Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bread In The River

So, apparently there's a Jewish custom called tashlich (or tashlikh, because everything in Judaism has at least two spellings) that rubs me the right way. I'm not Jewish, but I'm also not gay and I still go to the parade every year, so don't turn your nose up at me for appropriating customs that aren't mine. Canada: melting pot or tossed salad? Cultural mosaic or full of mooses? Really, why not all of them? We live in mysterious times, with the only thing holding us back from 24/7 exposure to every culture all the time is the fact that commuting to Scarborough is sort of a drag.

So, right, back to my fake Jewosity. Tashlich is when, according to Wikipedia, "the previous year's sins are symbolically 'cast off' by reciting a section from Micah that makes allusions to the symbolic casting off of sins, into a large, natural body of flowing water (such as a river, lake, sea or ocean)." Traditionally done the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (aka New Years Eve for Jews, which falls in September for those of us following a Gregorian calendar), the version I know about has the person casting off his or her sins also throwing bread into the water.

I love this. First of all, I love traditions. My all-time favourite tradition is my family's three-generations-long habit of of seeing a movie and eating Chinese food on New Year's Day. I love that my grandparents did this, my parents do this, I do this. My family moved a lot when I was growing up; by the time I started high school, I had lived in five different cities in two countries and three different provinces. It was nice to have continuity from year to year.

In the Christian ideology, your sins have been taken care of by Jesus - he ripped your ticket for you. Your stupid sinning soul has been rectified and washed clean by JC, which rocks if you're good at Christianity. It's less effective if you, like me, suffer from curiosity about what would possess a person to do that kind of thing - I'm sure if Jesus met me, he would be all, "I died for everyone's sins, except hers," which would be a huge bummer. Additionally, I have a guilty conscience about just about everything I've ever done. From the big ticket items like becoming involved with other women's boyfriends, to the less damning things like frittering away my Thursdays watching America's Funniest Home Videos, I have often felt crappy about my choices.

Naturally, I love the idea of casting off your shittiness and giving yourself a clean slate for the year. Not so much that the tradition allows you to ignore your sins - I don't think that's the point, really. But the idea that they no longer have to weigh you down as you work to right them? I think that's important. A little levity in the soul region can make all the difference in approaching your particular failings. Long-overdue apologies become easier. Confessions bubble up in the throat. Delayed conversations become more pressing. Without the guilt of the sin weighing on our minds, we can address why we transgressed in the first place.

I've often felt like autumn is a New Years kind of time, anyway. The leaves change, the kids head back to school, and we start to hunker down for the winter. It's a renewal - spring is an awakening, a bursting-forth of new and exciting things - but fall underscores the things we do and the people we are. If we can recommit to being ourselves, but better - cleaner - then why shouldn't we? Okay, fine dispense with the bread and the Biblical recitations, if you must. But clean out your soul.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Flash Photography, Please

There are certain people I expect to have cultivated a talent, one that involves not staring, fish-mouthed and gaping, into a camera lens: folks like models, actors, politicians, and Galen Weston, who are professionally in front of the camera all the time. For the rest of us schmucks, however, it can be a challenge to figure out how to live in a world with cameras and not look deranged.

I suffer from being relatively attractive in person and looking like a pale, bloated mess when caught on film. I realize (although it sometimes takes some work to remember) that those who are being photographed on the red carpets of the world generally show up having showered and been made up and tanned and so on, and that a huge part of their job description is to actually be good-looking. So they get waxed, buffed, trimmed, dyed, shellacked, propped up on spindly high heels or receive a carefully mussed hairdo, and then they go out and have their pictures taken.

Adding to the mind-fuckery is the fact that many of these photographed people really are genetically blessed: Angelina Jolie, who, despite owning an Oscar, really does nothing for me with her snooty, slitty-eyed acting style, is an example of a person who is gorgeous, who could be famous just for being pretty, but who also happens to be famous for doing stuff (acting, adopting the United Colours of Bennetton advertising campaigns) where being pretty is a corollary. She's not the only one. All the models-turned-actors out there were first trained is being really, really good-looking, and then in emoting. So we get all these people in magazines and on websites who have been trained in the dark arts of looking really good, pretending to be civilians not experienced with being professionally attractive.

Like 90% of the population, I am not what you might consider a photogenic lady. I'm not fishing for compliments - I think most people are better looking when they're talking animatedly about something they love. However, the odds of a camera flash capturing us in a moment when we're being passionate, funny, smart and pretty aren't really all that high. It can be disheartening to wake up from a night out, and have the photos reveal that the camera flash rendered my shirt transparent, or that my eye makeup read more as "blind Russian whore" than "classy smoky eye," not to mention all the spastic facial expressions I wear during a typical night out at the bar/Icycle races/karaoke place/Legion.

I used to be cute enough to be a child model. I was young, a baby, and it was in Japan. I doubt that I would have been adorable enough to break into the North American market, but my platinum hair and anti-social attitude charmed the Japanese casting directors. Children make ideal models because they generally have no concept of what a photographer is doing, and that not doing it will make for a weird photo. There's a catalog shot from the late '80s: a gaggle of kids on a dock, modeling swimsuits. According to my mom, the photographer told the models to "pretend you're asleep!" Since I, since birth, have been a stomach sleeper, I naturally flopped face-down on the dock, leaving the frustrated picture man and my harried mother trying to cajole me into a face-up pose like the other kidlets. The catalog went to print with a line of perfectly posed "sleeping" four year olds and then me, at the end, looking like I had maybe drowned.

We live in a world of digital cameras and Facebook, so our lives are documented and archived. Even the unflattering pictures, the ones where we accidentally give ourselves double chins, or our smiles are all gums, or our hair looks like we styled it with a Dustbuster, are out there. I look back at some of my photos, marvelling at how my weight has yo-yo'ed, wondering why I ever thought dying my hair was a smart move, rolling my eyes at my's a wonder I haven't seppuku'ed myself over the sheer embarrassment of some of those frames.

So what's a non-photogenic person to do? Well, the phrase "build a bridge and get over it" comes to mind, but it's hard to think that way when you're trapped in the self-loathing cycle that feeling unattractive can trigger. The magazines and websites will encourage a girl to try for photogenicness: clean, brushed hair (I'm bad at that), a confidence boosting outfit, sassy eye makeup, and not getting so drunk you end up sloppily "posed" facedown in the backseat of a gypsy cab. The basics, really.

But pictures can be the best way to remember fun bike rides, or sweet moments with ex-boyfriends, or how much fun my friends are. There's a whole series of photo captions that make me laugh ("Let's look like we're lost in a foreign airport!"), even though my friends and I weren't 100% successful at pulling off our own art direction. And remembering that the point of the picture for us non-professionally attractive people is not how good we look, but how good we feel, can be liberating. If I ever find myself on a red carpet, you'd better believe that I will have been shined and painted to within an inch of my life...but since the carpets I usually find myself on are of the "friend's living room" variety, I think I'll just focus on having a good time.