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‘I think I’ve got potential, but does the world agree?’

By November 13, 2017 General
The choreographer teaching

Simon wears many different hats in a day, but most of them have a pair dance shoes to match.  Simon is a dance teacher, choreographer, and pilot. He is an urban style dancer and eventually he wants to open his own restaurant.

Our interview began as we sat down at my kitchen table with a cup of tea warming my hands and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and a coffee in front of Simon. Simon has a passion for dance. As an instructor and choreographer, he has the ability to create and inspire.

As a choreographer you’re always trying to explore and create something new and find a new way to do something.’

For Simon, this is not something new. He has now been dancing for ten years and has dipped his toes in many different styles. From his first jazz dance class when he was 14 to now choreographing and teaching national competitors in hip hop, Simon has come a long way.

Simon explained that he while he has made a lot of progress, he is never done learning. After our interview, Simon left for a five hour choreography workshop. He wants to hone his skills and learn as much as he can so that he can teach it to others.

He hasn’t, however, always wanted to be a dance teacher and choreographer. He explained that he only took his first dance class to improve his stage skills for his high school theatre program. Theatre was his hobby, but becoming a pilot was his dream job. His desire to become a pilot began years before when he was in elementary school.

When he was in grade six, his school was having a career day. His teacher’s dad came in and handed out post cards of 737s, commercial passenger planes. Simon had always had a love for flying and was so inspired by the presentation that he wanted to become a pilot.

Ever since that day, I wanted to be a pilot…from that point on, that was my goal, that was my focus.’

Even now, years later, he still has that post card.

Dreams and aspirations however, change. While in high school, Simon was heavily involved in the theatre program. He felt he needed to improve his performance on stage. One of his teachers suggested that he should take a jazz dance class from the local dance studio.

What started out as a way to improve his stage skills has turned into a life passion.

I was shit by the way.

He loved it so much, though, that he hasn’t stopped. He then continued taking different dance classes all the way through high school, even travelling from his home town of Barrie to Toronto to take workshops. Eventually, he began teaching classes to younger dancers.

The only time he took a break from dancing was when he moved to Ottawa for flight school. He was focused on his studies, but found that there was something missing. He missed his time on the dance floor.

He completed his courses and had only a handful of ratings left to complete before graduation. Ratings are specific in flight and hands on experience courses that are part of the aviation program. The courses were extremely expensive however and he took some time off to save money so that he could complete them later on.

One of the first jobs he took was as a dance instructor at a community centre teaching hip hop. This is where his career began.

‘He’s had the biggest impact on my life.’

During one of his classes a man came in and watched him teach. At the time, Simon was unaware of how great an impact he would have on his life.

His name was Bill Juillette, the co-founder of Momentum Moves and one of the first dancers on the Ottawa hip hop scene. Momentum Moves is an organization that brings dance into schools across Ontario. This program teaches kids the basics of dance and also partners with different organizations like Jump Start (The Canadian Tire sports funding program) and The Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre (a program that provides services to children with diverse needs in the Ottawa area).

‘He is the one who made me a better teacher.’

Bill saw potential in Simon. Not only could he dance, but he could also teach. He invited Simon to one of the school dance classes and told him to watch. Simon explained that Bill began teaching him more about how to be a good teacher, how to relate to his students and not only to teach dance, but to teach life lessons as well.

‘I try to teach something extra, I try to teach them a life lesson, teamwork, respect, motivation.’

Simon tries to instill different lessons based on the group he is teaching. Whether it is a group of rowdy young boys in their first dance class or attentive older students, he bases his teachings on what they are capable of learning.

‘At some point in your life you said to someone, whether it’s yourself or somebody else who’s teaching you something or trying to help you, “I can’t do it”. And what did they say? “You can do it”. They’re wrong.’

Simon explains that this is part of the learning process. At that point, his students can’t do it, but he is there to help them. Help them learn, help them improve and eventually they will be able to do it. There’s a learning curve, he explained, and this is the first step in the process.

Respect is the only rule that Simon has in his classes. ‘Respect the teacher or whoever is the leader, respect yourself and respect the others around you.’ Everything else, he explained, falls under this one rule.

From a small community centre class to school classrooms to now teaching for some of the most renowned dance studios in Ottawa, Simon has grown in skill and demand. He now teaches at Point of Grace Dance Company, Canadian School of Dance, Studio de Danse Danielle, West Carleton School of Performing Arts and Dance with Alana.

I’m able to have a purpose, I’m able to have an impact, I’m able to share, I’m able to speak in a different way.’

Simon uses choreography as a creative outlet. He is able to tell stories and draw on his life experiences to create new pieces. One of his most successful pieces was inspired by his favourite movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

He used it for the final performance of the year where all the students, from the youngest to the oldest danced together. He told me that people are still talking about the piece and want to know what is in store for this year.

He hinted that a Michael Jackson inspired piece was in the works for one of his older students. Inspiration, he explained, comes from everywhere. It can come from the music or an idea that can be paired to music later on. One example he gave was for a piece with a Breaking Bad theme.

