Radio Silence

As some may be aware, I will soon be embarking on the next step of my educational career as one chapter comes to a close. That chapter, of course, being my M.Res. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, the dissertation for which I am currently in the process of wrapping up.

And as of this moment, I have felt some admitted reticence to write — on top of the frank inability to do so due to the overriding domination of my research, the political climate of the world, it seems, is in total upheaval, and there is so much which needs to be said, and not enough people listening to what is being said.

So as I have sat, between piles of notes and books and drafts of my dissertation, self-conscious of my evolving writing style, forever tempered with the sometimes – direct tonality of academic discourse, it has been, admittedly, hard to pick up on the backlog of forty-plus projects which I have had to neglect for the sake of my postgraduate, or Master’s degree.

Beyond this, I have reached the point in my progression as an [person-who-feels-she-is-yet-undeserving-of-the-titles-‘artist’-and-‘writer’], where, despite this, I would like to begin pursuing more formal avenues of publication, leaving me hesitant to ‘pre-release’ work in this very public, digital atmosphere.

But this does not change my affinity for WordPress or for the community fostered here, so at this time, I have decided upon the following solution both for my own edification and such that I may continue interacting with the wonderful folks I have been lucky enough to digitally meet here.

Photography and writing are the reasons I get up in the morning. Every week, I take thousands upon thousands of photographs, travel to various locations with the intent to photograph and write, and scribble two-in-the-morning thoughts on bedside napkins or carry out menus. Every week, the people who interact with me tolerate this forgivingly. A fusion of the two has always been the point upon which my work and my life pivot, and a balance between both is what I desire in the release of that work. As I proceed in my professional career, I want WordPress to remain an enjoyable avenue where readers can view that balance, comment on the thoughts it hopefully inspired, and interact with me.

For this reason, going forward, I will begin sharing more of my photography — and accompanying prose — for the majority of my posts. This does not preclude my inclusion of the occasional reflective piece, story, or notification of some work being published elsewhere — all of which I will continue to feature as well — but for the sake of interacting with this community as much as I used to (and because I enjoy it), I think it is time to feature the other side of my life much more heavily, as I intend it as well to be the cornerstone of my MFA thesis, and hopefully, further academic research in years to come.

I send thanks to the WordPress community and greatly look forward to sharing more of my work in the months and years to come!

(The current featured photograph for this post features a wave crashing on the shores of Traigh Ghearadha, or Garry Beach, in New Tolsta, on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland — roughly equal in latitude to the very North of Newfoundland in Canada.)

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Wednesday at the Louvre: On Paying Respects

While in Paris recently, practising my own art and photographing the city, I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The pilgrimage I had anticipated as an eager six-year-old proved the closest I have yet come to the documented neuro-chemical feelings typically attributed to religious experience (and is, hopefully, the last time I have an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment in a public place for a while).
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We recognise these iconic glass pyramids and think of culture, of mastery, and perhaps, even, of perfection in the field. We see their reflection, itself an impressionist image glittering on the surface of now-calmer metaphoric waters, and in it, the sins of the historically-elitist ‘Academie’ are more easily distorted, or even washed away, hiding in folded curtains of water (perhaps, themselves, so becoming art).

It was fated that the days of Van Gogh would see him misunderstood and rejected by the very same community which would one day study and celebrate him perhaps above all others. Of Da Vinci, to be persecuted on the grounds of Christian morality — of Caravaggio, to be skewered for boisterous recklessness — and of countless other artists’, whose work is not displayed on the more heavily-trafficked floors, their names all but lost to history, eroded from the stone — and for thousands of others, their work to become the dirt beneath our cities, our towns, and our streets, where dust settles on them even now.

It is they to whom I sought to pay my respects, poring over paintings and sculpture and textile for hours, wandering endless rooms filled with art, in a graveyard as much as in a dream. It remains our duty to the global art community to remember them — all of them — through our current actions, as much as it is in our best interest and the best interest of our children (viz. our young students) to examine the works of the masters in our museums.

