This Anonymous Letter to Humanity is a Wake Up Call. Please read!

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

“Tragedy always seems so distant and is beautiful in the reactions it causes. briefly, we are forced to care, we are connected and we pray and promise and hope for change. but the words are quickly lost and our minds quickly w[a]nder to other things even when the problems persist[s] with as much power and vigor than before.”

“our manic-depressive switching from compassion to apathy just results in each feeling negating the other. it’s easy to disregard what we can’t see. emotions are generally distorted reflections. over exaggeration and under exaggeration are common, but usually they are just faked completely. what matters isn’t the initial feeling, but the feelings they evoke in others.” – anonymous

 

I took both of these images years ago, when I was still living in Toronto, and obsessed with the vibrant graffiti and street art culture thriving there (I’m still obsessed, but from a distance!). I eventually compiled the photos into a book that I was thrilled to sell at the amazing, and sadly now-closed, Pages Books & Magazines, on eclectic and hip Queen Street West, not far from much of the city’s best street art.

I became deeply immersed in the city through two lenses – that of the street artists themselves, and of my own, through photographing their work. It was a human connection through several layers, but a surprisingly intimate one. There are so many beautiful ways to commune with others, to receive, and give back.

The photo I took, below, has stayed with me – haunted me, really – ever since. I stumbled on these two small strips of paper, written in a regular-sized font on a simple strips of paper, glued to a piece of wood in an urban back alley. It wouldn’t be the first thing you saw walking along, but I’d been wandering around this neighbourhood for months, and one day these faded, stained pieces of paper caught my eye.

The author will remain forever unidentified (though I would love to meet him or her, and have a conversation, and know of the experiences that led to the writing of this letter to the city).

In a big city, which to my mind is increasingly a metaphor for the larger, global world we live in, being human often translates into feeling tiny, lost, insignificant. The writer of this plea to the city makes some very prescient comments, alluding to the tendency for our empathy and compassion to come and go as quickly as we’ve now come to experience the updates on our social media newsfeeds in the years since.

Of course, this isn’t empathy at all, or compassion, because when we have learned to cultivate these qualities, they cease to be fleeting, and we become more able to generate a sustained desire to change the world (and ourselves) for the better. To connect, deeply, gently and kindly.

“It’s easy to disregard what we can’t see.” Let’s make a world where it’s not desirable to avoid seeing. Let’s remove the veils behind which apathy and blind eyes flourish.

Speaking out from a small slip of paper, this anonymous writer reminds us that it only takes a moment to put something negative in the world, but a lot longer for the effects of this negativity to fade away. We should remember, in reading his or her beautiful, cautionary words, that behind the facades we use through which to communicate with the world (be it art or social media), we are real beings, reaching out to other human beings, who want to love and be loved as much as the next person.

Not for what we say or do, not only for right now, under these circumstances and not only to get a “like”, but unconditionally. Equally.

This is the beginning and end of what we deserve as we make our way, sometimes fumbling and yes, also dancing our way through the world. In case I never meet this author of these words, I send out a heart full of gratitude for taking the time to formulate these observations and attach them to the urban outdoors, so that we may be duly reminded.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

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Happenings: Scenes of a City

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Dear everyone,

I just had this story published here in Japan, in a newsletter going out to a huge mailing list of students of the English language. While I’d written the bones of this story before, I had a really interesting experience re-reading and then editing it from the eye of the prospective new reader: smart, enthusiastic and determined students of a foreign language. On top of reading a story full of alien phrasing and storytelling devices, there’s also the issue of the vast cultural gap between urban life in Japan and in Canada, or namely, Toronto, where the incidents in the story occurred. I’m not sure if I succeeded in telling a successful tale in light of my audience, but I wanted to share it here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Happenings: Scenes of a City

Who knows why things happen? There are so many things that happen in a day it’s almost overwhelming. I’ve seen thousands and thousands of movies, and somehow life is always more exciting, even the little things, like the ones I’m about to relate.

It’s daytime in downtown Toronto. A young, balding lopes onto the bus. He pauses at the front, heavy on one foot, then another, and says to the driver, a woman:

“Ma’am … have you ever thought about donating blood?”

“Please take your seat, sir.”

He has a ritual. First he rubs his hand along his scalp, front to back, three times. He then stretches the same hand in front of him, elbow straight, twitching his fingers involuntarily. He doesn’t speak, but his eyes are fixated on the people he sees in front of him. He turns directly around.

“Ma’am, would you mind sparing me some of your coffee?”