When talking about the idea, his eyes sparked and he became more animated, talking about ideas for hazmat suit costumes and the different styles of dance he could draw on for inspiration. When creating a piece, Simon uses moves from different styles of urban dance. From popping to locking, house to waving, Simon is able to incorporate a variety of different styles of dance into his pieces.

I don’t think that people, not that they won’t like it, but that they won’t believe in me.’

Having a piece on show for the world to see can be daunting. Simon explained that he is sometimes conflicted, simultaneously feeling that he has something to offer and not having anything at all.

He explained that because he has been removed from the hip hop community in Ottawa, he is concerned that they might not appreciate what he has to show.

One student’s mother strongly disagreed. She sent Simon a letter thanking him for inspiring her daughter to follow her dreams to become a dancer.  The letter went on to explain that Simon was the reason she pursued dancing. She is now dancing with a company in Toronto.

Despite several examples of his success, Simon still has doubts. He explained that his largest obstacle is himself. He has a fear that people will despise his work.

‘I need to get over myself, I need to get over the fact that I don’t have anything to offer and that when I post work that people won’t go “oh that’s shit”

He has acknowledged this barrier and is now working to improve the confidence he has in his pieces. He is learning how to edit music videos and plans to post some of his dances on Youtube. Simon also explained that he wants to have one of his favourite pieces professionally filmed for his student’s portfolio.

‘That’s what is comes down to; it’s connecting with them’

I had the opportunity to watch one of Simon’s classes and see the connection he has with his students. They look up to him as a role model. He is able to inspire them to improve, to work past their limits and never give up. He is a patient teacher who will work with a student to advance, to succeed.

The energy in the studio when he works with his students is tangible. He is able to motivate and teach in a way that keeps his students engaged and excited to learn. I might even sign up for a class with him!

Simon has been able to turn his passion into a career. His hard work and dedication have paid off. He has students performing at the national level and the studios he works for are winning competitions. My interview with him has reminded me that if you want something enough and are willing to work for it, reaching your goals is always possible. Please don’t give up. Follow your dreams and make them a reality.

 

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‘When you help people, you help yourself’

By November 7, 2017 General
Farid

Farid Yaghini has an incredible passion for helping others. From being a refugee at the age of nine to an Afghanistan war veteran, Farid has seen quite a lot. He is now the founder of the Aftermath Association, an organization that is providing long term management of PTSD through active philanthropy’.

My first time meeting Farid was at a Bridgehead on Bank Street after several emails back and forth to introduce The Coffee Date Campaign and to set a time to meet. We ordered our drinks, an iced coffee for him and a pot of tea for me, before sitting down at our table.

Farid was born in Iran in 1980, the year after the Islamic revolution. Farid and his family belonged to a religious minority which was no longer tolerated by the new Islamic regime. They were forced to escape to Pakistan with the hope of immigrating to Canada.

‘As a kid I got to go with smugglers and my parents went another route, we all went different routes so that if we got caught we wouldn’t all get killed’

This was Farid’s reality as a nine year old boy. When his family reunited in Pakistan, they stayed there for two years before coming to Canada.

They had spent almost all their money in their escape. When they finally arrived in Canada, they had to start over. They could only afford to live in the less desirable neighborhoods outside of Toronto.

Growing up, he was surrounded by people who were running from something, whether it be a war torn country or religious prosecution. He grew to love the other boys his age as brothers. He was however, the only one out of his group of friends that went to high school. Most of his friends had dropped out and were already selling drugs by that age. He knew it was wrong and never partook in it, but they were his friends and had taught him everything from speaking to girls to what to wear now that he was in Canada.

‘I didn’t necessarily fear the legal system, but I feared my father’

To avoid this group of friends as he finished high school, Farid went to Sir Sandford Flemming College, in Peterborough for electronic engineering. Just as he was finishing his studies, the market crashed. He was unable to find a job in his field. Farid was left painting houses while he friends prospered from selling drugs. He knew there was a potential of falling into that line of business.

My father always said: “Earn your keep”

At this time the military was offering full-time jobs for a three year commitment. They even offered to pay off some of Farid’s student debt. So, on August 18th, 2002, Farid joined the Canadian Armed Forces. Farid only planned on being in the military for the mandatory three years. That was ten years of service and two tours ago.

At 24 years old Farid could not explain his desire to return to Afghanistan not once, but twice. He just loved his job. Now, looking back, he is able to identify that he had a heightened sense of purpose while deployed. He had an ability to help others.

After his tours, he was assessed both physically and mentally by Canadian Forces mental health experts to determine why he was okay to return while some of his comrades were not. They found that Farid had more resiliency than some others because he had anchored himself to five defining moments.

