Sometimes you read something in a book, and it exposes a nerve, but recently a simple line in Hanif Kureishi's short story "Intimacy" turned me inside out.
"Teaching English to foreigners, always a last resort for the directionless."
At first I smiled at how succinctly the author had exposed my secret, then panic set in. I'd always thought of myself as a writer/photographer who teaches English to pay the rent, yet on reading these words I felt fraudulent. I tried to remember the last time I hadn't relied on my steady teacher's paycheck. I was taken back almost a full decade, to a time scored by the music of friends.
Winter, 1998. The word "millennium" was creeping its way into our lives. Melted snow dripped through the skylight in our kitchen at 57 Grange Avenue. Justin and Charles, two of my roommates at the time, had just finished recording their second album with Do Make Say Think. The album, Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead, got its title from a weathered call to freedom on a poster pasted onto the back of a Chinese supermarket in the alleyway behind our house. It's release announced that our friends would be away for a good part of each year from then on.
As for me, back then I served espressos rather than verb tenses, and relished coming home from my shift at Second Cup to the warm glow of a living room jam in progress. Charlie's friend and KC Accidental collaborator, Kevin, would sometimes be there, laying down a track, treating us to sweet music that might never even make it onto a record.
Pretty soon, Kevin, his pal Brendan and a collection of musician friends started drawing crowds at a bar called Ted's Wrecking Yard. They played songs that moved you halfway between laughter and tears. They called themselves John Tesh Jr. & the Broken Social Scene, and though the name was soon shortened, the lineup swelled to include even more talented players and songwriters. Thankfully, I took pictures between moments of euphoria, not then realizing that those opportunities would soon become increasingly rare.
The following autumn I flew to Jerusalem to photograph the second coming of the Messiah (he never showed) and upon my return to Toronto, four months later, I found myself living on a friend's futon, pondering my next move. Having taught in Korea a few years earlier, I slid back into the ESL classroom. "I'll do this in the morning and shoot photos the rest of the time," I thought, and thus began my split-duty existence. Since then, keeping journals and taking photos of my surroundings, home and abroad, has helped to keep my dream of being a photojournalist from disappearing completely. But, as Kureishi's words have forced me to realize, dreams are not the same as goals.
October, 2006. I find out that Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene are going on the road together. Restless for change, I take the news as a cue for action, and mark the dates on my fridge calendar. Charles mentions there's room on the bus, then three conversations and 17,500 Air Mile points later, my plans are confirmed. I'll catch up with the caravan in Baltimore and gratefully bunk on the Do Make bus for the rest of the tour. Six shows in six nights and the drive home. Needless to say, photos and words will follow.