She smiles sympathetically, but doesn’t say anything.

He puts his hands on his head, and lumbers back to the front of the bus mid-stop. The driver tells him to take his seat, and this time, he does.

 

I’ve been out all day, and it’s dark now. The lights are more colourful. A student with straggly blond hair come on the bus and sits next to his friends and a very thin woman. He’s old enough not to have to mock others around his friends, but young enough to feel the mockery bubbling inside him. The woman seems to be a nurse. With white nurse shoes and a Bible she reads with fingers arched down and skimming the page. It’s a “Love Jesus” pamphlet.

A moment later, without taking her eyes off the page, she reaches into a pocket and turns to the long-haired student and offers the “Love Jesus” pamphlet to him without a word. He takes it, smiles slightly ahead to his friends – she can’t see this – and puts the pamphlet into his backpack, which he folds his hands over. The nurse seems to hesitate and then reaches for another pamphlet and points it to his friends, and then to me. No one else takes it. She nods and puts the pamphlet away.

 

I’ve been on the bus a long time. Distances are great in cities as large as this one. But I like being on the bus. There’s something comforting about the lull of the motor, and all the people sharing a space and connecting for a brief moment in time.

It now feels darker than it is, maybe because I’m sleepy. Across from me, I see a little girl reading a newspaper, her little bobby-socked legs not nearly reaching the ground. They’re spread wide apart, toes pointed inward. Her little fingers chubbily grasp the edges of the newspaper on both sides, and the paper covers her body from tummy to the sprouting braids with the pink and green elastics. Picture-perfection. Her daddy reads from a file next to her. Suddenly, her newspaper slowly falls to her lap, and I notice that she has Down’s Syndrome.

Her head lolls in sleep. When her daddy notices, he cradles her under his arm and reads the file over her head. I think about parenthood and protected we feel by our parents when we’re young.

All of these things I saw today were visual images, rather than ones I could hear. They are pictures I can recreate now, for you, with language. The sound has been lost, in memory also, because I am much more attuned to seeing than I am to hearing. Who remembers the drone of a bus that hides all other, smaller sounds, except in movies, when loud songs and noises have been added onto the soundtrack? I love seeing, though, and using my thoughts as the soundtrack to this activity on the bus.

When I finally get off the bus, I head to my favourite coffee shop just a few blocks away, so I can clear my head and enjoy a coffee before going home for the night. I sit under at a table on the patio, reading a book.

A thin, older man sits in the corner smoking and drinking a small coffee with cream – he looks like Henry Fonda from Easy Rider days, wearing a blue tank top and loose-fitting grey dress pants that look second-hand. Or he’s a painter and hasn’t changed his clothes after a day of work. He catches me looking at him and approaches my table, and asks if he could sit down.

He’s very talkative, and tells me he’s been in jail on and off for twelve years, since the age of sixteen. He had drug problem for eighteen years. His parents may not have been perfect, he says, but they at least tried to teach him the difference between right and wrong. He still faces temptation when it comes to drugs, and it’s hard for him to resist, so he goes home and to the Word, which means the Bible, he adds. The minute your eyes leave the page, he tells me, they are away from God and that’s when bad things can happen. And he knows he’s not with God all the time yet, but because he’s a Christian he wants at least to tell others about God’s love …

This man and I have not shared similar life experiences, but I’m grateful to him for sharing his story with me, and I thank him as I get up to leave.

He smiles as I get up, and says he’ll say a prayer for me tonight.

I walk home, shivering in the night air, wondering about all the tomorrows.

Art by Two {painting, photography, print}

Collaboration is a Beautiful Thing

 

These go back a few years, to when I was putting together a collection of street photography for Toronto’s Contact Photogrpahy festival. Brilliant artist and printmaker Shawn Reynar generously offered to print my photos on special paper, and as we sat in front of piles of both of our work, we started playing around on the computer, combining our various outputs in new and fascinating ways, adding things as we went.

I liken this process to that of spontaneous writing, which I’ve been practicing for many years and which always yields magical surprises.

There is such  joy in this kind of discovery! These were the result of our efforts.

We called this series-of-two: Dreams of a City I’ve Never Been To.

You can also find these images on Shawn’s website, here. Please take a moment to check out the rest of Shawn’s work featured on his site. He’s a master, an artist down to the very fabric of his being, and his works move me right to the core.

Tammy T. Stone and Shawn Reynar

Tammy T. Stone and Shawn Reynar

 

Tammy T. Stone and Shawn Reynar

Tammy T. Stone and Shawn Reynar