Farid gave an example of a defining moment. During a foot patrol, Farid witnessed a commanding officer go against his standard operating procedures and bring a child with a rare heart condition to Canadian Forces base Camp Julien in Kabul, Afghanistan. Canadian Forces doctors diagnosed the little girl with a rare heart condition. The soldiers at the base and their families sponsored the little girl and her father to travel to Canada so that she could have the lifesaving surgery that would have been impossible in Afghanistan.

A month after the encounter, Farid and his patrol saw the girl again. She  had returned to Afghanistan, completely recovered.

Memories like this, Farid explains, help him through remembering when he witnessed dead children with their organs removed for the black market.

It’s other events like bringing school supplies to a girls’ school during the dead of night and watching their excitement from the army lookouts the next morning that make it worth it to Farid. The soldiers were able to see the smiles on their faces and how grateful they were to have new supplies.

‘You made it, you won the lottery, but there was a sense of emptiness’ 

Looking back, he couldn’t believe the contrast between  the challenges he faced growing up and his current reality. After two tours in Afghanistan and seven more years in the military than he had originally planned, Farid retired when it began causing problems with his home life. He came home to a lovely family, a house and a car.

A sense of guilt began to overwhelm him as he heard about and witnessed his military comrades suffering greatly from mental anguish. Reports of suicides and lives falling apart began to eat away at him.

Farid had just become a father. He found a stable, safe government job. Shortly after his daughter was born, he wrote ‘Dream until your dreams come true’ on her wall. Still, he felt like a hypocrite because he was not leading the life he wanted for his daughter.

His marriage failed shortly after that. As he sat alone in his unfurnished apartment, he tried to figure out what he wanted. He was in a dark place. He didn’t yet know how to fill the void the military had left in his life. After seeking help from professionals in the mental health field, Farid found that what he lacked was a sense of purpose.

To combat his sense of helplessness, he became a Big Brother and a sponsor for Christian Children. Still, that was not enough. He refused to just move on after hearing about the terrible PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that was crippling his friends. Farid himself has never suffered from PTSD, but was diagnosed with mild anxiety upon returning home.

‘If helping people in that manner, in that explosive, positive manner helped me, why can’t I set that up for someone else?’

That was the question he asked himself. Why couldn’t it work for others? His anchoring moments had helped him through some of the toughest times in his life. Why couldn’t they do the same thing for someone suffering from PTSD? He started volunteering at clinics to see what was being done for veterans with PTSD. What he found was that there was always an end date to the programs offered. There was always a victim and a caregiver.

What if the veterans could regain that sense of purpose that he was also lacking? What if they could become daily heroes as well as war heroes? Farid started talking about his ideas to friends. He explained the idea of giving veterans and first responders (Fire fighters, police officers, paramedics) the opportunity to replace the bad memories with positive ones of them giving back to their community.

‘A year ago I spoke out loud about this and now there’s an executive committee and a board of directors and there’s such amazing people and without them…this idea’s not even mine.’

Camp Aftermath is now a non-profit organization waiting for its charity status. This week the Aftermath Association will begin Crowd Funding for its first deployment of veterans and first responders to Costa Rica. They will go for a two week volunteer/recovery trip. During this trip, the volunteers will not only have the opportunity to help in the community by building schools or working with animals, but they will also participate in meditation, group therapy, team building and other events. Dr. John Whelan, a renowned mental health expert who sits on the Aftermath Association advising committee, will be advising them on the curriculum for the trip.

Farid attributes the success of the organization to the incredible volunteers. He explained that they support and motivate him each day to continue fighting for such a great cause.

‘It’s the volunteers at the end of the day’

After the first responders and veterans return from Camp Aftermath, they will continue volunteering in their own community with continual support from the members of their deployment and the Aftermath Association.

Farid’s dream to help others has grown from helping those in war torn countries as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces to also helping Canadian veterans and first responders. Each day the organization is growing, expanding to create even more of a difference. Farid explained that every day they are hearing from different organizations, mental health professionals or different people across Canada who want to help such a great cause.

Find a cause that you think is worth fighting for. Find something that lights your fire like Farid has done. Make a difference, fight for a change and you will see a difference.

 

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‘Here’s me, take me for what I am’

By October 23, 2017 General
I’m not bossy, I’m a boss

Angelique Baron-Brunet has a panic disorder. She also plays the ukulele. In the spring, she graduated from the nursing program at the University of Ottawa. She has a partial social anxiety disorder. Her favourite colour is purple.

She has also been diagnosed with an eating disorder, not specified, a mood disorder characterized by borderline personality disorder type two and moderate OCD. At 22 years old she is already working at her dream job as a paediatric nurse on a haematology oncology floor.

From vibrant oranges to fuchsia pinks, she also starts her own hair trends every few weeks when she changes her hair colour. Her hair speaks to her personality. She is an outgoing, vivacious, kind-hearted person.

Like any form of illness, a diagnosis does not define a person. It’s who you are and what you do with your life that does. Angelique is no exception.

Our conversation began as we sank in to the sun-warmed leather chairs near the window of the Blue Bird Cafe. We warmed our hands and appreciated our lattes that had been poured into vibrant coloured striped mugs. Angelique has a passion for bringing awareness to others about mental health and a love for nursing.

