reflections on seeing

I am currently trawling through my Facebook notes and want to share some of my favourites here with you. I wrote this in 2009 after travelling through Turkey and Greece on a study tour. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I have traveled this summer [May-June 2009] I have seen many things that until now were only images in a lecture slide show or maps in a text book. Sculptures, mosaics, sarcophagi, buildings and whole towns came alive as I finally saw them in person for the first time. I tried to experience these things how the ancients did. I asked myself questions constantly. What did the ancients see and feel and smell and hear as they walked down this street, gazed at this sculpture, crossed this mosaic floor or sat in this theater seat? What did they think about their surroundings—or did they consciously think about them? What view did they see from this sanctuary or what landscape surrounded that monument? Along with these questions, though, there was always one more: What does it mean to see a sculpture (or building or town) first hand rather than as a picture in a text book?

The simple answer is that it means you can experience it rather than just see it. Art and architecture are not static things; they interact with their environment (both built and natural) and they interact with you, the viewer. It is only in experiencing this first hand that one can really understand it. If a picture is worth a thousand words then an experience is worth a hundred thousand pictures. No photography, film or diagram, no matter how skillfully executed, can ever replace the experience of walking through the same physical space that the ancients did.

How can a photograph capture the sense of anticipation when walking the Sacred Way into an ancient sanctuary? Or the thrill of standing in the Asklepieion at Pergamum and seeing the acropolis rise sharply into the sky? Can a textbook properly convey the taste of water from a sacred fountain or can words capture the soothing breeze at Cnidos? No map in any book is able to convey the sense of wonder when you turn around to see the Athenian Acropolis perfectly framed by the Arch of Hadrian, nor can words capture the sense of serenity as you stand at the topmost terrace of the Asklepeion at Cos and looks across the narrow waters to Asia Minor. There is no way to understand the bulk of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma save to wander through its columns. The Alexander Sarcophagus might hold a viewer’s interest for a moment or two as an image in a slide show, but when seen in person in the Istanbul museum all time stands still and it exerts a powerful, irresistible pull. Is there any way to understand the importance of a sculpture’s size and orientation than to be dwarfed by a Roman emperor or a Greek god? It is not until you see Alexander the Great’s sculptures in person that you realize he will never look at you—his gaze is forever fixed on his next distant conquest. To physically move through the buildings of Cos’ ancient agora and harbour district, knowing that your feet tread where others tread thousands of years ago, creates a sense of closeness to the ancient people who really weren’t that different from ourselves.

And that is, perhaps, the most important bit of all: the realization that these were real people who moved through these spaces and wandered around these monuments and worshipped at these sanctuaries. They were like us: They sought to create beauty in their lives and surrounded themselves with beautiful spaces and filled those spaces with beautiful objects. These objects and these spaces have lives and stories of their own and are a direct link with the people of the past. They are not static images in a book or on a slide and to know them only as such is to know but a shadow of the real thing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


com•passion, from Latin com– ‘with’ + patiorpati, passus– ‘to suffer, bear, endure’

Sometimes the simplest thing can drive home an old idea in a fresh way. It was in a lecture on Greek mythology that the idea of compassion really clicked for me. I had always thought of compassion as a noun describing that feeling of sympathy one feels towards someone in unfortunate circumstances, the benevolent pitying feeling we’re supposed to have towards the poor, the grieving, the less fortunate, the impoverished children in far away lands. But as the professor was discussing compassion, it finally struck me:

Compassion is a verb.

Patior is a verb, not a noun. It is the action of suffering. And with the prefix com, it is the action or process of suffering with another person.

Compassion is not a feeling, it is an action.

It is sitting beside someone in the dust and ashes, much as Job’s friends did with him, and suffering with them. Silently sharing in their suffering, not offering advice or unwanted solutions. It is not talking, not doing, not fixing. There is a time and a place for those things, but those things are not compassion. Compassion is simply sitting with someone in their pain and suffering with them. I can choose to set aside my pain, my disappointments, my frustrations, and sit with my friends in their pain of broken relationships, their grief of lost friends and lost potential. We are all broken; We cannot fix each others’ brokenness, but we can sit together and share in our suffering.

