Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Tag

Some Thoughts on Photography   2 comments

Calgary Board of Education buildings, taken using the Instagram APP on my iPhone

I like taking photographs. For the last few years, I’ve taken a lot of them with my various cameras, and even fancy myself to be something of a decent amateur photographer.

This photograph, which may or may not be a great photograph, was taken almost randomly the other day when I noticed the reflection of the old school in the glass of the new building. I think I had my iPhone in my hand  and so I stopped, conjured up the Instagram App, and hit the magic button. I immediately posted it on Instagram, and by extension on Facebook and Twitter, and before long a few of my friends had said they liked it. I felt quite proud of myself.

So whether it’s a great photograph or not is hardly the issue. What made the taking of this photograph possible was nothing more complex or contrived than the fact that I was walking down a certain street with my “phone” in my hand.

It used to be that if I wanted to take some photographs, it was something of an event. I would make sure my camera was charged and I would pack it in my bag and off I’d go. It was a deliberate activity, and as I was thus engaged I found myself suddenly looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer.

But now, for me at least, it has become an essentially random activity, with hardly any thought or planning put into it whatsoever. The photograph is taken, and then shared with those who friends on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — all told, for me at least, potentially about 2,000 people. All I’ve done is stopped, aimed and pushed a button. Because of the sun and the size of the screen and the state of my eyesight, I hardly know what I’m looking at, so when a photo turns out like the one above, all I can really say is that it’s a happy accident.

This is a very far cry from the learned sophistication and artistry and experience of the great photographers of history. I think of Eugene Atget, of Dorothea Lange, of Walker Evans, of Yousuf Karsh, to name a few, all of whom have created some of the most famous and enduring images in the history of the human race. I wonder if the technology and the availability of that technology that allows me to take the photograph above, almost with my eyes closed, means that we will never see their likes again. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, and the success of the photography is no longer judged in aesthetic terms but in terms of the number of “likes” a photograph generates. As for longevity, it would seem no longer to exist. Yesterday’s photographs are gone, you’re only as good as your next one. And when push comes to shove, it doesn’t really matter anyway because nothing is at stake for the person who takes the shot. The artist has been removed from the equation.

So my question is this: is photography as a fine art finished? Have Hipstamatic and Instagram and iPhones and digitization in general all conspired to kill the art of photography? Does this current set of circumstances almost ensure the photographer, as artist, as a household name, has vanished, never to be seen again?

And another thing . . . what about my camera that languishes in my bag, that I never bothered to take out to take the above shot? Is there any point any more in investing in another thing which is just another thing to lug around with you all day, day after day? Most of us have our phones on us at all times, and most of these phones now come with amazing cameras as a standard feature. They even shoot video, broadcast quality. For someone of my generation, ie pre-digitization, it’s hard to imagine the things we now take for granted.

The quality and affordability and ubiquity of these phones in part accounts for the profusion of images. We take them because we can. As they say, a million monkeys typing for a million years will eventually accidentally write Hamlet. So we get a few great photographs. Dear God, have we become the monkeys? Could a monkey take the shot above? Well, if I did without really seeing the screen, why would I think it couldn’t have been taken by a monkey? Can a monkey with an iPhone create “art?”

No comment.

I’m not a Luddite. I like the photos I am taking on my iPhone. I am taking a lot more. I enjoy sharing them with my friends, and I like seeing the images others are coming up with.

Still,  I can’t help but worry that something is lost, some level of care and artistry and permanence is being lost and seemingly, no one really cares.

Thanks for reading . . .

Self-portrait with iPhone.

In Search of the Elusive Chucks: Photo Essay   5 comments

My friend the poet and photographer Jude Dillon accompanied me recently on a shopping expedition to Divine Decadence on 17th Avenue SW for my annual spring acquisition of a new pair of Converse All Stars — aka Chucks.

At the front door of Divine Decadence. Obviously I’ve already been next door to Reid’s Stationers where I bought a notebook which I did need and a fountain pen that I didn’t need.I have so many fountain pens now that I don’t need, but I can’t seem to help myself. The same could be said of Chucks. This pair I am in search of today will be pair #4. Oh well.



Atop the stairs preparing for the descent into Decadence. A tad apprehensive, perhaps. It’s a major undertaking that I don’t take lightly.



Holy Moses! Decisions, decisions! Do you ever find that too much choice can lead to paralysis?



A Prufrock moment: Do I dare wear a pair of peach-coloured Chucks?(Or are they tangello? Or is there such a thing as tangello Chucks? What would Prufrock have done? Or for that matter, Elliot? An existential conundrum . . .)




The lovely Megan helping me with the all important decision. We consulted for several hours, I had her people call my people, they did, they took a lunch, I took a nap, but when I woke up I was hungry because I hadn’t had my own lunch. Buying shoes can be exhausting.