Buy local art. Encourage others and yourself to enjoy and explore expression: it is here we will find our voice in history. Pay attention to the art made by the artists from lesser-acknowledged communities, because those long-dead masters won’t benefit from your belated respect and adoration… They will.

 

“We’re Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time”

This week, my grandfather, Dr. Ronald T. Abbott passed away. He earned his medical degree at the University of Glasgow, and his father, Dr. Sydney Gilchrist Abbott, earned his veterinary degree at Glasgow Veterinary College (which would later become part of the University). As a young man, Grandpa loved fast cars, his country, beautiful women, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, and dogs. As an older man, he loved fast cars, his country, alcohol, bathroom and absurdist humour, his dogs, and a beautiful, tender and kind lady who cared for him until his last.

Ronnie B & W 1956.jpgGrandpa was a rabble-rouser, an adventurer, and was always busy with a new object of his focus and affection, motorized or otherwise. At twelve, I heard about his adventures riding his motorcycle from Iowa to Tierra del Fuego, at fifteen, of his adventures to Alaska and close encounters with bears. At twenty, he sent a short story about the time he mistook a brothel somewhere in the wilds of Mexico for a hotel. And no, he did not speak Spanish. Throughout those years, he had a habit of showing up out of the blue (usually in a different car each time), waltzing in with a belch, a smile, and a “hi, Dearie!”, typically in that order. Seeing him was never boring and was frequently a delightful break from ordinary days.

He was, at times, an abrasive man, but was a man who thought clearly with an evident sense of charisma and confidence which carried him through life effortlessly — going through a reported approximated eighty sports cars in five years in addition to airplanes, dogs, and motorcycles. The impeccable Scottish brogue didn’t hurt either.

At the peak of his medical career, his personal choices, career, and life path often took him away from the responsibilities fathers often encounter at bedtime — checking for ghosts in the shadows, reading, and telling bedtime stories — but my own father was never less grateful for the happy times they did share despite. I would ask that he tell them, in all hilarious detail, over and over as I lay down to sleep on nights when my mother was teaching a late class at a local University. Dad would always repeat the same ones.

I would beg for more stories of this ultimate reckless adventurer-leader — camping in Yellowstone and hearing the dogs fighting with bears as the camper rocked my father and his brother, being stalked through the woods, fishing for dinner, and my Dad, riding motorcycles across the great plains with his .22, being chased by bulls — but would, more often than not, come up empty. There was a finite supply of stories to tell, and I had heard all of the ones my father wanted me to hear. I wanted desperately to have these adventures — the three of us — on our own. Grandpa was an easy character to idolise.
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But Grandpa was still busy ticking things off the list of adventures to have, and I respected that. My father painted him as a character in a story book — Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows was a favorite parallel, always looking for another wild ride and always captivated by the sights, sounds, and smells of a clean engine. I came to admire and adore this feature of him — for his absence was in fact a distant presence as this character, off to seek more stories, and I learned early to appreciate this from a distance.

But where Grandpa was still busy with his adventures, others filled the void. A wonderful neighbour, Professor Kent Newmyer, came into our lives, and is always there to listen and share stories (he will probably never know how much this means to me).  My father gave up his own adventures (of which there were many) to check for ghosts in the shadows of my room, read bedtime stories, teach me to whittle, to work on cars, and take me fishing or to the flea market.  I dreamt up adventures of my own. And Grandpa was still there, too — a character to admire and adore.

The night he passed away, the streets of Glasgow were eerily vacant as if bereft of the normally-lively spirit of the population. All the pubs were empty but one, appearing equally sombre from the outside, in which an impromptu, ten-piece fiddle and cello band enjoyed some drinks while playing a lively melody to what seemed the entire population of the city. I couldn’t have known, but as he passed, I sat in that Glaswegian Whisky bar and knocked a few scotches back with an elderly, politely-vulgar Glaswegian man (with certain disdain for the English) with whom I spoke for hours about politics, culture, and current events. I thanked him for his time. I explained that Grandpa was passing and how much a simple conversation meant. We talked and laughed until the bar spilled onto the streets and bequeathed back to Glasgow the fervor it had been missing.