Compassion is not something one feels; it is something one does. It is a state of being that one can choose.

the death of summer


fall slips in between the satin days

sliding hourly around sleeping summer

inching slowly sunward

strangling silently the warm light

splattering violent red

across silky skies

covering summer’s dying form

with delightful fragrances of decay

shimmering shivering

convulsing towards


Your Mental Health Toolbox: A Post for Suicide Prevention Day

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and today is Suicide Prevention Day. In honour of the day, I am going to share, once more, a piece I wrote in January 2012. This piece was originally published in Brock University’s Brock Press. Yup, that’s right, I “outed” my mental health experience to the entire university. Ok, well, the tiny fraction who actually read the school paper! It was definitely one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but if we’re going to break down stigma, we need to talk about it, right? I got some encouraging feedback from others, so I have faith it was worthwhile. 

Your Mental Health Toolbox

 I’ve been watching a lot of Mike Holmes lately. (In fact, I’ve got Holmes on Homes playing in the background now). You know, that good-looking guy on HGTV who rescues homeowners from incompetent contractors and ignorant home inspectors. I have no intention of taking up the trades myself, but it’s interesting to watch the team transform homes (and lives) and to learn what goes into making a good house.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about mental health. Hyperbole and a Half (http://hyperboleandahalf. had an interesting post about her  “adventures in depression” a while ago and recently The Bloggess ( shared her fight with it. But closest to home is my own mental breakdown at the end of last term. Depression and I go way back—we’ve been tight “frenemies” for more years than I care to remember. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to find myself in the midst of anxiety and depression, but I wasn’t happy to be there. What does mental health have to do with a show like Holmes Inspection? Well, if we think of our bodies as buildings that need constant care and occasional repair, I think there’s quite a bit we can learn from a guy like Mike Holmes. Here’s some of what I’ve been reminded of this year:

Make it right.

Holmes’ trademark phrase is all about doing stuff right and fixing the stuff that’s wrong. But when I’m depressed, the last thing I feel capable of doing is fixing anything. Everything seems overwhelmingly hopeless. I think this is pretty common. But the important thing is not to stay inert. If you’re feeling depressed, reach out to someone for help to start the healing process. If you think a friend might be depressed, make the first move and reach out to them. We need each other to help us heal.

Ants are a sign of bigger moisture problems.

It’s so important to be aware of the ant-sized signs of depression. Even with my years of practice, I can still miss the little warning signs in myself and consequently let things get far worse than they have to be before seeking help. Signs and symptoms include: feeling worthless, helpless or hopeless; sleeping more or less than usual; eating more or less than usual; having difficulty concentrating or making decisions; loss of interest in taking part in activities; decreased sex drive; avoiding other people; overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief; feeling unreasonably guilty; loss of energy; feeling very tired; thoughts of death or suicide (Canadian Mental Health Assocation, If you are experiencing some of these signs, please talk to your doctor immediately.

Call in the pros.

If you need plumbing done, call a plumber. If you need electrical done, call a certified electrician. Often, I find all I need to cope with stress is a long chat with a good friend. But sometimes I worry about wearing out my friends’ ears or my problems seem to big (or even too banal) to bother them with. At times like I that, I book an appointment with a pro. Don’t be afraid of talking to a professional therapist. It is not as scary as you might think—trust me, I have years of experience! At the very least, think of it as someone who has to listen to you rant for an hour because it’s their job. I mean, what’s better than talking to someone who has no choice but to listen to you?

You need a complete thermal break between inside and outside.

Just as heated spaces have to be separated from unheated spaces, I find it’s important to keep some of my life separate from school. I call this having boundaries. I aim to have one day a week when I do no schoolwork so that I have space for my hobbies, my friends and my family. I also have learned to make rules for myself about what kinds of work I’ll bring home and what work will stay at the office. I’m not always successful with these goals, but just having them helps keep my life a little bit more balanced. When was the last time you carved some time out of your schedule for yourself?

