Selfie of Myself

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It seems that everyone has an opinion about selfies. The topic seems to have a polarizing effect, with opposing sides quick to defend their view. For every person I know who has an Instagram account entirely filled with selfies, there is another person who insists they have never taken one. There are many articles about the psychology behind selfies, and the self-esteem issues they often lead to with teenagers. I am neither a psychologist, nor am I a teenager. Selfies, and the camera technology that makes them so easy, came into being after I started university. As such, issues of parental control over pictures posted have never been of any relevance to me, and will therefore not be my topic of focus. When I told me father in a text I was writing about selfies, he asked what many fathers would: “What are selfies?” I sent him a close up picture of myself staring intently at the camera with no makeup on. “Alarming, aren’t they?” I offered as an explanation. (No, I’m not posting the picture.) I’m not going to write about selfies as they relate to self-conscious fifteen year old girls or middle aged divorcees, because many people have written about that already. I’m writing about what I know. This is my perception of selfies and the culture that surrounds them as it relates to me.

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I sent this to my parents right before I left for Nicaragua.

As photographic evidence would suggest, I do not take a radical stance on selfies. I stand somewhere within the grey area. I have taken some and posted few. The reason why I have posted so few is not because I fear associating myself with those who take stereotypical selfies. Quite simply, most of the selfies I take end up looking quite a lot like mugshots, hence the alarming nature of the photo I sent my father. (I’m still not posting it.) Many have said that those who frequently post selfies are in need of validation. That may be the case, but what of the people who don’t post selfies? To me, whether or not one takes and posts such pictures is a matter of confidence. Just because one does not post selfies does not mean that one is not in need of validation in some part of their life. I need as much validation as the next person — hell, maybe I need more and that’s what I blog for. Those who post pictures of themselves may be in need of validation, but at least they have the confidence to put something out there to be validated. Harassment and objectification issues aside, I like to be called beautiful too, but I don’t feel comfortable putting a picture out there to receive that kind of judgement.

Perhaps some who post selfies are self-conscious and seek the reassurance that they are attractive enough, or their lives are interesting enough to be worthy of Instagram likes. Perhaps those who do not post them seek the same reassurance, and are kept from posting them because they fear they won’t receive the validation they seek.

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A selfie with my friend Creepy Muppet Cat in Montreal.

As I was finishing the post for The First Time My Parents Let Me Swear, my mom said, “I like how you aren’t afraid to post bad pictures of yourself.” Until she mentioned it, I had hardly thought about the picture I was posting. I wrote about giving the middle finger, I posted a picture of myself giving the middle finger. It was a simple as that. But it is easier to post a picture, good or bad, in a setting where the focus is on what I have written rather than on how I look in the picture I posted.

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I call this “Mirrored Ski Goggles at 3 am in the UCC”. Relay for Life and essay writing leads to strange outfits.

As for my thoughts on other people’s selfies, I rarely think about whether or not the photographer seeks assurance that their waist is small enough or their breasts are big enough. My reaction to their photos — quite selfishly — is a personal reaction. I feel uncomfortable seeing photos with a bedroom intimacy. Though the photos are posted for the world to see, I feel like I’m still seeing something I’m not supposed to. That’s what happens in a world where technology makes everything and everyone immediately accessible; intimate moments are put out for public scrutiny. But that’s what the photographer intends, isn’t it?

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Late at night in the streets of Toronto, when it looked like I was taking a picture of something else.

From an amazing article of this topic, check out Rachel Rabbit White’s A Story in the Shape of a Selfie of the Writer and Her Friend, Marie Calloway. She is an amazing writer, and one of the reasons I decided to write about this.

As a final note, “Selfie of Myself” became the title of this post because my favourite Walt Whitman poem is “Song of Myself.” The self is now represented in photos and not words.

Song of the Day: Red Hill Mining Town by U2

It sounds best played from a cassette through the speakers of our 1999 Nissan Pathfinder.

Links I Love

This is the first of what I hope will be a monthly feature. I’ve collected links to some of the greatest things I’ve seen around the internet. Since this is the first Monthly Collection, these are some of my all time favourites.

New York Times recently  ran an article about the joys of travelling alone. The photo above is from that article. Though I am not travelling this summer, I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of spending time alone.

This Vulture article on James Gandolfini is incredible. I was a big Sopranos fan, and thought this was a fantastic article. The world has lost a great actor and a better man.

I read this list of horrible book covers with my dad, and we both laughed until we cried.

An article from The New Yorker in 1996 that Kelly sent to me once. The Science of Shopping explains the psychology behind the things we do when we shop.

I have never loved The Great Gatsby, but I still want this sweatshirt.

This is the story about a man’s encounter with a woman who learned to surf at seventy-seven. The lesson learned: State of mind will always be more important than age.

I came across Chris Arnade‘s Faces of Addiction photography series over a year ago. He tells the stories of addicts he meets in Hunts Point, New York. He takes photos, and lets each person tell their own story. He has connected with certain people since he started the project, and continues to photograph many of them.

This is the beautiful, heartbreaking story of a man who photographed his cat throughout their life together. The collection is called One Cat, Three Lives. I cried when I read it.

In keeping with the theme of photography in New York, Humans of New York is brilliant. Many of you probably already know of it, but if you don’t the stories and photos are brilliant.

If you’re in need of a weekend soundtrack, Frank Ocean’s first mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra is incredible. It’s free to download from the Odd Future website. His version of Strawberry Swing is perfect.

