contradicts with no conviction, our volatile self portrait. The ’not give a fuck’ motto, is a safeguard from vulnerability and as a result limits our capacity for understanding ourselves through another, and with another. We lost ourselves in the self satisfaction of every reflective surface. What about self reflection? Every decision we make formulates the depth of our lives. Give a fuck, but, like, for reals.
Perhaps, idealism has been bastardized into a consumerism ideology, whereby liberty lazying into leisure has confused the pursuit of happiness and narrowed it’s focus on social statements made of fabric. Liberty was to set us free, but instead has been quietly conforming us to the shackles that we so proudly wear as our sleeves. Superficiality is at its pinnacle in the ‘leisure class’, but how long will this continue to last? Much has been lost among the bright lights. The flicker in our eyes has been dimmed in contrast, and the noise that surrounds us only serves to deafen our dialogue.
My hope? Both men and women make functional, affordable, and fashionable strides to reflect the change we demand from ourselves, and the example we want to set for the future. Reason furthers to conviction, while fashion meets utility in the relationship of art, but with clear meaning. We are ready for change and we want substance.
Overwhelmed by spooky gewgaw,
Romance is not chocolate or roses. It's risk...
"Vulnerability is the essence of romance."
Best read to this song: Sinnerman
It was the middle of the night when my alarm went off at a low roar. My parents had been in bed for roughly an hour, and it was time to make my escape. Twelve years old, and trained in the tactical art of defiance. I had my all-black ninja attire (Nike jumpsuit) hanging in my closet, like I would imagine a young Batman would have. Quickly I tossed it on, took a deep breath to collect my wits, popped out the window screen, and perched on the rooftop. I surveyed the street for a moment for anyone rustling about. It was suburban quiet out at that time of night, especially during the weekdays. I lay on my stomach atop the shingles with my head hanging over the eavestrough. With both palms down in a supinated position, I GI Joe kung-fu-gripped the trough and in an acrobatic forward rotation, my legs came over top of me and I was now swinging for a split second before dropping off into the garden below. The tall bushes blocked my decent as my feet silently hit soil. Success, but no time for smiles. My journey had just begun and turning back was as risky as its departure.
The first major obstacle was overcome, but now came the gates and the gate keeper was our tiny Irish Terrier pup named Journey—of course. Since my room was at the front of the house and the shortest, stealthiest route starting from the backyard, I could overt any neighbour’s watchful eyes at the risk of a few more obstacles. A decision that took into account the lack of control of constantly suspicious suburbanites and a comfortable existence that secretly hoped for an incongruent occurrence of some kind. Certainly, ninja Jay running through the streets would be their ideal dilemma of synaptic satisfaction. However, with my environmentally endearing parents having turned off the outside lights before bed, I could easily glide the perimeter of the house with the culpability of the streetlights just trimming my toes.
As I approached the first gate my heartbeat, engineered out of necessity, had acclimatized itself for “sneak mode” stress. The lever of the gate was lightly lifted with a slow desperation. I could never decide whether my dad had deliberately kept it creaky as a natural deterrent. Slowly guiding the lever over the clasp, I had to be particularly quiet as my parent's window hung ominously over the gate. If the light turned on, I had to quickly make an ascent back to my room, and the night would be spoiled. As a rule, I would only make one attempt per night. The carefully considered rules of a hopeful romantic who had been grounded, scorned, and familiarized with punishments of the past. Second obstacle averted. I stepped each foot with a deliberate slowness that had to occur at intervals that wouldn’t be representative of the creatures my pup was instinctively set to slay. This phase seemed to take forever. My eyes scanned as my ears perked with vigilance at my pace. Easy Jay...I often coached myself in third person. The second gate was smooth, and I was now at the cusp of the tree line leading myself into the dark forest. Our house growing up backed onto a forest where I spent most of my freedom. I would climb, swing, and scout my way to inspiration, imagination, and the mysteries of a young explorer.
The next forty minutes would be open sprints and combat rolls. Unnecessary combat rolls, that seemed completely essential at the time, every time. The route to my crushes house had been familiarly mapped out over already years of surveying my quickly expanding territory of play as a kid. Ten kilometres later, hurdling through woods and weaving through streets, parks, paths, and construction sites, I finally made it to the window of my sweetheart. She knew I would be arriving around this time if everything went according to etch-a-sketch plan, and with a faint knock, I could hear her scramble to the window.
Once inside her room it was all whispered kisses, and an exchange of thoughtful love letters with the folded intricacies that my dexterity could never quite duplicate. We giggled in a hushed buzz that is forever fused to my memory. Ten minutes felt like hours, but just as quickly as I had arrived; I was off into the night again. The journey home always felt faster with an invigoration that washes its way into an exultant pace. Possibly a skip. I would definitely skip. And laugh like a mad-man, sometimes howling. Arrival home, the ascent to bed was a temporary buzz kill before face-planting bliss. Quietly climbing on the BBQ, hopping with tippy toes on the edge of the fence while grabbing hold of the eavestrough and lifting myself up onto the roof; I sword-stepped it back to my window across the shingles. The face plant left the impression of a smiley face, no doubt.
It was the risk and thoughtfulness that ultimately created deep meaning for both our young hearts. Eat chocolate everyday, smell, pick, or purchase flowers every chance you have, but when it comes to romance get creative and use your imagination.
Reckon the odds and boldly embrace the risk.
Enjoy a closing tune: Young Heart Run Free
"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."