In the blink of an eye
Just a whisper of smoke
You could lose everything
The truth is you never know
I got called in to speak at CPC Toronto with only a week before the conference started. It was one of the busiest weeks of my life because I had a lot of photography work to do and hadn’t really planned on putting together a one hour presentation. I don’t regret doing that or presenting it - I do however sometimes wish I hadn’t been there… Though obviously there’s reasons why I’m glad I was, too.
Dream about the days to come
When I won't have to leave alone
About the times, I won't have to say
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
It feels routine now, getting on a plane to go somewhere. I have been doing it an average of six times a year, counting both going places and getting back, and it’s enough that it feels rather normal on average, even when on nearly every trip you see amazing lights, city centers, and mountains from above, you become a little desensitized to it eventually. I have now flown often enough that I no longer count how many flights, like I have no idea how many road trips I’ve been on. I stayed for that first night at an AirBnB near the airport, and in the morning enjoyed a delicious breakfast and tea at a little chic hole in the wall breakfast place, just down the street from a Catholic school and church with a little garden just off the sidewalk with benches directed to a beautiful statue of the holy family. I sat and prayed about my stress and exhaustion and hopes and dreams, then headed over to the hotel, where I had lunch with a new friend and saw some other fun folks as they trickled in. Setup was very low-key, but since Jasser had introduced the live broadcasting and I wanted to meet some of the speakers I didn’t know well I hung around for a while. Afterwards I was almost falling over falling asleep, but realized I had a thumb drive in my room that they might need downstairs before I was willing to wake up, so I called Jasser over to grab it. When he asked if I wanted pizza I decided that instead of my stomach warring with my need to sleep I’d accept some pizza. Then he told me that he’d attempted suicide in August. (This is now publicly available information, but he said I was the first person that he’d told.) He also said he was on meds and fine now, but I wasn’t so sure.
Hoping I can run today and get away faster
Than ever from here
Another night and who can say if leaving is better
Than living in fear
Here's to all the broken hearts tonight
Here's to all the fall a parts tonight
Here's to every girl and boy who lost their joy
They let it get away
I had a decent amount of sleep, and the first day was fun with a lot of wonderful speakers. Afterwards, there was a happening party in room 420 with a great conversation between a few of us about how your past doesn’t have to define your future. Looking back, so much of what happened those days just bleeds with irony.
I spoke on Day 2 and had a totally weird experience of feeling like I was behind a wall all day and almost nobody could see me - nobody came to chat with me after my talk and barely anyone did before it, and tons of people skipped it too. It was still worth speaking, but I felt really isolated all day. That night there was a kareoke party, which as our parties tend to do got a bit wild, with people crowdsurfing on the teeny tiny kareoke stage, and what I jokingly refer to as a “photo orgy” on the pool table because the light above it was a fun photo light source. Then I came back a bit early to the hotel and ended up chatting with a speaker who was having trouble with his presentation, and with Jasser, who up until June this year was my business partner, and was still a pretty close friend. He was concerned about finances… nothing THAT new. Or at least I didn’t think so at the time.
Whatcha say, that you only meant well?
Well of course you did
Whatcha say, that it's all for the best?
Of course it is!
And then I woke on Day 3 to what was devolving into the CPC Toronto 2016 debacle. It's not everyday that you get a front-row seat to watch something that you loved go down in blazing flames, devastating the close-knit community that you nurtured and cared for over half a decade, affecting hundreds of people and hurting dozens, and be helpless to stop it, even though you tried.
It is an event that felt more like a funeral than a celebration of what has been accomplished, and what happened since has continued to wear me out. It was not the beginning of the end, but perhaps the denouement, as Jasser told me, as a fitting scene of Laurent Martin’s dog funeral slideshow played out on-screen, that he was going to cancel Toronto - and as it turned out, other conferences and plans and even in fact, the payments due to the speakers who were speaking at this conference. He told me this in what was clearly a manic episode, scrolling through Facebook at incredible speeds, and unable to process reasonable thoughts anymore. He was just a drowning man looking for a way out, at all and any costs. And the costs were pretty heavy - emotionally, and financially to others at least. I spent almost four hours on chat, over the course of the next five to six hours trying to talk him out of doing it the way he planned - not closing the conference at some point in the future at a well-planned time, but announcing it there and bringing down the house in a bad way. But I couldn’t stop him, I could only ask for help from others once the word started to get around to the speakers to do some damage control and at least make the announcement a somewhat positive moment of nostalgia and appreciation.
The whole day was just jam-packed with ironies. It was so crazy I even made a list. Like "B***h Better Have My Money" coming on in the party bus as the news started breaking to some of the speakers, who had just found out that after all their support, Jasser wasn't going to pay them anytime soon.
