Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

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History in our hands

Recently I set up my computer so that rather than a static desktop background, it shuffles through the photos in my scenery album. I should mention that I’ve got photos going back to 2007 on my hard drive – and yes, I’ve got them backed up – when I got my first digital camera, which was a Polaroid PDC 2030. I’ve upgraded since then and now use a Canon DSLR, or my phone if I don’t have the Canon.

Earlier tonight, I was staring at the screen while the microwave warmed my coffee and I realized something I hadn’t thought of before. As I said, I’ve got it set on shuffle so the photos are in random order, or as random as a computer can make them, and some images came up and I said to my cat (who wasn’t listening as usual) “Well, I’ll never be able to take that shot again because that location doesn’t exist.”

If, like me, you enjoy taking photos of scenery, either in your own area or on trips, you too may have images of sites that are no longer there in the same condition they were when you captured their likeness. The current header photo is a good example of that. Two months after I took this shot, a pedestrian bridge was erected across the creek and effectively cut the photo in two, destroying the peaceful scene. And I have other examples as well of places that have been significantly altered by “progress” since I took my shot.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious photographer or just a casual shutterbug, you could have photos of historic significance on your hard drive, or in a box somewhere.

A few years ago, I had a showing at the local library. This show, titled “Listen to the Preacher Man”, consisted of photographs of various churches in southern Durham Region. At the end of the week long show, I asked the head of the historical department of the library if she wanted any of those photos for her files. Of the twelve I’d had on display, she took nine that showed places of worship in Pickering and a part of Ajax called Pickering Village (the original “Pickering”). Suggestion: if you have photos of buildings or areas in the municipality in which you live that no longer exist or have been altered, consider asking the historical department of your local library if they’d like copies. If they accept, while you might not get paid for them, you may be able to negotiate a price for a tax receipt. And, it also means you won’t have to store them any longer.

In the meantime, keep taking those photos and remember to hug an artist, no matter what medium they choose for they need love too. And also – smile for the camera.

Cat.

Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Be aware of your surroundings -always (addendum)

A friend who read “Beware of your surroundings – always” suggested this addition: You also have to be careful with whom you speak. What you may consider a casual
conversation could be given a deeper meaning by them.

Say you’re waiting in line somewhere and the person behind you makes a comment about the speed with which the line isn’t moving. You turn around to answer, but before you do, you quickly size them up. If they seem “odd” to you, trust your instincts and say nothing. They may impart a deeper meaning to that flippant comment you had ready. I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to anyone, or smile at people, just be aware that your innocent actions could have unwanted consequences.

When dealing with strangers, trust you instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t because, let’s be honest here – not everyone is as mentally stable as you or I.

Be careful out there.

Cat.

Be aware of your surroundings – always

I haven’t posted this in a couple of years and with spring (in theory) upon us, I think it bears repeating, this time with a new title. This is the time of year we begin to shed our bulky winter clothing and by doing so, we may attract unwanted attention.

Over about the past six months I’ve twice posted “Don’t think you’re safe”, about being safe. A friend, who has read that piece, suggested I post it every four to six months just to remind people, not just women, to be aware of their surroundings. Like me, she is a photographer, so is constantly looking around for scenes to capture with her lens, but she has told me that after reading that posting, she feels she is now also more aware of things that may affect her personal safety. I like her idea but feel that posting the same thing over and over will cause it to lose its effectiveness.

Summer is fast approaching, which means we’ll all be spending more time outside, with our bulky winter coats but a memory. Keep in mind that no matter what you look like, there is bound to be someone who finds you attractive. I’m 5 11″, usually in heels which boost me well above six feet, and transgender. That did not stop someone who found me attractive from stalking me for at least two years. Keep in mind that if you see the same person twice in the same location you’re in, it could be coincidence. Three times or more could be stalking. And no, I don’t mean your usual cab driver – I mean strangers. If you think you’re being followed or stalked, take that person’s picture. As I wrote above, I’m a photographer so usually have a camera with me, but most cell phones have very good cameras as well. Don’t be afraid to use it. Often the fact you’ve photographed them will be enough to discourage them. If that doesn’t work, go to the police.

Something else to consider. If you think or feel you’re being followed, use reflections in car windows or mirrors or store windows to check behind you or watch your shadows. If the sun, or a streetlight, is behind you it will cast a shadow before you. Use that shadow to determine if someone is closing in on you.

To borrow what became the catchphrase from “Hill Street Blues”, “be careful out there.

Cat.

Word pictures

A friend told me she thought I could create equally vivid images with both my pen and my camera.  The header photo is an example of my photographic efforts.  Below is an example of my writing abilities – how a town was founded.  This has been extracted from a piece I’m working on. I’d appreciate feedback and comments on this.  Thanks.

After taking a sip of my drink, I said to him  “Yesterday you said you’ve been coming into the pharmacy for fifty years.  Could you give me a bit of the history of Fletcher’s Corners?   Looking around I get the impression that Fletcher’s Corners wasn’t always just a small town and I wouldn’t mind knowing more.”

