Thursday, February 27, 2014

100 Happy Days

I'd like to thank Lyn from lynbree photography for twigging me onto 100 Happy Days in her recent Friday Flash blog post.

I believe we get really hung up on the definition of happiness in Western culture. I know I used to have a very different understanding of what it meant to be happy. I confused happiness with an easy life, things always going my way and no one around me ever hurting. I saw happiness as this sort of blissful state of joyful giddiness, almost. Something to be clung to that seemed forever in short supply for it's fleeting nature.

The shift in my perspective has been ongoing for several years. It started when I was in my late teens and has been evolving ever since. I've come to appreciate that life is not fixable. There is no 'pause' button and therefore the idea of 'everything settling down' at some point is absurd because that implies we can somehow control external circumstances.

Happiness is not the perfect job or the ideal partner or the best holiday. Happiness is a state of mind and one which can exist regardless of the external. I think perhaps a better word to use than 'happiness' would be 'contentment'.

After reading Lyn's blog I reflected on how I generate this sense of ease in my own life - this sense of joy for the very fact that I am alive.

I fixed the tire on my bike, patching a hole and reassembling the whole thing. I am grateful for my ability to learn and retain a skill like this, the independence it gives me. 

As I was working on this my darling fur-child jumped up on my back, placing her paws upon my head as she perched to look around. I felt joy at the companionship, the pure delight in having such a sweet cat and how wonderful she is to watch as she curiously explores the world around her. 

Later, once my bike was fixed, I went for a walk. The sun was breaking through the cloud periodically. I am grateful that I live somewhere with so many green spaces nearby. On this particular walk I went to the cemetery just up the road.

The sun was warm on my back as I wandered the lanes weaving their way through the graves. I paused to look at one marked as that of a 90 year old, the ground planted with rosemary and thyme. Next to it, a smaller grave, the birth date and death date being one and the same. The grass behind these graves was full of the thicker, darker leaves of daffodils beginning to poke through.

I am grateful for love - the love of parents who never got to know their child beyond a fleeting moment and the love of a family who planted herbs for someone who was with them for longer than most. 

Anything that might be going on in our lives at any given moment - any pain and hurt we may be experiencing - there is happiness to be found in our abilities; our dexterity, our sight, our mobility if we have it.

There is happiness to be found in watching the life around us; the animal who we are lucky enough to have as companions for however long that may be.

There is happiness to be found in knowing that even if there are clouds the sky is vast and open and the brightness of the sun is always there, even at night when it's reflected off the moon - and that's something quite awesome in the true meaning of the word.

Never mind finding one thing to bring us happiness each day - each day offers a hundred happy moments if you know how to look. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ingrid, again - Kait's Mixtape

'The Chain'
Ingrid Michaelson 

It was inevitable that I'd end up repeating artists. Choosing just one of Ingrid's songs was difficult enough in the first place and at the time I'd already done this drawing. I actually finished this piece late last year - as the very observant will notice when they spot the year next to my initials.

Like I said in my previous entry about Ingrid Michaelson, her lyrics have had a profound impact on my life. But something else I appreciate is how my understanding of a song can totally shift based on personal experience.

I would have to say 'The Chain' is not only one of my favourite Ingrid Michaelson songs - it's one of my all-time favourite songs that ever was. Since I first discovered it I believe it's not been on my OCD list for a period of about three months. Otherwise it's a permanent resident to the list of songs I could happily play three times or more in a row.

It has cellos. It has a canon - like the circular singing canon, not the Tchaikovsky 1812 sort of cannon, which is also awesome. The lyrics are poetic and heartfelt and her voice is lovely.

And then I lived it and my love of the song shifted to that of finding the words of a kindred spirit. It was a bit like the admiration a person can have for a piece of art they've seen in a book and then the complete emotional intensity of the moment they see the original hanging in a museum.

I love how my appreciation for a song can change over time. It often happens in reverse - where I'm happy to say my taste in music has improved significantly - but there's something so satisfying about hearing a song totally differently simply because of the way your life has changed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book number five

I'm doing quite well with my 2014 reading list. I read five books in January and am working on three at once for February. So many books, so little time!