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I was his first-born grandchild, and I will forever respect him for the gifts he gave to the people I love and cherish: humour, adventure, and a love for the parts of life a Glaswegian cab driver named Stevie best described when he once told me “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”.

Whether right or wrong, we often pursue things in life to seek the pride of those we love, or to otherwise fill the spaces which are, to some extent, unfilled either due to our own flaws or the flaws of the characters in our lives. In seeking the adventures I have seen thus far, I hope only to have achieved the pride of my Father, for everything he has sacrificed, so that I may pursue my own ‘Miss Toad’s’ adventure.

So, if you partake, knock one back tonight for the man who in is part responsible for my globe-trodding — and if you don’t, picture my Grandfather staring at you, belching, and bluntly asking “Why not?” in perfect Scottish brogue.

 

A Mother’s Word

When I was twenty one, still living with my parents, I went through a long-time-coming (and long overdue) breakup. It was the second time I had been through the same thing with the same person (shame on me, and the reason I almost never talk about it). At two in the morning, I lay crying on the bathroom floor, surrounded by mascara-covered tissues and near-four-year-old memories, thoughts of “the other woman” in my head. My Mother came downstairs, half-asleep, hair crazy, and sat beside me. She let me cry for exactly two minutes, then said, very sternly: “Caroline, that’s enough. Get up. You’re not letting him do this to you.”

The years that followed from that point saw me put my life back on the track it should have been on all along. A couple short years later, I (finally) finished my undergraduate degree and off I went, as many children eventually do. There are many more moments along the way that mark the sting of change and discomfort of successes and failures which I shared with her, more personally than anyone.

I don’t share details of my personal life often (I’m getting better at this one, much to the world’s chagrin, I’m sure), but the snapshots of intimacy between mother and daughter so often happen within microcosmic moments, and all too often in the context of a lesson.

Almost five years later, nearly two degrees and one on the way (and all the important things which aren’t that quantifiable), I’m everything I am because she always made me get back up. Even when I didn’t want to.

So, Happy [American] Mother’s Day to all of the mothers raising children to be strong, resilient, loving, and kind (and to the fathers doing the same in their place). Your work is the most important work: you have the love of the world today and its admiration always.

To my own mother, the biggest troublemaker and the strongest woman I know, I wouldn’t be a grown up if it hadn’t been for you. And being a grown up means I get to spoil you from faraway lands. Thank you for all you do for me and for all of the young lives you touch every day: for being there, at whatever hour.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Ashes to Ashes

In recent hometown news, a near-hundred-year-old barn on the UConn campus was claimed by a three alarm fire. Built in 1922 and elegantly framing the walk near the UConn Dairy Bar, a favourite spot for locals and students alike (well, locals only when the students are gone…), the barn, and the others like it, was a significant part of my childhood. Other structures on campus of similar age and historic value have stood in significant symbolism for as long as I can remember, others, iconic of the University itself, including the Farwell-Jacobsen Barn which sits atop Horsebarn Hill Road.

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Fall Foliage, Horsebarn Hill, Storrs, Connecticut 2014

As a child, my Father and I would walk the family dog among the fields which framed it. My Mother, Grandmother, and I would frequent the Diary Bar in the summer (again, when the students were mostly gone), walking in its shade and admiring its window boxes. A couple of meaningful dates. A few close encounters. A first meeting. Several breakdowns in its midst. And, of course, many more happy times, befriending local barn cats and admiring bunnies which scurried into fields alongside.

