Category Archives: Writing

A portfolio of Alexandra’s creative and academic writing.

An Apology

9th July 2013

This is an apology for speaking empty words filled with fabricated feelings. I weighed them recently- all the hundreds and thousands of letters- and realized they were all weightless.

This is an apology for making you believe they were words of gold, spoken by a woman worth enough to speak their riches. I am not. I can’t even pay for a tenth of what those words cost.

This is an apology for believing that loneliness could be sold or traded for something shinier. I made the mistake of buying feelings worth plastic pennies.

This is an apology for thinking that love is a mathematical equation, something that can be bought and sold.

Wondering through disappointment.

30th April 2013

I try to think about it differently.

And when I do, I wonder how you knew and what it feels like to know, and not need to fill gaps of longing with things you estimate will fit.

I wonder if I really miss anything, or if this emptiness is just what I think I should feel. I wonder if I’ll ever be happy, and how someone lets go and trusts and allows themselves to feel- even emptiness and dead air and disappointment.

I think a lot about what it would feel like to love you without making room for feeling let down, or if that would even be loving you at all.

I wonder if I’m the only one who will ever cradle all the disappointment you feel, and take it like I own it too.

Acceptance.

23rd February 2013

ac·cept·ance /akˈseptəns/ noun: The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered

February has been all about acceptance for me. It started by guest posting on Ashley Gibson’s blog for her Life is Sweet month. I opened up about my anxiety and panic disorder, something I had never really done before. This instigated an unexpected set of feelings that I had yet to acknowledge. Partly relief, but mostly sadness that I was writing about myself, that I had to deal with these feelings on a regular basis. Yes, I try and remain positive and yes, my life is sweet and yes I will never let anxiety take away the goals I have set for myself. But have I accepted that I suffer from panic disorder? Hmm…

Panic usually starts in my throat, a lump, waiting to take over my entire body. Sometimes it does. Other times it just sits there, and keeps me waiting in fearful anticipation. What if I have a panic attack and everyone looks at me? What if I can’t breathe? Will anyone help me?

Last Sunday, I was told I need to stop fighting off my panic attacks and instead accept them. I need to stop fearfully anticipating. Anxiety is a part of who I am. In this way, it is somewhat normal. It has become routine to fight off my panic symptoms by tensing up my body in preparation to battle any bad feelings that come my way. Because of this, I end up anticipating attacks, and in this way they become something I fear. What if I try and normalize what happens to me? Accept that I panic, and that I won’t die or stop breathing? Hopefully, they will become something I don’t fear any longer (or as much), and one day forget about altogether.

Last night, Ashley performed her first solo show Life is Sweet Even in February. It was a beautiful, moving tribute to her mom who committed suicide 15 years ago. Though I never knew Ashley’s mom, I sat there knowing she would be proud of the beautiful, inspiring woman Ashley has become.

Ashley shared her soul with us in between the songs she performed (each one was filled with meaning and importance and correlated with the anecdotes she shared). I cried throughout most of it for a variety of reasons, but especially when Ashley began talking about how mental health isn’t talked about enough in our society and how those who are suffering are not alone. For the first time since I was diagnosed, I let myself feel sad about the fact that I have an anxiety disorder. That who Ashley was talking to applied to me. It felt, for the first time, that I had accepted this huge part of what makes me who I am. Oh hey, there’s that acceptance thing again. And I realized- why fight off something that is a part of me right now? Why be fearful of something that maybe isn’t all that scary? Why not be proud? I am proud of who I have become, and without an anxiety disorder, I wouldn’t be that person.

I would never wish a panic attack on anyone, and if asked who would like to never panic again, I would be the first one to yell oh oh pick me! pick me! But the reality is, panic has nestled itself into my life. I can either fear it, or embrace it. I’m choosing to embrace it. I encourage you to do the same, even if you are not personally affected by a mental health issue. I guarantee you know someone who is. By accepting who they are and by acknowledging this aspect of their being, you are helping them do the same.

Last night, Ashley accepted and acknowledged more than just those 50 people who were in the audience; she celebrated the millions that are affected by mental illness today. She also reminded everyone that acceptance is a beautiful thing. Acceptance gives you the ability to turn something negative, into something positive. I am eternally grateful to her for that reminder.