Today I want to review that fifth book I read: 

I'm a big design nerd and reading this book pushed me right over the edge as far as typography is concerned. It an incredibly fascinating read as Simon Garfield takes us from the early days of hand scribed type to the revolutionary presses of Guttenberg and finally into the modern age where it seems like everyone in their dog has designed a typeface - or at least has one lurking in their imagination.

As a writer and artist I find type absolutely wonderful as it's not just what you communicate but also how you 'dress up' that communication. I felt like a sponge whilst reading this book as I soaked up interesting tie bits about the type that we all see every day. I already knew about the pervasiveness of Helvetica but I didn't really that one of my favourite fonts, Trebuchet, was one designed by the very same who introduced the much reviled Comic Sans to the world. I knew that Times New Roman (What my blog normally publishes in) was created for the Times but I had no idea Futura (Sorry, Blogger doesn't have this one) is nearly 90 years old!

It really was a fun romp to read and I was almost sad to reach the end. If anything it's sparked my curiosity even more and I'll be seeking out similar historical accounts of design.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

P!nk so gets me - Kait's Mixtape


I've been a big fan of P!nk for a long time. Her girl-rock-fuck-you attitude translates beautifully into music that motivates, invigorates and validates. 

I've had more than one of her songs on my OCD playlist at any given time. I remember the satisfaction I got from listening to 'So What' and 'Cuz I Can' as therapy following a broken-heart. Both she and Sarah McLachlan released albums  within weeks of each other full of lyrics about the emotional roller coaster of being dumped. Alanis Morissette is another one who's really damn good at being honest about heartbreak in her lyrics.

The saccharine 'Woe is Me' heartbroken lyrics of so many songs just grate on my nerves. There's this downtrodden sense of loss and ridiculous ideologies like 'I'm not whole without you' or 'how can I not just walk in circles without my other half?'

P!nk's lyrics certainly carry a level of honesty with them when it comes to heartbreak. She is a strong, resilient woman and this comes through in her music.

She talks about picking herself up, dusting herself off, and possibly flipping the bird to the person who hurt her IF she can be bothered to even give them the time of day - because she's got a life to live and she's gonna go and get on with that. She might hurt and she might be angry or upset or disappointed but she's not about to wallow.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

'G' whiz...

As a nerdling (child of nerds) I grew up in a household that encourages curiosity. I wrote about this in Wise at Any Age - I was told to go find things out and look things up. To further feed this inquisitive nature my parents have always supplied me with an abundance of books. 

Last year, when I began to develop my career as a Graphic Designer, my dad and I had a long discussion about the abundance of fabulous books on the subject. As is often the case for those of us with an insatiable thirst for gathering knowledge through the written word: So many books, so little time. 

Clearly the discussion stuck in my dad's mind as, for Christmas, I was presented with several books on the subject of graphic design. Among the lovely collection sat Just My Type, an entertaining and extremely well-written book by Simon Garfield. It is, as the title implies, about type or, more specifically, the history of typography.

I am not a typographist but I do love type. I believe it's an essential passion to have in the world of design - not to mention the world of writing.

Ah, writing.

As a kid I recall the tedium of filling in lettering worksheets. Despite being able to write since the age of four, I couldn't seem to get my letters 'right' - or at least not according to my teacher at the time. The printed letters were never round or straight enough and my cursive was an utter mess. Not to mention my atrocious spelling…

But I digress.

I remember filling in these sheets and I remember, quite distinctly, the very key differences between 'printed' and 'cursive' text. Letters standing on their own in printed format took on distinctive forms very different from most of the letters surrounding them. Cursive, however, required a 'thread' with which to tie the letters together. The shape, curve and swish of each letter needed to lean in and grab hold of the letter after it.

In the end I gave up on cursive. My own signature is simply a hurried, overly slanted, print with the cross-stroke of the 'T' running through the entire thing. But I haven't forgotten the different look of the letters when compared to cursive.

Recently I was working on a logo for a client and I chose to use a traditional looking cursive typeface. As with cursive writing, the capital 'G' looked similar this:

I thought nothing of it when I sent the initial concept off to the client. I also didn't really think much about it when they came back, confirming that they loved the design but the 'G' didn't 'look like a G'. 
I thought, "Yes, the 'G' does have a rather prominent slant and it's quite narrow, so I widened it, increasing the closed loop of the centre, and sent it back. 

The reply was swift, "It doesn't look any different. It looks like an 'M'. Can you close the top of it?" 

"An M'?"