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Window Box, UConn Dairy Bar Ag. Maintenance Barn, Storrs, Connecticut, Summer 2016

I have come to understand that home will change, particularly when the place I call home geographically is itself the same town as a University seemingly keen to build new things every month, but I digress. It seems at times the Universe has ways of reminding us when to close one chapter and begin the next. Its demise is a timely contradiction to University expansion which reaches for the sky more each month.

It often feels that people in Great Britain imagine New England, and even more specifically, Connecticut, to be pastoral havens for eccentricity framed with colourful leaves and wisps of snow once in a while, often forgetting some of the persistent issues the region faces. Barn fires, in particular, have ravaged property in the region since its settlement. It is always a tragedy, and in this case, the only fortunate thing was a lack of damage to livestock, animal, and human life.

I photographed the barn (and other parts of my hometown) when I was visiting my parents this summer and choose to remember it in the state which I saw it in then, rather than the image of a ruinous pile of ashes, embers, and general decrepitude which is circulating the internet today.

I would ask anyone who hears of the fire or also has memories of the barn and location as it stood to remember it always as a peaceful and beautiful complement to the town, and most importantly, to actively consider the other iconic places in life which we all too often overlook. Connecticut stereotypes are true at least about one thing: our communities and neighbourhoods are often strong (especially in the Quiet Corner), and I know all of my neighbours are rallying around each other.

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Top of Horsebarn Hill, Storrs, Connecticut, 2010

 

Some Good News

Excited to share some very happy news with family and friends… I have accepted a scholarship offer from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Creative Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where I will concentrate in Nonfiction beginning in the Fall of 2017.

The opportunity to earn a terminal degree from an institution which has been a consistent advocate for women’s education is a privilege, and I am so grateful for the support I have received as I have worked towards this goal for the last three years. 

This does not signal the abandonment of the research career I began at the University of Glasgow, and certainly not a divorce from journalism. But for now I have chosen to pursue a terminal degree in writing prior to considering doctoral study or other endeavours.

The programme is, uniquely, heavily centred on using writing as a way to give back to society, and I look forward immensely to all of the learning opportunities this will afford. Further, the willingness to incorporate academic intersectionality into graduate study which Sarah Lawrence is acclaimed for in its undergraduate programme fosters a learning environment I feel my work will have a place in. I am excited to get to work in the Fall and very much appreciate the support and feedback I have received over the last two years.

On to the next adventure!

 

“Generation Gap” – A Snapshot of Grief and Remembrance in the Digital Age

We live in an age where documentation of our most painful, precious, and pernicious “life events” (Facebook pun very much intended) is a tap away. The selfie has found an interesting place in cultural context in terms of memorialization. But how is it changing the way we express grief, respect, and demonstrations of remembrance publicly?

I recently visited Westminster bridge to document Londoners (and tourists) paying their respects to the recently-fallen victims of the terror attack at Westminster which claimed the lives of three victims. While London has made quite the comeback, which I covered in a recent photoessay featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine, it has also made a vested effort in displaying its support for the fallen and for the community’s togetherness in the wake of terror.

Flowers adorn the bridge at every lamppost, notes of encouragement and solidarity, love and oneness abound. On Parliament Square, bouquets of flowers lie in pristine rows, still wrapped in cellophane, stretching the length of the green.

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As I watched the young ladies on the left snap shots of the flowers, of each other, and seemingly quip back and forth about the “where-to” next, their backs turned to the flowers with the occasional exception made for a picture of the daffodils, the comparably-late middle aged woman on the right approached.

IMG_5266 (2).jpgQuietly, no digital device in hand, she placed her hand on the bridge in silence, remaining there for minutes on end, undeterred. It was unclear on whether or not they were a party at first, but as the young ladies made their way off into the distance after their photo-lust had been sated, I watched the older woman walk to nearly each and every lamppost on the bridge, pausing before each and every one.

There she stood for minutes on end, watching nothing but the flowers, absorbed in thoughts and, presumably, in silence for the remembrance of the fallen. Her sombre expression to me implied that she felt deeply for these people, and that in her pausing, she had expressed more condolence for these people than had a thousand selfie-takers combined.