Always have two spare spaces on your electrical panel.

You’re not supposed to overload the electrical panel or your house might burn down. We shouldn’t overload ourselves with work or we’ll burn out. Since I know I’m bad about overloading things, I try to be aware of what I commit to and prioritize the things that do need to get done. Saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’ can be scary, but it does get easier with practice. Have you said ‘no’ to anything lately?

Have a whole home surge projector.

Holmes is big on whole-home surge projectors because they’ll protect everything if your house gets hit by lightning. I think of the surge projector as the key indicator that tells me something’s going wrong. This surge projector is often a close friend who notices that something’s up before I’m willing to acknowledge it myself. Be aware of how you feel when you are both mentally well and ill so you can notice when things start going sideways.

Your electrical should be properly grounded.

What keeps you emotionally grounded? One way I take care of my mental health is by making time for the things that are truly important to me. I go hiking, practice photography or absorb myself in scrapbooking. Even better, I meet up with the friends who matter the most to me. My friends from academe can commiserate or celebrate with me as the occasion warrants, and my non-academic friends remind me that there is a huge, interesting world outside of the university’s walls. Spending time with family (especially my little nieces!) reminds me whose opinions really matter. Make a list of what keeps you emotionally grounded and make sure to put those items on your to-do list.

Use the right tools for the job.

You don’t use wood screws to put up drywall, you use drywall screws. So when it comes to mental health, use the right tools to get better. Maybe all you need is to step back from work for a weekend and get some perspective. For some people, the healing process will involve medication; for others, it might involve talk therapy. Some people find the help they need from their faith organization. For many people, it’s a combination of different things. No two people are alike, so you need to work with your doctor or therapist to find what works for you. Trust me, it might take a while to figure out what works but it is totally worth the effort!


At the end of almost every Mike Holmes episode, the grateful homeowners have a party for Holmes and his crew. Don’t forget to celebrate your recovery with the people who supported you. As The Bloggess says, “When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark” (2 Jan 2012). Recovery is a long, hard process and we should be proud of ourselves when we make it.

Having a mental health episode of some sort is practically a rite of passage for grad students. Everyone I’ve talked to about my experience has a story of his/her own to tell. I knew coming in to grad school that there would be tough times and I would likely have a depression episode before I finished my degree. And although I have learned how to manage depression and live with it over the years, I haven’t spoken publically about my experience. Until now. And I’m doing so now because I think it’s time we started talking about this.

So let’s start talking.


Some links for Suicide Prevention Week:

Ms. Hazardous’ post Not About Sportsball

The Bloggess Something About September (and search her blog for “depression lies” for lots of good posts)

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Directory of Canadian Crisis Hotlines/Centers

Distress Centers in Ontario, Canada

Canadian Mental Health Association Understanding Mental Illness

Autumn Comes in the Night

Fall came in the night. I knew it before I even opened my eyes this morning in the change of bird song. I love the autumn. I love the warm, bright days bathed in golden sunshine and the chilly nights studded with sharp stars. I love the blaze of golden rod and the purple swathes of wild asters. I love the hues of changing leaves against the brilliant blue sky. I love the music of the crickets, who sing all day now, the firecrackers of grasshoppers beneath my feet and the last flutterings of butterflies. I love the nourishment autumn brings to my soul.

Killarney Provincial Park

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I spent five gorgeous days in July canoeing through Killarney Provincial Park in semi-northern Ontario. It was my first backcountry adventure and I loved every minute of it. I saw my first black bear and a merganser duck with a dozen or more little ones in tow. Loons and bullfrogs lulled us to sleep, and the loon calls echoing up and down the lake were spine-tingling. We canoed through Bell, Three-Mile, Balsam, David, Crystal, and Johnnie Lakes. There were only a couple of odd cottages, which predated the founding of the park, and one motor boat on Bell and Three-Mile. After the first portage it was just us and nature, with the occasional fellow canoeist passing by. I heard a float plane a few times, but the sky was beautifully free of jet contrails.