How could it look like an 'M'? It was a 'G' and it was a closed loop. What was the confusion? 
So I ran a quick Internet search of cursive 'G's and found a lot more of this: 

But then I thought about the book I was reading. I considered the digitization of type and I did a quick scan of the incredible collection of fonts available on my design programmes. Of the hundreds of fonts I have to choose from only two have the classic cursive 'G' with it's elaborate loops and whorls used to tie it in with its companion letters. 

And thus my answer was found. I chose a typeface which is endangered. Of course my client was baffled! 

I don't think the idea of endangered or extinct letterforms had occurred to me before. Not unless we were considering the crossed 'S' or run together 'A' and 'E' of Gutenberg lineage. But there you have it. A letterform which, in fewer than ten years, may be completely unrecognizable to anyone once they've left school. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Design *glee*

I created a logo for the Calgary TransHub last year and posted about it shortly after they launched their Facebook page. But there's been a little something else I've been holding back on because it was 'Top Secret'...ish.

They were working to put together a website full of fabulous resources and asked me to help out with the design. I'm not a programmer and have no interest in it so the extent of my contribution was creating the layout and the graphics for the buttons. It was super fun to do though and I'm really happy to see they've finally been able to launch it!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Salute to an incredible Canadian! - Kait's Mixtape

Today is Time to Talk day. 

Jann Arden
Jann Arden is just really super awesome in general. She's funny, entrepreneurial, she hangs out with Rick Mercer and if you've ever experienced heartbreak her lyrics are wicked. 

I had a lot of fun doing the lines for this. It was an extremely mindful project and really reinforced the truth of the lyrics. It helps, I think, to remind ourselves that we are resilient. We will get by. I promise.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Time to Talk - February 6th

The Time to Change initiative aims to tackle misconceptions about mental illness. On February 6th they've organized 'Time to Change' Day as a way to raise awareness. 

I was recently in a discussion about mental illness and the statement that stress is 'not a clinical condition like depression' was made. 

I am firmly opposed to this but I believe in providing an argument with solid reasoning as to why. 

This is what I came up with: 
  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

When stress is experienced the hypothalamus is triggered to release Cortisol or Adrenalin. In some situations this is extremely beneficial - for example, when we see a tiger or a group of thugs coming at us and it triggers us to run away at a speed we might not normally be able to achieve without the Adrenalin boost. 

When we experience this release excessively when it’s not a fight or flight situation (for example, because we have a difficult co-worker or are having a challenge in our relationship or difficulty with debt etc.) the repeated release of Cortisol and Adrenalin have an adverse effect on the body which leads to the symptomatic health issues listed in the third point above. Stress is the root cause because it’s stress that’s telling our brain to release these hormones. 

The constant state of fight or flight our body will find itself in inhibits our cognitive functions, making it more difficult to deal with the stressful situation we're experiencing. We cannot literally fight with or flee from mounting debt - but our brain doesn't know this. 

Too much Cortisol increases blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, hypertension, and heart attacks. 

Too much Adrenalin stops digestion, increases stomach acid and can lead to ulcers. 

Too much of either affects the brain’s ability to conduct a proper sleep cycle which is essential to our mental processing and physical health. 

Clinical depression is caused by an imbalance in serotonin levels in the body, serotonin being a neurotransmitter produced in the brain stem. 

So stress and depression are not the same, stress is a diagnosable illness and there is such a thing as Stress Disorder and arguably, all mental illnesses are also physical because our brains are essential to our body. 

Why go to the length I have to make this argument? 

By stating that some mental illnesses are more ‘valid’ or ‘severe’ than others we can make a person feel as though the condition they are dealing with is not legitimate. This can cause a person to: ignore the issue; not discuss it with their doctor, employer or family; discredit their own feelings and ultimately aggravate and make the condition worse than it needs to be

Yes, some mental illnesses are extremely severe when compared to others but none of them are any less hard for the individual to cope, deal with and ultimately find treatment for. 

My argument is stress is a legitimate issue that affects mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and is just as valid in the spectrum of mental illness as any other. 

This is my early contribution to Time to Talk Day. I believe talking about these things is not only beneficial for those living with and recovering from a mental illness. It's also a chance for us to educate each other - to look at things from a different perspective and consider the subtle ways we can make a difference by being aware of the language we use.