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She persisted.

Everywhere, people stop to take pictures — because it’s London, and that’s what people do here and everywhere else. Photos of the buildings, photos of each other in front of the buildings, photos of the memorials (some by professional-grade photographers and others, novices). But many of those stopping for the “selfie” in front of the pop-up memorial locations represented an indiscriminately younger demographic, leaving out no minority from its midst, with middle-aged and elderly patrons pausing alongside the rows of flowers lying like bodies, or lamppost pediments adorned with flora to hang their heads and comment on the notes and sentiments left with more depth.

This raises some interesting questions, questions which, I acknowledge, are not “new” in terms of artists’ representations of this issue, with a recent “Yolocaust” project, which photoshops devastating photographs of the holocaust into the background of selfies taken at Holocaust memorial sites garnering important media attention.

It is an acknowledged fact that taking a “selfie” at a place meant to permanently memorialise an act of terror or atrocity can be considered gauche. But what does the tendency of some members of the younger generations to do so say about our increasingly-digitised culture?

But as a temporary memorial, and at that, a memorial which holds the purpose of unifying people and bringing a shaken community together, does this site hold a different social protocol?In this case, is the fact that these impermanent places of memorialization intend to represent normalcy, in a way — an exception to the unspoken rules of digital society? Does the selfie, in this case, inspire unity and respect the fallen, providing an opportunity for solidarity and strength?

Or potentially, has a faction of digital culture approached a need for self-glorification so desperate that the need to prove their patronage to sites meant for remembrance bears with it a social standard for the “selfie”‘s inclusion? Its intent, arguably to prove the selflessness of the attendee as users of social media sites enshrine themselves and glorify their lives at an increasing rate, arguably accomplishes just the opposite by shouting into the digital void for validation of altruism in a social forum.

I feel I am yet undeserving of the titles which culturally most accurately describe my professional inclinations: “researcher”, “writer”, “photographer”, “journalist”, “artist” — I do not believe I will ever feel comfortable with these titles, and so by those standards, am a part of the crowd. But as someone who fits, at least, the intent behind each of those titles, I acknowledge it would be hypocritical of me to address the actions of others when I, too, am behind a lens (and have taken photos of myself paying respects to my family’s graves since it is somewhat of a tradition). I believe firmly, that whenever photographing or otherwise documenting a cultural happening of any variety, it is ethically important to take a photograph for face value as much as it is important to take it for the thousand words it imbues; that is to say, that we can know little context beyond what is absorbed by the photographer and writer,  and all of what we can know by making our own assumptions and seeking the answers to our own questions.

Beyond this, I feel it is most critical that, like time spent in nature, only footprints are left at a scene of still-healing pain, and that in taking an image, and so capturing it forever, sometimes unaware of the audience it will be exposed to, photographers, writers, and artists take time to pay their respects in a non-digital way. A journalist’s job is to reveal the truth. A photographer’s job is to capture a piece of time. An artist trades in feeling, and a writer, often, in pain and pleasure. Our job as human beings of this age is to approach all things asking questions, internally processing always, wondering how we can improve ourselves as members of society.

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“Love Still Lives in London” Photoessay Featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine

My recent photoessay, focusing on the rapid rebound to normalcy in London in the wake of the recent terror attack and the city’s refusal to allow hate to win, has been published by Edge of Humanity Magazine, a site featuring journalism, nonfiction writing, photography, art, music, poetry, and more.

The photographs and reflection, which focus in and around Kensington Gardens in London, aim to convey the love and gaiety in the air as life carries on here in the wake of the attack. London has not missed a beat and, importantly, refuses to allow the differences to divide the city. Rather, diversity is a cornerstone, celebrated, and culturally essential component of life here for which I am very thankful. I am hopeful that, in Edge of Humanity’s feature of this project, the inclusivity which London in many ways has embodied in the wake of this act of terror will serve as an example of what I feel to be the correct moral response to acts of hate: that is, to love.