He stared at me across the table and threw back his beer.  I signalled Bert to bring him another and after thanking me, he began.  “Well young lady, first off, how long have you been in town?”  I told him and he nodded.  “You friendly with many of the townsfolk?  I  allowed that Owen Fletcher and I occasionally went sailing together, admitting that was more because while I enjoyed sailing I didn’t own a boat, but “I wouldn’t call us buddy-buddy.”

Again he nodded.  “Good.”  He paused and finished off his beer.  Once more I signalled Bert.  “First off, what’s your name young lady?  I like to know the name of the person I’m talking with.”

I told him and he stuck his hand across the table and said “Pleased to meet you Patricia Keys.  I’m Walter Talbot, but folks just call me ‘Old Wally’.  You planning on changing the name of the store?”

That had originally been one of my first priorities, but other things had rearranged my list so that item was now well down and falling fast.  “No, I think I’ll leave it as ‘Robert’s Drugs’.  Everybody in town knows it as that and I’m not vain enough that I have to have my name on the store.”

Wally grunted.  “Good.  Bobby changed it when he took over and it took most of twenty years before folks here started calling it ‘Bobby’s’ instead of ‘Jackson’s’.  Don’t worry Pat, people here will know your name whether you advertise it or not.

“Now, Fletcher’s Corners.  The town was started a couple of hundred years ago by Owen Fletcher.  The present Owen Fletcher is his great-grandson.  Owen was a doctor of some sort – nobody ever saw a diploma, but back then this was mostly wilderness and if somebody said they were a doc, and their treatment didn’t kill you, their claim was accepted.  Anyway, Owen Fletcher married into money.  He bought a couple of sections of land here, then built a big house on the best land. That house is now the office building at the hospital.

” Anyway,  it seems that some of Owen’s in-laws were ‘tetched’ and Owen offered to put them up.  After all, his big house was almost empty, what with just him, Lavinia, his wife and their infant son and the company would be welcome.  The families offered to subsidize their relatives’ keep, so Owen wasn’t doing it just out of the goodness of his heart.  One thing led to another and before he knew it, friends of the family were asking for the same thing.  Of course since they had offered to pay him for the upkeep, he couldn’t say ‘no’.  Well, eventually his house began to get awful crowded.  Something happened one day, he never said what for sure and my granddaddy didn’t ask, and the next thing the town knew, Owen’s got contractors out there on the point putting up this huge dormitory.”

He paused for breath and another sip of beer and I glanced at my watch.  “Wally, I’ve got to get back to the shop.  After you’re finished here, could you come by and tell me more.”

Glancing around the room, which was now filling up with the lunch crowd, he said “Sure.  It’ll be a lot more private than this anyhow.”

Half an hour later Wally entered the store and looked furtively around.  “You alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  There’s no-one here except you and me and all these pills.”

“Good.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah.

“As I said, Owen had this huge dormitory built to house all these relatives and friends of relatives.”  Nodding at the street through the window, he continued.  “That was the Post Road back when this place was founded.  First Avenue used to be the side road leading from the Post Road down to the landing.  The people Owen hired to work in the hospital built homes around the junction for the social aspects.  Life was a little easier if there were always people around other than the people you worked with.  Same thing’s still true.  As the hospital grew, more and more people moved in and soon we had people opening shops of all kinds.  At its peak, Fletcher’s Corners probably had close to twelve hundred people living here.  We had the usual greengrocers, milliners, a draper, a livery stable, two banks and a post office not to mention about ten or twelve taverns.

“The town pretty well kept its size until the railways and trucks started taking all the freight from the boats, then it shrunk.   The bypass pretty well spelled the end for a lot of the businesses, since they had relied a lot on the through traffic. Over the last ten or fifteen years though, its started growing again as people move out of the cities in search of a bit of peace and quiet.”

Just then the door opened and a couple entered and greeted me.  As I filled their prescription, they chatted pleasantly with me, totally ignoring Wally, sitting right beside them.  After they left, still not having acknowledged Wally’s existence, I asked him about it.