She told me about her experiences in the medical field and how she finds ways to educate not just the general public, but her friends and family about mental health as well.

I didn’t go into nursing to pass a test, I went into nursing to save a life.’

Her entire demeanour changed and her face radiated excitement as she told me about her job as a nurse on the haematology oncology unit.

‘For all the ones (patients) that you lose, there is the same amount, if not more that are doing really, really well.’

Angelique explained that while there are shifts that are heartbreaking and difficult, the good times compensate for the bad. She recalled a specific instance where one of her patients needed blood taken and she was able to keep him calm throughout the procedure, even making him laugh.

Those are the moments that I remember and that I talk about when I go home. I don’t talk about when that one kid threw up three times in an hour.’

It seemed crazy to me that someone could stay so positive through such a tough experience, but she explained. ‘Kids will surprise you, their bodies are capable of things that, like, you wouldn’t imagine and they heal in ways that are just ridiculous and don’t make sense, but then you know I don’t need to understand as long as (they’re) better.’

Both of Angelique’s passions are very near to her heart. She lives at home with her mom and dad and also plays a role as a caregiver for her grandma. In this role, she has seen her share of the health care field from the side of a family member.

She also explained that after years of advocating for her own mental wellbeing, she is able to be a resource for others experiencing similar situations. It can be difficult, she says, trying to navigate the maze of mental health resources and available treatments.

‘It’s not as well explained as it should be and it’s not as transparent as it should be’

She explained that ‘my issues have evolved quite a bit’. Even in high school she had difficulties with her mental health and at one point was having suicidal thoughts. But she didn’t go through with it. She was able to talk herself out of it by promising herself that she wouldn’t leave her room until morning.

Even recently, she explained, she was having similar feelings. There’s one thought that she’s had, however, that has stopped her when those thoughts creep back in. ‘What if I’m not successful?’ She explained that her reasoning behind this thought process was that she might be in a worse situation if she were unsuccessful than where she is today.

If you are having similar thoughts or know someone who is, one of the crisis lines for the Ottawa area is 1-866-996-0991.

‘I feel like when you come so close and you’re able to look back…you can refer back to when you were able to move forward.’

She explains that while she has had thoughts of killing herself by suicide, even in her dreams she has fought to remain alive. Overall, she explained that she tries to be a positive person and this helps during the harder times in her life.

Throughout the last few years Angelique has driven herself to the psychiatric emergency room at the Ottawa General Hospital on more than one occasion. She explained that she has received the best treatment and most respect when in a crisis situation at the General Hospital’s psychiatric emergency room. Even now, in a much better place mentally, she explained that she does not feel comfortable having more than a one month supply of medication on hand because she runs a higher risk of using it for an overdose.

‘It (self-harm scars) almost forces people to actually realize it’s legitimate and it’s real and it’s not a choice and it’s not just because, like, things are going on in my life.’

Just below Angelique’s tattoo of a flower, a peony, on her forearm are the scars from a time when she inflicted self-harm. She explained that she has considered covering them, but says that there are physical scars to physical health and mental health should not be an exception. Not everyone, she explains, is calm about physical signs and symptoms of mental health and it bothers her.

‘I’m not ashamed of them, I just don’t like when people react negatively because it’s so frustrating. It just reinforces the stigma and a lot of people, the people that react negatively, are just very opposed to it and are very dismissive and it’s not cool.’

Her goal when bringing awareness to others about mental health is to ‘just challenge the way they think’. Mental health is an umbrella and there is not just one definition of good mental health. Angelique’s definition of is to ‘function to the best of your abilities… reaching where you want to be’ .  For some, she explained, that could be waking up in the morning and having a shower, for others it could be going out with friends and enjoying themselves.

Some days are just harder than others and Angelique is no stranger to that. On one such day, she went to McDonalds for a snack before heading out to meet friends. She started chuckling to herself before telling me full story. By the end of it, we were both roaring with laughter.

It started, she said, when she was crying in her car in the driveway. She was having a terrible day and was not feeling up to going out, but had already made plans. When she pulled into McDonalds her story began.

‘I thought I had to fart in the driveway of McDonalds and I pooped my pants.’

I was awed that she shared her story with me. She explained that while it was extremely embarrassing, ‘it put me in such a good mood because on most days you can look at yourself and go at least I didn’t shit my pants today, but that day I couldn’t even say that.’  Now, when she is having a rough day, she looks back and compares it with the day at McDonalds and things don’t seem quite as bad.

Over the last few years Angelique has had to prioritize her wellbeing and find a balance between her busy social life, her work life and her schooling. She had to accept that there were days that she just couldn’t do it all. While it was sometimes quite difficult to find that balance, she explains that ‘as much as I want to go forward with things, I have to take it slow, take it one step at a time’.

Angelique’s main piece of advice for anyone having a difficult time is to ‘be your own best friend’.  Give yourself the support, patience and respect that you would give your best friend.

