During a reunion trip with some close friends from grad school earlier this spring, we visited a Mexican- American horse farm in Napa Family. My friend’s Mexican-American family have deep roots in Napa since the 1950s. Her aunt and uncle own the horse farm. We spent the warm evening travelling over just a few of the hundreds of acres they own, drinking Napa wine, visiting some of the horses that freely roam the land, and eating a lovely homemade dinner while Motown music played in the background.

The ranch felt like a setting in Like Water for Chocolate (1989). Without the hum of city lights or urban noise infiltrating our ears, we almost felt cocooned by the valley’s intimacy and preserved in a state of the calm, soothing Americananess that once attracted immigrant families to the United States’ northern California countryside.

 

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Motherhood: Life After Cancer from Rose D’souza on Vimeo.

Meet Trisha and her 22-month-old daughter, Kiyanna. Trisha is learning to be a parent without her own parents guiding her. She lost her mother and father to cancer by the time she was 25 years old and with a newborn child. Her laughter is infectious; her spirit is inspiring.

Toronto’s Gardiner Museum opens its clay studio to the public for drop-in classes a few times a week. Participants can use a potter’s wheel or sit at tables to build something creative out of clay.

I joined a friend for Friday evening’s session, which included a wide range of participants from couples on a date night to friends hanging out to parents and children spending time together. The studio was very small, which made it difficult to take pictures since I was constantly in someone’s way (sorry!) but it was a great experience trying to capture fast movement in a tight space.

Side note: later that evening I participated in a lively discussion over dinner on the pros and cons of living in the city versus the suburbs. Some friends said they prefer raising their future families in the suburbs where they have more space, green grass, and are part of a community. However, I’d argue that you can easily enjoy the same lifestyle in an urban setting. The Gardiner Museum is right off a subway exit. Across the street, you can visit the Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto’s scenic campus, or walk down to Ontario’s provincial parliament building at Queen’s Park. Around the corner of the Gardiner Museum, you can eat at restaurants serving a variety of cultural dishes.

Cultural and creativity are all around.

Urban spaces allow residents to interact with each other more often than the suburbs because of the walkability factor. By walking instead of driving to the grocery store for a bag of milk, you may interact with the people you pass by (whether it’s a brief hello or a quick chat with a neighbour).

Suburbanism gives rise to individualism – you tend to be isolated in your car because you need to drive everywhere. Suburbanism also subscribes to the dated idea that you must own a patch of green grass so your children can play in the yard. But people can just as easily access public resources such as city parks, hockey rinks, swimming pools, and community centers. I spent many childhood summers in Toronto’s swimming pools and parks instead of my parents’ fenced off backyard.

That said, everyone has a different opinion of the kind of lifestyle that best suits their needs and desires, which should certainly be respected. I, however, enjoy the opportunity to walk to and use the city’s rich cultural resources. Perhaps that’s the Yatesian emerging from within me. (Maybe it’s just me but Revolutionary Road is the best scare tactic against suburbanism.)

Sometimes I feel like I run on top of Toronto since my office is located in the heart of the city and the building has a penthouse gym. From the north side, you can workout while watching traffic snake along a major city artery: University Avenue. From the south side, the view is not yet obstructed by tall condos or cranes so you can see the Art Gallery of Ontario and the stretch of Dundas that fades deep into the city’s west end.

Funny enough, I had not considered these views when I took pictures of Leigh, a co-worker and dancer. I also had not considered the difficulty of capturing movement as the light kept changing because of the glowing sunset. But I enjoyed trying to frame the angles of her flexible body twisting and turning into positions, especially against the static backdrop of the CN tower.

Here’s “Leigh, Made of Light.”

I love personal essays because they give readers a chance to glimpse into another person’s life and help change the discourse of “us versus them” and otherness into “we” and inclusion. Most often, personal essays help us learn from another’s mistake without the sanctimonious, preachy tone of self-help books or Malcolm Gladwellian essays.

I have a growing library of essay collections and autobiographies from the likes of Joan Didion, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Sherman Alexie, and Gary Shteyngart, all whom share their often painful experiences using humour and touching anecdotes. However, I’m also drawn to storytelling from authors who do not necessarily have the same talent with a pen but having the willingness to share their experiences – good or bad – as a cathartic measure that we may also benefit from through appreciated insight. We all have baggage.

The New York Times‘ Modern Love column is one of my favourite collections of personal essays on, what else, love. Readers (who tend to be mostly established writers) are invited to contribute stories on the different kinds of love they’ve experienced in their lives. As column editor Daniel Jones explores the rich selection of essays he’s edited over the decade in his new book, Love Illuminated, here are some of my favourite stories:

Do not Adjust Your Screen or Sound

A daughter hesitantly builds a relationship with her ailing father after years of constant disappointment.

A Housecleaning That Swept Out the Ashes of My Marriage

On finding the power to move on after a painful, devastating divorce.

Our Story Ended With a Slow Fade to Black

On finally finding love but losing a spouse to a rare brain cancer.

My Triplets Were Inseparable, Whatever the Risks

An expectant mom considers carrying twins instead of triplets because of serious health implications.

A Wedding Invitation for a Mom Long Gone

A bride-to-be feels the loss of her mom as she plans her wedding.

It Took a Villain to Save Our Marriage

A married couple going through a rough period bond over their shared dislike for an obnoxious neighbour.

My Back-Seat View of a Great Romance

As a young woman analyzes the pseudo-relationship she’s in, she witnesses the start of a forbidden romance in a foreign country.

Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear

A wife patiently supports her husband as he goes through a midlife crisis and contemplates divorce.

Sharing the Shame After My Arrest

A heartbroken wife learns to rebuild her life after getting arrested by the F.B.I. for a crime her husband committed.

Picking Up the Scent on the Road to Bliss

After many failed relationships, a wife finds a new appreciation for her husband through their shared love for dogs.

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Sights and sounds around the tourist town during the holidays in December 2013.

black+white (people):

colour (people):

colour (fauna+critters):

I’m a non-believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I plan to work on shooting in manual and getting cleaner, less blurry shots in 2014 despite increasingly poor eyesight. Open to tips so please feel free to email me.

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