Oh, we're on the right side of rock bottom
And I hope that we keep falling
We're on the good side of bad karma
'Cause we keep on coming back for more
This last few weeks has been dominated by private conversations and public announcements, tearful and heart-wrenching moments, pit-of-the-stomach dread, the day after in which I was alone and so exhausted that I slept at least 18 out of 24 hours and prayed and kept in touch with some allies whenever I wasn’t asleep. There were concerned conversations with people who weren’t there, and people who were, two visits to my therapist, and endless talking and letter writing and processing and official statements and things said on and off the record. There was honesty and tears and the feeling of betrayal, the feeling that it’s too late already, the feeling that even when things aren’t your fault it doesn’t always help with the pain.
You know, for most people the words, “I’m cancelling the conference” wouldn’t provoke such a perfect storm, especially as I'd already left the company. But for me it did, and it called into question dozens of relationships, my reputation and brought up a thousand un-spoken fears about sanity and mental health and responsibility and labels and diagnoses, about business partnerships and seeking after money above all things and finding your voice and teaching. So many things.
Cause when the roof caved in
and the truth came out
I just didn't know what to do
How much is it appropriate to grieve for a failed business? A failed suicide attempt by a friend? More than a dozen people losing money they expected and faith in someone they trusted? And how much can you grieve your own helplessness to stop any of it from happening when your own trust was broken?
These are the questions that plague me when I cannot sleep, that bite into me with a cutting sorrow in the moments when I should feel happy and don’t even remember why my heart is heavy, and the days I cannot see past my own pain to a potentially bright future, to sunny days.
Then I went home to Saskatoon for Thanksgiving and missed every meal, every service, and almost every friend and family member (mainly anyway) in a haze of anguish and exhaustion. I saw my Aunt and Gran briefly at a Fuddruckers breakfast where they gave me a beautiful crystal key pendant and some grocery cards for my birthday, and I really truly appreciated both gifts, but I was so tired I could barely function, and I was also upset because we were late and I was there because it was one of the architectural sites I was supposed to shoot. It hit a nerve that I had forgotten, since there was an epic situation in my past where someone else was trusted with setting an alarm so I wouldn’t be late and it caused a fracturing of friendships and a lot of hard moments, so when Paul innocently enough slept through the alarm he’d set for us, I was pretty irate, as we were supposed to leave that day. We were both absolutely out of energy, and Paul decided to take a personal day off work that he didn’t have to justify, which I certainly felt was warranted.
Looking back perhaps it was fore-ordained that we stay, as I spent several hours with friends sharing about our sorrows and helping each other with tools and coping strategies and advice in a way that built our friendship after we hadn't spoken often.
We both slept like logs all night and then headed home, and whenever one of us was driving, the other was sleeping. There was also the joy of the Lloyd Pizza Hut buffet, a traditional oasis mid-trip.
With eyes wide open at the wonder of it all
Or with broken wings when I'm spinning in free fall
'Hallelujah, deliver me'
One night soon after we made it back home I asked for a personal thanksgiving meal, desperate for gravy and tradition and looking on the bright side.
There was only one sunny day since I got back before yesterday, and I had architectural shoots to do, so I did a boudoir shoot and 5 architectural shoots that day and came home with absolutely zero energy left for the rest of the week. I am so grateful that Google changed their algorithym and prioritized me to the point where I'll probably be able to financially be alright even though one stable source of income is out of my life completely. No fallback. No nets under the great trapeeze. Back to shooting almost full time, and thank God, I'm actually enjoying it again. I just need to update practically every piece of software and hardware in the arsenal - that will only cost about ten grand. No pressure. Get a text from Jasser asking if I was okay... too late now.
I went to a friend's house and told her the story, complete with "commercial breaks" for tea and maple cookies and cat cuddles and colouring together on the living room coffee table sitting on the floor. Thank God for empathetic friends with big hearts. (Even if those hearts require surgery to sustain life.) The healing begins in those moments.
Yesterday the sun shone, and I was super guilty about how little I had been minding my poor Murphy, who hadn’t had much excitement and didn’t know why I was being an irritable sod. The sun shone, and I took him to the dog park near our home, and he practically leaped for joy at exploring the smells of the marsh. There’s something irrevocably touching about seeing a beast or a child innocently leap for the pure joy of living. It’s medicine to the weary soul, for the healing of the heart in the sun-lit, beautiful world.
No matter how many more explanatory conversations and lifestyle changes and ideas and upgrades and naps will be required before I can call things normal again.
Here come bad news talking this and that
Yeah, give me all you got, don't hold back
I should probably warn you I'll be just fine
Because I'm happy