‘Things might get worse before they get better, but you just have to close your eyes and put one foot in front of the other. Or at least stay where you are.’

One of the last things Angelique told me before we finished our last sips was that she has a new found love of jeans. She explained that it has only been in the last two years that she has stopped wearing clothes specifically to cover her stomach. Before then, she was self-conscious of how she looked. It was only after one of her summers as a camp councillor that she decided she didn’t care. ‘I was too scared to be vulnerable and I was like fuck it…so I just did it and now I love it’.

Angelique is an amazing person who radiates warmth and strength. She puts her heart into everything she does and is kind to everyone she meets. Her goal of bringing awareness to others about mental health gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my own thoughts about mental health. It also changed my perspective of what a mental health diagnosis involves. Please let this article challenge your views. If you are in need of support, see the resources posted below for mental health services in the Ottawa and GTA areas.

Ottawa Distress Centre

https://www.dcottawa.on.ca/

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Services

http://www.theroyal.ca/mental-health-centre/mental-health-programs/

GTA:

Stella’s Place (Young Adult Mental Health Services)

https://stellasplace.ca/we-offer/

Toronto Distress Centre

https://www.torontodistresscentre.com/

 

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Buzzing Through Life

By October 12, 2017 General
Dan with a bee swarm

It was a warm, sunny day in August when I sat down with Dan to talk about his passion for beekeeping. We sipped at our drinks next to the window of a local café in downtown Bowmanville as we watched moms with their children walk by and elderly women meet for their morning coffees.

Dan is an educational assistant who works with students who have learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or down syndrome. When asked what his dream job would be, he said either his current job as an educational assistant or being a writer. Before beginning his work with bees, he had always wanted to write fiction. Now, he has created his own blog to share his experiences as a beekeeper.

He explained. ‘[I like] helping people with challenges, viewing things from different aspects, figuring problems out, working with people to understand that there are other ways to do things, that and just meeting people and understanding people.

When he is not working, he fosters dogs with his wife Lisa. He also helps coach the high school football team where he teaches. Some years he has even coached three different teams. Despite all of this, he still manages to make time for his bees.

As we sat down, Dan pointed out the window to a nearby home with a maple tree in its front yard. He explained that was one of the many places he has been called to collect a bee swarm. Buzzaboutbees.net explains that a swarm is a group of bees surrounding a queen that has left the original hive and is searching for a new place to live.

This usually occurs when a hive becomes too large and the worker bees can no longer smell the pheromones that the queen is giving off. They then create a new queen. From there, the old queen and those that can still smell her pheromones will leave the hive.

Bee Swarm

Photo Taken by: Dan Huxter

When a call is made to animal control about a swarm in the Durham Region, the president of the Ontario Bee Association is contacted. Dan is a member of the Bee Association and is on the swarm list. When the president receives a call, he will then send one of the association’s members to collect the swarm and prevent it from being killed.  Already this year, Dan has caught seven or eight different swarms from around the area.

‘When we got started, we got the interest from a TV show.’

You never know where a passion can come from. Sometimes it can be from something as simple as a show you watch on TV or something you see on Facebook that can lead you towards a new direction in life.

For many, bees are a source of panic. With the fear of an allergic reaction and the unpleasantness of a sting, bees are seen primarily as a nuisance. Not for Dan. After hearing about the bee crisis in 2012 while watching a show on TV, he and his wife decided they would look into what they could do to help.

‘Were we looking for anything? No. Did we know what would happen? Hell no. Are we having fun? Yeah.’

This led them to a weekend course in Port Hope that taught them the basics of beekeeping. That Sunday, they received their first four hives. Now five years later, they have 23 hives. This isn’t enough for Dan though. He explained that his goal for next year is to have 100 hives and eventually wants to sell his honey in stores.

Beekeeping hasn’t always been sweet. There was a winter Dan explained, where the temperature fluctuated between warm enough for the bees to leave their hives and cold bitter nights. When spring came around, he went out to his bee yard to open his hives. Down the line of hives he went, eager to start a new season.

Fitted in his bee suit, he opened the first hive. There were no bees remaining and part of the hive looked diseased. He took apart the hive and threw the frames to side to be destroyed as any infected frames could damage other hives.

He went down the row of his then 11 hives and after each one became more discouraged that there were none remaining. Only one of hives had endured the winter.

 ‘That speaks louder than words in life. Either you’re going to get discouraged and give up or pull your pants up and walk on.’

He decided to walk on and despite this setback, he is still passionate about beekeeping. He explained that he stays passionate by:

‘just knowing that I’m not only helping rebuild the bee population, but I’m actually doing something for nature, I’m actually doing something that isn’t costing anything. It’s costing me my supplies, it’s costing money for boxes, but as that happens, I just created 10-15 thousand bees.’

Dan’s passion is helping a very noble cause. Honey bees are extremely important for human beings as they pollinate an enormous portion of our fruits and vegetables. In an interview with CBC, ‘Bloomberg Business Week estimates bee pollination affects “$200 billion worth of crops annually.”