That’s all for July’s Monthly Collection. Let me know what you think of it, and what you think of the idea of starting this as a monthly feature. Have a great Saturday!

Song of the Day: Locked in the Trunk of a Car by The Tragically Hip

Story Time Wednesday: The Last Time My Family Went to IKEA

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I recently took a trip to IKEA with my old friend Kathryn. The last time I had been to IKEA was sixteen years ago. It’s not that I live a great distance from the nearest IKEA or that I am disinterested in what the store has to offer – I look longingly at Benji bookcases and Swedish meatballs any time we receive the catalogue. The reason why I was so long away from that furniture megastore is because my father swore after out last trip that we would never return. And as much as I would like a $2 plate of pasta, I wholeheartedly agree with his decision. This is the story of my childhood trip to IKEA.

In the absence of pictures documenting this event, I have illustrated the story.

When we arrived at the store, my parents and I were immediately directed towards the children’s play area. It was like an indoor park but with the addition of giant foam puzzle pieces.

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My parents registered me with one of the playroom attendants as I readied myself for a dash to the foam pit. Just as I was about to take off, an attendant said, “First we need to give you a bib!” I was unfamiliar with this term as it related to mature five year olds such as myself. Bibs are for babies! I thought. Then the woman took a horrifying yellow pinny out from a giant basket. It had the number six on it in a bold black font. I looked to my parents for reassurance. They said, “Have fun Court!” The woman helped me into the number six pinny. I was their captive now.

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I resigned myself to my fate and began to look around. As I looked, I saw children in the middle of a game of hide and seek, all wearing numbered pinnies in primary colours. It was like IKEA was building a child army.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, one of the other workers turned to a child in a red number four pinny and asked, “Johnny, do you want to go down the slide? I know it’s your favourite!”

How long had these children been here for?! They probably lived here! They slept in the foam pit, I was sure of it!

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The children had been here for so long, they liked it. I didn’t know the term Stockholm Syndrome at the time, but if I had, I would have thought this a classic case. I saw myself as a prisoner in the IKEA playground.

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They asked me my name. I refused to give it. I did not want to invite any familiarity. Just as I was hatching my escape plan, my parents miraculously returned. On the way home, my dad talked of floors of furniture that seemed endless. “It’s like they were trying to keep us there forever!” He had no idea.

My parents have never returned to IKEA. The only souvenir of our trip is a stack of plastic cups, six of them in primary colours. Sinister.

Song of the Day: Better by Regina Spektor

Live Review: Bob Dylan’s Americanarama Tour

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I saw Bob Dylan last night in a show unlike any I’ve ever seen. I went with my father because he was the one who introduced me to Dylan. The concert was at the Molson Amphitheatre on a hot summer night. The opening acts were Richard Thompson, My Morning Jacket and Wilco. I was blown away by My Morning Jacket. Their sound was clear and impactful, but with just enough dissonance to make their set feel surreal. Wilco had an easy folk rock sound. They brought Feist to the stage to do a few songs including “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen and “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young. My Morning Jacket joined in on “Cinnamon Girl” too. They were great openers for the Americanarama Festival of Music.

And now for the man of the hour.

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One cannot go to a Bob Dylan concert with expectations or anticipations. As many have learned throughout the history of his shows, a set may go on for hours or may only last for one song. He may play songs no one has ever heard, or make the songs that are known unrecognizable. He played for about an hour and a half, and actually played some songs I knew, though he made “All Along the Watchtower” and “Blowing in the Wind” different from any version I’ve ever heard.

After the show, I ran into Max Kerman from Arkells. Arkells is one of my favourite bands and I was excited to see him at the same concert I was at, but I was hesitant to approach. I needed a clever line. A story about DJ Starr, perhaps? As last I said, “So this is what you do when you aren’t touring.” It turns out, he is ever bit as charismatic and down to earth as he seems on stage. He introduced himself to my dad and I. When my dad told him he took my tickets for the Arkells show last February, Max asked me why I couldn’t make it. I told him I went to Nicaragua the next day, and he asked me about the trip. We closed the conversation we our thoughts about the concert. I said, “Bob Dylan is like modern art. You don’t have to understand it to be moved by it.” We said our good byes, my dad and I headed home, marvelling at the evening. At Bob Dylan concerts and in life, one can only expected the unexpected.

Song of the Day: Hurricane by Bob Dylan

The First Time My Parents Let Me Swear

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I saw Billy Talent a few weeks ago at NXNE. It had been eight years since I had seen them. The first time I saw them was in Sarnia during Bayfest, at a midday show I went to with my father. I was at that awkward in between age when I was too young to go to a concert on my own, but felt — and looked — too old to go with a parent. Despite the awkwardness I felt initially, I was really enjoying that concert. That is, until Ben Kowalewicz, shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat he took from someone in the crowd, yelled out audience, “I want everybody to stick up their middle finger and say ‘Fuck George Bush!'” You see, this was less than a year after he was elected to his second term as President. I froze. How could I do and say such things when I was with my father? I turned to him, in a panic, but he was unconcerned. He just nodded and said, “Go ahead.”

I’ve been to hundreds of concerts now, but this one will always stand out. It was the first time I had ever swore in front of one of my parents. After that, our speech became freer and our conversations deeper. One profanity shouted in the park and I became an adult.

It goes without saying that I never again took such liberties with my actions or words.

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Maybe it’s best you don’t look through any of my pictures now.

Song of the Day: From Finner by Of Monsters and Men