“Well, now’s about a good a time as any to get into the pecking order of Fletcher’s Corners.  Back then there were three main families:  The Fletchers naturally, since it was Owen’s business that was the main reason for the town; the Harrises – old man Harris owned the biggest tavern in town as well as running the post office; and the Talbots.”  I looked up in surprise.  Wally grinned and said  “Yup.  My grandfather ran the bank – the one that went out of business.   As I said, we had two banks here in town, the Talbot Bank, and one other one that became the current branch.  Fletcher kept the hospital accounts with the Talbot Bank until the major bank took over the other one, then changed.  The loss of those lucrative accounts resulted in grandpappy closing down.  Until then the Fletchers and the Talbots had been pretty close and just about ran Fletcher’s Corners as their private kingdom.   So, after the bank shut down, the Talbot’s opened an apothecary shop – this one.   I said that my grandfather ran one of the banks here and had a fair bit of power in the area.  As a matter of fact, before this place was called Fletcher’s Corners, people used to call it Talbot’s Corners.  But as more and more of the residents began to be Fletcher employees, it started being called Fletcher’s instead of Talbot’s.  I don’t mind really; having your family name on a village isn’t all that great.  People think that just because your name is the same as the village, you can fix up any little problem they may have.  But, I’m wandering here.  At one point, from what I’ve been told, both Owen Fletcher and my grandpappy decided that Malcolm Harris shouldn’t have the post office franchise as well as the tavern, so between them they convinced the government to give it to someone else.  As it turned out, Mal was making more from the post office than his tavern, so by taking it away, grandpappy and Fletcher had severely reduced his income.  Things got worse for the Harrises since Malcolm was a gambler who had more money than card sense and eventually he lost the tavern too.  Malcolm claimed that Owen Fletcher and Alexander Talbot had plotted against him just to gain control of the tavern.  It wasn’t true, or so my grandmother always told me, but the Harris family has had no time since for either the Talbots or the Fletchers.  Jack Richards there is a descendant of Malcolm Harris.  That’s why neither of them would even admit you had someone here with you.”  Wally glanced at the clock on the wall.  “I’ve been boring you long enough young lady.  If you’ve a mind, stop by Bert’s once you close this place and I’ll let you buy me another beer while I tell you more about this hellish place.”  And with that, he left.

Sound reasonable?  Let me know.  Thanks,

Cat.

Caitlyn, cabs, caution

I’ve tried, but I find I just can’t watch “I am Cait”. Her life bears no relation to any other trans* person I know. Most of us do not come from privilege, instead we have to work and fight for everything we have or hope to have. Yet the media seems to have made her a spokesperson for the trans* community. Maybe if she would get out of that bubble she appears to live in I could take her more seriously. For example, she is reported to have said “lower income transwomen are lazy.” I honestly hope that was either misquoted or taken out of context. In my case, I had the good job, the paid-for house, the kids, the pets, the cars and I left it all behind. I spent 12 hours a day driving a taxi trying to make ends meet. I’d hardly call that “lazy”. In my opinion, the media have made her a spokesperson because they want someone with a recognizable name and right now Caitlyn Jenner is that person. A better person would be Jazz Jennings. She is young and the family support she receives is absolutely amazing. As she goes through this process, she is probably doing more for trans* awareness than Caitlin Jenner could ever hope to do.

 
There was a shooting at a night club in Toronto this week in which two people were shot and killed. One of them was a man “known to police” to use their phrase and apparently he shouldn’t have been anywhere near that club on the lakeshore, but rather at his home some 30 miles away under house arrest. The other victim was a young lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her friends were trying to get a taxi from the rank outside the club to escape the gunfire. Not one cab would take them because it was only a short run, about $8. The drop in a Toronto taxi is $4.25, so this was obviously only a couple of blocks. As I wrote above, I drove a cab for seven years and never once turned down a fare because it was a short run. The way I looked at it, the run was short, but it was money in my pocket and the fact it wouldn’t take long meant I’d be available again in no time at all. According to the Toronto taxi bylaw, drivers can refuse fares if they deem the destination to be dangerous; the person won’t give them a proper destination address; the person owes them money from a previous ride, or the person is “disruptive” (read “drunk”). I know from talking with friends that Toronto drivers have also been known to refuse fares because the destination is too far. A friend hailed a taxi outside her office one winter night to drive her home to Pickering, a trip of some 20 miles. About half-way there the driver realized how far it was, took her to a nearby coffee shop and left her there saying it was too far. Fortunately for her she had my number and called me. Despite the bad weather, I drove from Pickering and picked her up, so she got home safely. But, had she not had my number, or the number of another cab driver, she’d have been stranded. No, no. You can’t turn down a run because you don’t think it’s worth your while.

 
Aah, summer. Time we shed our winter clothing and wear as little as decently possible to stay cool. We walk out of the house, feeling cool and looking hot, taking in the admiring glances from men we pass. Keep in mind however that not all those looks may be admiration. Some of them could be from men assessing you for other reasons. I’m talking stalkers here. Just because you couldn’t be Beyonce’s body double doesn’t mean someone hasn’t taken an interest in you. I was stalked for over a year. Yeah, me – 5 foot 11, about 185 at the time and trans*. Yet someone decided to make me prey and stalk me. It was frightening and in my case was made worse by the fact my stalker was an EMS supervisor and would use his work vehicle to stalk me. This vehicle carried the same colour scheme as the local ambulances, so whenever I saw an ambulance coming, I’d search for a place to hide not knowing if it was him or an ambulance.

If you see someone who appears to be following you and it isn’t in a place such as a local shopping area, be careful. If you see them twice, it could be coincidence, but three times is probably stalking. My suggestion if this happens, is take their picture. Don’t try to be subtle about it – just hold that phone or camera up in plain sight and snap that shot. If they are indeed stalking you, that action may deter them. Always, always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you. To borrow a line from “Hill Street Blues” – “be careful out there”.

Cat.