An interdependent world

I read today that some Canadian Inuit musicians are boycotting the Indigenous Music Awards because they think a Cree singer is “culturally appropriating” their music, because she “dabbles” in throat singing ,which is an Inuit thing.

So, within the Indigenous musical community, you can’t be influenced by other Indigenous music. One of their singers says “we don’t need anyone to mimic our songs.”

So much for “imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Oddly, it made me sad to read that. I say oddly, because I don’t follow that music, so it’s not like I care. I don’t even know what throat-singing is.

I thought back to Elvis Presley. He loved black music. Gospel, blues. He was influenced by it, and definitely copied it. In contemporary parlance, he “appropriated” it. BUT - because he made it popular, he opened up a huge market for the blues, all over the world. Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf, B.B. King, and so many more great artists - suddenly they were touring England, Europe, the world. Making way more money. Boogieing with bigger audiences. Changing the face of music.

Everyone won.

But it wouldn’t have happened if those black musicians had blocked him. He was a sweet, sensitive guy. Who knows what would have happened? Might have felt guilt-tripped. Might have gone a different direction. Sung a bunch of corny ballads. Kept it “white”. Fortunately, they were cool, and he got hot, and they all thrived.

Deny others their freedom to create, and inevitably, you lose your own. Your world becomes a prison. Let fear and resentment rule, and you’re putting poison out there, because like it or not, we’re all interconnected.

I Didn't Die At The Appointed Time And Look What Happened Instead

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos. I was told I had a year to live, maybe a year and a half.

Lucky me.

A year and a half. Not much time for a relatively young guy with big plans, a loving wife and a ten year-old daughter. Not enough time, that's for damn sure.

I won't go into all the things that happened next. That's a book, not a blog post. Long story short, six months later, after being bombarded by mega-doses of radiation, having a lung removed, and almost dying three times, I found myself lying in a hospital bed that I'd been in for the better part of five months, thinking that death wouldn't be so bad. I'd had a great run. Lived life doing what I loved. Great friends. Great loves. Fun adventures.

Life sucked now, and didn't look like it was going to get better, so I made my peace with dying.

I was ready to go, but I wasn't suicidal, so I played it passive-aggressive with the Grim Reaper. Threw it in his face: You want me? You're going have to take me.  And you know what happened? Of course you do, because I gave it away in the first sentence, but in case you forgot, don't look up, stay with me -- old man Death turned me down. Rejected me. ME! As an artist you'd think I'd be used to rejection, but no-o-o. Good thing I only have the usual self-esteem issues.

So I hobbled along, on the edge of life, living in limbo, and one day I realized it was four years later, and I hadn’t died. I was getting stronger. I started liking being alive; I felt like I could live another thirty - maybe forty years.

Woo hoo!

And what?

Career was shot. No one lining up to give me a job. (Probably because I wasn't sending out resumés, because how do you explain four years of medically induced limbo?) Uh - I was - uh - in the Slacker Olympics?

So I did what people always say to do:  take stock, identify your marketable skills. Photography - I didn't have the stamina. What else? I knew I was really good at just sitting there, silent and immobile, like a monk, watching life happen outside my window. Did that for four months. Great! I was ideally qualified to be a mannequin in a retail store window. But then, they'd change me right there in full view of mall patrons, and, with all my scars and deformity - no - the world doesn't want to see me naked. Except, maybe some kinky medico-perv, and was I going to settle for a niche market?

I focus-tested other options:  barista - sure, but I need frequent naps; bartender - same as above. Uber - are you kidding? I want someone to drive ME.

It became increasingly obvious that I was only good at one thing - taking pictures, and useless at everything else. So I resorted to my number one time-tested strategy: blind faith. I stopped worrying about it. Stopped thinking about the future. I lived each day. I grew things. I learned to cook. Enjoyed watching my daughter grow up and living life with my wife. Didn't make plans. Didn't think about me.

Then, one day, I remembered an idea I'd had years before. An idea for a book, a novel, a crazy epic fantasy full of magic and adventure. Only problem was I didn't know how to write prose. I knew I could write crap - I'd done lots of that. I'd written screenplays, some had even been optioned, but that's different. That's not putting your shit out there in a book, for people to compare with all those amazing writers, writers whose work I loved, and whom I viewed with awe.

I returned to another time-tested strategy: dithering.  I read a lot of my favourite authors, took a bunch of stabs at writing my idea - delete - delete - delete - crumpled up a lot of paper and pretended I didn't care.

Then, one day, the gods smiled. The stars aligned. I started writing and there were little nuggets of gold gleaming amongst the shite, which was flowing, oh was it flowing. I'd start a sentence, not knowing how it would end, and watch it go somewhere I'd never intended, and loved being surprised. I started wondering, where is this coming from? Why is my head working differently? Why were things occurring to me now that I'd never thought before? It was like a switch was flipped, a tap turned on, a door blown wide open.

Over time, I traced the path back to that day, lying on that hospital bed, making peace with dying and finding freedom. When the foundation of your life breaks apart, voices bubble up and thoughts poke through the cracks, greedy, hungry, demanding attention. Living a life of their own. I can't even take the credit for it - I just stayed out of the way and let it happen.

Fast-forward to now - I'm almost finished with the novel, and after seven years of living a cloistered life, cut off from the world, it's time to connect again. To connect with all of you, the big, crazy world of humans.

That's why I created this website. It's a love letter to photography - a world that I was forced out of by circumstance. The world these shots were made in is gone and yet it remains in these frames, these moments plucked out of the flux of life.

I'm making some new photographs, and I'll post them soon.

I'll let you know when the novel is released too.

I invite you to tune in again.




Nature is a dangerous beauty

We take it for granted, our beautiful world, our dangerous world, a world of chaos in which our weakness and vulnerability are revealed every time Mother Nature decides to shred our masks. Mankind’s efforts to carve order out of chaos have led to technological triumphs, but ironically, those triumphs have created the threats to our climate which can undo everything we’ve created.

Thinking about the most recent warning from the UN’s IPCC, I posted a photograph of moss-draped trees on my home page. It was shot this August, in Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver. It is an homage to living, liquid green in all its glory. As Dylan Thomas brilliantly wrote: “the force that through the green fuse drives…”

I also added a new gallery to the site: Nature.

Every morning I walk in the woods with my dog. I imagine the trees recognize me, their frequent visitor. I touch the bark of their trunks and strain to listen to their voices, but I’m pretty sure all I hear echoing in my head is myself.

Even so, I enjoy the imagined conversation.


Welcome to the Richter Scale

Hello! Thanks for visiting. 

I’m still tweaking this newest version of my website, so you can expect to see new images and posts on a regular basis.

This blog, The Richter Scale, will be my forum for commenting on political & cultural themes - whatever shiny topic floats by, varying with the day, my mood, and what's happening in the world.

Hope you tune in again.

 ~ Karl