Last year from April 2016 to 2017, 33% of honeybees were lost in the United States alone says phys.org. In their article on the bee crisis, they referred to a survey conducted with commercial and small-scale beekeepers.  They explained that while these losses are lower than last year, they are still extremely concerning.

Dan explained that even in the last few years, he has seen an increased interest in beekeeping. When he first started out with the Ontario Bee Association, he was one of fifteen members. Now there are over sixty. While there is a large amount of work to go, Dan feels optimistic that he and the other beekeepers are making a difference.

‘not quite a learning curve, but I’ve learned a lot. When you go into something to not study them, but to do a job, you never stop learning.’

When he started out, he knew very little about the subject. The weekend course he took gave him the basic information he needed to begin, but after that, he found that personal experience and talking to others helped fill in the rest.

Dan says he has never stopped learning and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. I’m going to follow suit and learn as much as I can from the incredible people I meet.

Make a goal for yourself today. Learn something new. Talk to someone new. You never know who you may meet.

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Life Through the Lens of a Photographer

By September 21, 2017 General

‘Remembering life because we all die at some point’

The rain was spattering the window with large heavy drops as Ryan told me about his passion for photography. The weather, he told me, would be a perfect setting for a somber shot of the old brick building across the street. When Ryan is not using his camera, he is studying music business management in school while also working towards a career in photography.

His goal is to one day work out west as a professional photographer and he is well on his way. He had recently returned from a three month contract where he was working for the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ‘shooting canoes’. The scenery, he said, was incredible. Every day he would take photos of the canoes returning from their early morning excursions and use them to promote the hotel.

‘It’s an art that I can do, I can just go out and do it.’

For Ryan, taking pictures comes naturally. He describes photography as ‘an art that I can actually do well’. When asked what he meant, he explained that he has never been keen on drawing or painting. He does however enjoy photography because it’s a different medium that also captures emotion in a scene.

He says he brings his camera everywhere he goes. ‘It also helps me’ because it forces him to go out and try different things. When we sat down for over our teas, Ryan was preparing for ‘A Day with Thomas’, an event where families have the opportunity to meet Thomas the Tank Engine at the train station in Uxbridge, Ontario.

Ryan originally wasn’t fond of film photography after his grade 11 class, but when his cousin gave him his first camera, he worked towards improving his abilities as a photographer. In the beginning, he was motivated to learn by his grandpa and cousin.  He now uses other photographers such as Brandon Woelfel as a reference on how to improve his work. He also says that Youtube is an incredible resource for learning new skills.

‘Sometimes I hate it and sometimes I really like it’

Photography in itself is a skill, but it also requires large amounts of patience. Ryan explained that for every 300 pictures he takes, he might find four or five quality pictures that he will then edit. He says he will post even fewer on social media if the photo is lacking the emotion he was attempting to capture.

In the beginning, Ryan explained that he would edit one single picture for several hours before he was content with the piece. Sometimes however, he would just delete the hours’ worth of work because he was unhappy with the end result. ‘I like producing good quality, if it’s not good quality, I don’t like it.’

When asked about the use of editing in photography he said that it is mainly a way to fix the mistakes of the photographer. He explained that when using editing, he ‘want(s) to make it more real’ which is not always captured in the photo. Some pictures however require hours’ worth of work using both Photoshop and Lightroom.

If you’re not getting emotion from it, then it’s just a boring picture.’

A good picture Ryan explained is all about emotion. He elaborated.  Using lighting and setting in the setup of a picture is one of the key ways to ensure emotion.

Ryan explained that photography plays a huge role in society because of social media. Instragram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all use pictures as a way to connect with others on a different level by being able to visualizing their experiences rather than just hearing about it.

We talked about if Ryan found it frustrating as a professional photographer to have to compete with social media ‘amateurs’. He explained that ‘you need a certain skill or talent’ as a photographer.  It shows, he said in the quality of picture if there is some lacking. Well thought out pictures, will have a setup and be specifically designed to portray a specific emotion.

You can always learn something and if you think you know everything in one area of photography then you can learn something else, there’s so many different aspects of photography’

One of the many things Ryan wished he had known when he started out in photography was ‘that the gear doesn’t matter’.  ‘The best camera you have is your best camera’. He is currently shooting with a Cannon T5I.

Ryan has found a way to turn his passion into a career and loves what he does. He never wants to quit and with the open mindset of ‘I can always learn from other people’, Ryan will continue improving as a photographer.

His biggest advice for anyone starting out in the field is to ‘just pay attention to everything,’ and ‘go out and shoot.’  We are often afraid of making mistakes, but Ryan’s ability to continue improving has motivated me to work harder and to try and accept my mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in pursuing your passion. They will happen and as long as you use them as learning opportunities, it will all work out.

 

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Life’s a Piece of Art

By September 12, 2017 General

‘Art is blunt, it doesn’t sugar coat things, it doesn’t lie.’