Guest bloggers will continue to post about their experiences with mental health issues until the 28th of February on Ashley’s blog.

The Falling Man.

18th January 2013

Journalism has opened my eyes to the diversity of people’s stories, passions, struggles and heartaches. In 2012 I interviewed journalists, a social worker, youth, immigrants, professors, a city council member and a television director. Each of them offered me something; some, words of wisdom and others a part of themselves. It has been immensely rewarding to tell the stories of others through words or photographs and my world view has expanded in ways I never thought possible; I have absorbed so many different stories and perspectives.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of 2012 came from the recognition of the simple similarity between my subjects: humanity. What may seem to separate us from one another often has the potential to bring us together, and I believe that is what good journalism does. Journalism that focuses on the human aspect of a story can leave us feeling something. Even better journalism turns this feeling into action, and this is where I see journalism as a tool to create social change. My belief was only affirmed after writing a final paper for Journalism Law and Ethics class last month.

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The Falling Man, Richard Drew, 2001

My paper focused on photojournalism and the ethics that surround publishing photos that capture people moments before death. I chose to focus on The Falling Man captured by Richard Drew on September 11 2001. Drew’s photograph has become one of the most iconic images of 9/11 and also one of the most controversial.

There is something eerily graceful about Drew’s photograph that captures a man jumping from the top floors of the North Tower. He falls upside down in a straight line, one leg tucked beneath his knee. Like all photographs, it captures a precise moment in time. But what separates it from all the others is it refuses the option to ignore what is beyond that moment. The Falling Man takes viewers outside the photo’s rectangular frame to a place they may not want to go. It is, after all, a portrait of a man who has unwillingly chosen to die.

A week after this photograph was published, The Globe and Mail assigned journalist Peter Cheney to identify the falling man. His article The life and death of Norberto Hernandez was published on September 22 2001. It tells the story of Hernandez’s life, after Cheney met a woman in New York who believed the falling man was her brother.

I had the privilege of speaking to Peter Cheney last month. Cheney, who spent 25 years as a feature writer, has won many awards including three National Newspaper awards for investigative and foreign reporting. He is now a national driving columnist for The Globe and Mail. I was embarrassingly excited (and nervous) to talk with Cheney, but he ended up giving me advice that I know I will carry with me throughout my career.

After The life and death of Norberto Hernandez was published, Cheney fell under criticism for “identifying” the falling man but it is important to note that he does not once says it is Hernandez in the photo. Instead, he reported, as any good journalist would, the views and beliefs of his subjects. A number of outlets followed with stories. In 2008, CBC produced the documentary 9/11: The Falling Man and in 2009, Tom Junod published The Falling Man in Esquire Magazine. Both focused on identifying the falling man.

napalm_kim_phuc

Nick Ut, 1972

After my conversation with Cheney, I realized that many were missing the point of his story. It was never about identifying the falling man. This picture, like so many others (Eddie Adams’ photo of the execution of a Viet Cong Prisoner and Kevin Carter’s photo of the vulture and starving child, for example) are meant to provoke response and make such a horrific event seem real. Whether the falling man is Hernandez or not, Cheney’s story celebrated his life and shed light on the struggles his family experienced after 9/11.

Cheney agreed that photographs such as The Falling Man may be exploitative.  But he also believes some journalism can be justified. He uses the example of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Nick Ut, who captured a girl running from an attack during the Vietnam War. Her clothes have been burned off by acid, and she runs screaming and naked towards the camera. Cheney found the girl in the photo, Kim-Phuc, living in Toronto and wrote a story about her (Vietnam photo girl Kim now ‘smiles all the time’ But she still remembers pain) for the Toronto Star

“Is that picture an invasion of her privacy? Yes it is,” Cheney said. “But that picture changed the course of history. All of a sudden people understood why the war in Vietnam should end…that picture of her changed the world, so it was worth running.”

The editors that ran the photo of The Falling Man recognized its ethical purpose of encapsulating the horror of 9/11 for the rest of the world, and for the generations to come who were not there to witness it. Those hearing of September 11 for the first time will stumble across The Falling Man and be forced to face something much more impactful than words in a textbook. They will be faced with a moment in history of utmost grief and devastation, one that impacted too many lives to be forgotten.

And they won’t only see this grief, but they will also feel it.