The moment of truth. Yes they had the style I wanted and they even had my size, which is no small feat, so to speak, when you’re size 13. A small village of small people could live in one of my shoes. A hamlet. I wonder if Hamlet wore Chucks? If I were directing it, I’d put him in the exact same pair as I’m buying for myself.


Lacing up! This black on black style was recommended to me by my daughter Johanna Stickland who is the most famous fashion model I know and whom I trust entirely as my fashion adviser. She’s in Portugal right now, in case you’re wondering. But she’s going to Concordia in the fall to study photography.


Success! Over the years, my definition of success has become admittedly somewhat narrow. But you can never have too many shoes!




Hopefully I have enough in my account to pay for these suckers! I was once on a date and I had to stop off at the ATM to get some cash. I told my date I wasn’t sure if I had any money in my account. But then I took some out. And so she asked me how much I had in my account and I said around $1,000.00. She said, “So you don’t really know within $1,000.00 what your bank balance is?” And I said “That’s right.” She just shook her head, and then we had a drink.


The photographer. This is as much of the mysterious Jude Dillon as you’re likely to see.




Love yourself: why not? Better than the alternative! A nice reminder. Our trip to Divine was a lovely interlude. I make no secret that I love to support local businesses. Divine is an institution on 17th Ave., the people are friendly, what’s not to like? By the way, Megan asked me to put in a plug for their big sale coming up called Midnight Madness. It’s on April 27th from 7PM till Midnight. Everything in the store on sale up to 80%! (Details at

(I think I’ll head back and reconsider those peach coloured high tops)

Thanks for reading!

59 Minutes: A Collective Creation   Leave a comment

I have just finishing up teaching another playwriting class, this one known as  ENGL 371 at St. Mary’s University College here in Calgary.  As often as I have taught such classes, I have at least a rough idea in my head of how it might go. In fact, you might think that we followed some kind of rigid plan, known these days in academic circles as a syllabus. But with this ENGL 371, such was not the case.

Good thing too, because in my mind in a creative writing classes, the syllabus is really a worst case scenario. What one hopes for, as an instructor (and no doubt the students do too), is for some kind of divine intervention to throw the whole thing off course and take you to places you never dreamed of being in.  And that’s what happened with a handful of amazing students and me this semester.

The original plan was for us to follow some classic texts as we explored the mysterious and arcane process of writing a play. As we followed Hamlet and Willy Loman and those strange creatures in urns in Beckett’s Play (please check this out for yourself on YouTube, it’s amazing!) and even Luke Stike from my own play Writer’s Block (maybe not an actually classic, but you get the idea), we would learn how to write dialogue and monologues and scenes and learn about raising the stakes and all about status and of course conflict and the rest of it . . .

A little ways into the semester, we were invited by Alberta Theatre Projects to attend the dress rehearsal of their co-pro of a play called Good Fences by the Downstage Theatre Ensemble.

Seeing that play changed everything for my class and me and for the course we would find ourselves on for the duration of ENGL 371. When we got back to the classroom, we talked about the process of collective creation. I asked the students to use the “clustering” technique in their notebooks to come up with some ideas that interested them. When we came back, there was a true consensus that what interested everyone was gender identification and the extension of that, relationships of the romantic variety. (No big surprise, they’re university students, after all.)

And so we spent the rest of our time writing scenes, monologues, poems and even songs along these themes and Hamlet and all the rest of them soon went out the window. Funny, once the students were focusing on a subject that really engaged them, things like dialogue and structure didn’t prove to be a big problem. They just took care of themselves, somehow. I gave some feedback and talked about things like keeping the stakes high and reminding them that the dialogue they were writing had to be spoken by human beings, but by and large, more and more, I just got out of their way and let them run with this idea.

Well, sometimes, maybe at the best of times, teaching is nothing more than just getting out of the way and letting the students take the initiative. I had the faith and confidence in my students to do that and they didn’t let me down. I can say modestly that some of them told me that ENGL 371 became one of the most meaningful and dare I say inspirational classes they have ever taken. Less is more, indeed. It wasn’t bad for me either!

We presented our findings in the form of the script, 59 Minutes, at the fabled Auburn Saloon on Monday evening for an audience of 50 or so family and friends and fellow students.  To use the popular vernacular, we rocked. At one point in the evening I had to shake my head and remind myself that the people up there performing were, after all, merely students who had signed up for a creative writing class.

Yet, as they performed 59 Minutes is was clear they had reached far beyond that. For that 59 minutes on Monday evening, there was magic in the air and anything seemed possible.

The members of ENGL 371 rehearse "Booty Call."

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