It was one of the only sweltering days this summer when Olivia and I sat down over our chilled drinks at Starbucks to discuss her passion for visual arts. Olivia is an 18 year old professional artist. She and her partner Travis Stedmond began an art business in April where they have had the opportunity to use Paint Nites as way of ‘teaching people the joy of painting.’ Olivia explained that ‘Paint Nites are a way for everyone and anyone to try their hand at creation and art.’

‘The way any artist looks at a piece is completely different from the general public.’

Paint Nites give people an opportunity to try their hand at painting. They are held at local cafes, restaurants and bars during business hours and allow anyone to join in on the fun of painting while also having a bite to eat or a glass of wine. Local artists act as instructors for the evening and walk you through how to create a painting based on the event’s model painting. It’s an amazing way to spend a night and at the end of the event, you have your own painting to remember the experience.

Olivia has always doodled and her passion for art began in sixth grade when she came home with a painting she had done in class of two birch trees. Her father saw her talent and encouraged her to pursue art. He hired her a tutor and bought her first art supplies. By seventh grade she had begun her own art club at school. Students would stop by the library during their lunches to create their own art.

She explained that while she loves art, she often has to justify to others that she’s not ‘just an artist.’  There is a stereotype, she said, that artists feel entitled and that they don’t work hard. Olivia says this just is not the case and finds it frustrating that people will categorize a person based on just one aspect of their life when everyone is multifaceted.

I think that it would be the best thing for me not only as a person but also an artist.’

On top of being an aspiring artist, Olivia wants to become a real estate agent. She plans on using her art as a marketing tool to distinguish herself in the vast real estate field. She finds the career intriguing and aspires to be a successful agent like her aunt and mother.

‘The best way to learn art or anything is to do it’

There are many different types of visual arts, but Olivia is most interested in acrylic paintings and graphite drawings. Over the summer she took a figure drawing class with both an uninstructed and instructed portion to improve her skills. This allowed her to expand her knowledge of the human body from the instructor while also learning on her own.

She has also joined the Oshawa Art Association. This is an organization that connects local artists and offers a place for their art to be displayed. Olivia explained that the association requires three pieces for an artist’s work to be shown in a gallery. She is currently working towards creating three pieces that she is happy to have on display, something that is proving more difficult than she had anticipated.

When asked what distracts her from finishing those pieces, or any piece of work, her response gave a harsh look into the life of an artist.  ‘Everyday bullshit’ and ‘insecurity about my own work’ are the main reasons she sometimes struggles to complete a piece. By ‘bullshit’, Olivia meant ‘the facade people can put up that prevents them from being different and unique’. Daily things, Olivia says, are what really discourages those in arts or trying to complete any type of project. She went on to explain that she usually only finishes 20% of the projects she begins. She does however keep the discarded pieces as references for later projects.

Olivia told me that her dream job is to make art. Olivia has already been commissioned to paint animal portraits as well as some pieces she describes as ‘trippy work’ .This is one those pieces.

Art had a purpose back in the day’

Olivia explained that art now has a more limited role in society.  Historians, however use art to delve into past cultures and see how they experienced day to day life. The Annenburg Learning website has created a video series that has been broken down into thirteen different themes. The series explains how art gives us a glimpse into subjects like domestic life, converging cultures and death across different time periods.

Hundreds of years ago artists had patrons who would pay for their schooling and for them to create art. Unfortunately this is no longer a typical practice, but this has had little effect on Olivia’s dream to have the city of Oshawa as a patron.

She says that while she has been previously commissioned, things are currently slower with fewer requests for her art. She doesn’t dwell on it though and uses it as encouragement to change and improve.

‘I don’t want to pander to people’

Still, Olivia doesn’t want to limit herself artistically to those who commission her. There is a balance, she said, when she is completing a non-commissioned piece. The piece, she explained, has to be done well so that people understand the message being conveyed.  ‘If they’re feeling something, then it’s a good piece.’

Skill, time and effort.  That’s what Olivia says is required to make a good piece of art. ‘I think that a good piece takes skill into account but also creativity.’ Emptyeasel.com explains that ‘beauty in art’ and ‘the inherent meaning’ are also important components when assessing the quality of a piece. Are you interested? Do you find it beautiful? Can you tell what the artist is trying to say? These questions are important to ask when assessing a piece of art.

‘Pieces about death are my favourite’

Over the course of her career as an artist, Olivia has found that she has an inherent interest in death. She says it’s ‘the one thing that brings us all together’. She’s previously attempted a piece on the topic but found that it didn’t fit her intentions.  Pushing it aside, she began another project. She hopes to one day finish a painting of death.

Olivia’s desire to continue with her passion for art is inspiring and she has found that ‘teaching is a form of learning’. When asked what piece of advice she would give to a beginner artist, she said to sketch ideas. Go through each different possibility of how a piece could turn out and then really commit to one idea.