Edge of Humanity is a wonderful publication with a diverse count of very impactful stories, and I am so grateful to have contributed again. I have been overwhelmed by the positive responses from my other recent features with the Magazine, ‘How Van Met Phyllis‘, and ‘At the Edge of the World‘, and I would like to thank all of the folks who have taken the time to view / read my work. Please browse some of the articles featured on the site — though, in the hope of providing fair warning, it will quickly become an addiction!

Love Still Lives in London – Photoessay

In the wake of the eighty-two second terror attack last week which devastated the city, London reacted the English way — by keeping calm, and carrying on. I was in London at the time of the attack, but as little as four miles away in Kensington, the city was still as alive as ever.

Shows of solidarity were poignant and well-timed in the days to follow the attack, and throughout, the city rebounded quickly: marching forth with daily life in the traditional, no-nonsense London style.

Weekends are taken very seriously in London, and given the slower pace of the requisite two-day-window of relative respite at the close of what had been a trying and painful week, I half expected the city to be a little more morose, taking the time to lick its wounds. But by the weekend, the pleasant Spring-like weather had drawn all of London out into the city to enjoy — specifically, Kensington Gardens, where I focused my lens this week. I wanted the photos to prove that life had not stopped here, had not dulled, and most critically — that hate had not won in London, with photos of the park’s patrons enjoying their weekend unafraid and in love with the changing seasons.

As one of the most pristine neighbourhoods of the city, Kensington is, of course, an idealised portrait of life here — and with so much going for it, it draws a varied crowd representative precisely of the multiculturalism which fuels the economy and culture here. Kensington Palace and Gardens are ever a hub of different faces.

This weekend, love was alive here, never stopping, ceasing, or fearing. Couples of every orientation strolled through the park, unashamedly holding hands and without fear, children flew kites and fed ducks the bread they really shouldn’t be eating, women in burkas and saris strolled alongside Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tourists. Businessmen cut loose to jog through the park, students read, and young boys and girls played football (one, hitting me once by “mistake”, and subsequently shocked when I passed the ball back to him). Friends laughed as they failed — miserably, might I add — at rowing the rental row-boats, families picnicked, Kensington’s feral parakeets chirped and swooped down into crowds of onlookers, perching on hands of all colours, hoping for a free, fruity meal from apples held within. At least for two days, in Kensington, London was a portrait of multicultural success.

The seasons march along here as does the pace of life, and as in nature there are no ideals. London bears its own battles against the tumult and sin of intercultural bias and prejudice, but on the whole, is on the up-and-up in the brightest way possible after a trying and painful week, demonstrating resilience and the long-living cohesive fire of the British Empire.

London is a well-oiled economic machine which runs on intellect and trades in quick-thinking transactions of thought itself, with little time to be slowed by anything which might suggest taking more time than would a cup of tea. Love has won in London.

“How Van Met Phyllis” – Piece Featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine

I am excited to share the release of my second featured piece with Edge of Humanity Magazine, a website specialising in photoessay, documentary photography, investigative cultural journalism, and memoir. As the second installment of an ongoing memoir and photography project, I visited Curley’s Diner in Stamford, Connecticut — where my maternal grandparents met in 1948 — to explore their love story, and in the process, explored the diner’s historic past and cross-cultural significance to more families than just my own.

This is a much more personal project than I am used to sharing and I’m honoured to have it receive such audience. I am so grateful for the amount of love I have received as a result of this story and send big thanks to everyone who takes the time to give my work a read, keep up with and / or interact with me, and of course, to Edge of Humanity for the work they do to give writers and photographers such a suitable and honourable platform.

Read more about The Ruby Slipper Project here and be sure to check out Edge of Humanity for some incredible articles, photoessays, and much more. To read the original blog post, click here.