She is continuing to grow as an artist each day. She pushes herself to improve and to one day be as good as her idols. She’s an inspiration to me to continue working towards my goals as a writer and hopefully to you too. Follow your passion and make your dreams a reality.

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Life is a Learning Curve

By September 6, 2017 General
learning

‘Nothing in the entire world is perfect.’

It was a cold wintery afternoon, when Emily and I unbundled ourselves from our coats to take a seat at our table. Our hot chocolates warmed our chilled hands as we talked about her passion for learning. She explained that she has many different hobbies, but the factor that links them all is learning something new.

It’s the learning part of it that I get the most excited about.’

Emily swing dances, does yoga, is a student and also writes. She manages to also keep up to date with specific Youtube channels that discuss travel and mental health. In the past, she has tried ballroom dancing, stand-up paddle boarding, bouldering and wants to travel to Japan on a teaching exchange or Europe for her master’s.

‘Finding new opportunities to learn, that’s what keeps me going’

It can sometimes be frustrating, she explained, when she is learning something new if she doesn’t catch on right away. I asked how she overcomes her desire to perfect a new skill immediately. She explained that ‘nothing in the entire world is perfect’ and then went on to use yoga as an example. ‘It’s not about doing the perfect pose every time you do it; it’s about working towards it.’

Emily told me that when she becomes discouraged or frustrated with the learning curve associated with a new skill, she reflects on the reasoning. She then reorients herself to enjoying the process as well as the end result. She explained that the journey to learning something new is almost the entire part, and you can never stop learning.

‘Just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean you have to make money’

Emily explained that she would love to write or direct as her dream job. She has also considered working with an NGO or in the government. ‘All I know is that I want to have a balance of being able to do what I want.’  For Emily, doing what she wants includes balancing her desire to help people, taking care of herself and meeting her creative needs.

Emily has no directing experience, she explained, but has worked in sound and lighting for her high school plays. She has always had an eye for the use of camera angles and lighting in the videos and movies she watches.

Graduation day is coming in the spring for Emily. While she may not be learning in the traditional way with pen and paper for much longer, she has plans to continue learning through travel and trying new hobbies.  For Emily, learning is a lifestyle. She is open to new experiences and hopes to continue for the rest of her life.

Learning a new Skill

Emily’s desire to learn new things led me on a search for how we actually learn something new. The brain is our biggest ally in this process. For the purposes of an example, try and learn the sequence of numbers below.

                                              48596789

How many times did you have to read them over? I had to read at least five times and repeat it back to myself a few more times after that. There is a scientific reason as to why we don’t memorize it on the first try.

The process

To learn or memorize something, a connection in the brain between two neurons (the cells in the brain) needs to be achieved. Training Industry explains that all sensory information is sent temporarily to short-term memory. The short-term memory process all incoming information before sending it to long-term memory.

For a piece of information to be passed along to long-term memory, where it will be stored and remembered, it must pass between neurons in a process called a synapse. Khan Academy explains that a synapse is where the information jumps from one neuron to another using both chemical and electrical means.

The University of California Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory concluded that information is easier to recall the more a neuron pathway is used.

Use brushing your teeth as an example. Do you really think about the process anymore? These specific neurons are used more frequently and result in less conscious effort. This information is ingrained in our system, which makes it that much easier to do.

If you compare the amount of mental effort we use with that of a two year old however, you’ll see that they require more time and energy to finish brushing their teeth. This is because this neuron connection is not as well formed in comparison to someone who has been brushing their teeth for years.

Learning a new skill takes effort and time, something that is sometimes difficult to find. It is worth it. Each experience, event or piece of information you take in gives you a different perspective on the world. Let yourself be open to learning new things and the opportunities are endless. Learning is a process and it might now come right away. Stick with it and you will make it.

 

I’m trying to stick with my passion of telling people’s passions. If you like what you read, please share it with someone else. Please sign up for my email list for updates on the latest articles.

 

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Music: Lifelong Passion

By August 29, 2017 General

‘A lot of people will judge me, but I don’t care, it takes a lot to be something different’

Sitting down over our breakfast of hash browns, bacon, eggs and toast on a cold January morning, Dank told me of his passion for music. Dank wears many hats in his day to day life. He plays the role of musician, writer, videographer, father, photographer and artist only to name a few. While that sounds like quite a lot, he manages to balance it all while also giving back to the community as a volunteer at his daughter’s school and at the Ottawa mission.

Most musicians pick one genre in particular on which to focus their talents, but Dank has dabbled in many. He explained that he has a large diversity in his taste for music. ‘I play anything,’ he told me, but ‘I love blues and soul.’ From Tennessee Flattop Box by Johnny Cash, the first song he played on the guitar, to Nirvana, his favourite band, he has a wide variety of tastes and uses them to create his own unique style of music.

‘Life will get you down, but that’s what separates the winners from the losers’ Dank stated when I asked what discourages his ability to continue as an artist. He explained that he has had several friends stabbed after they have attended or performed in festivals around the Ottawa area. The fear that violence like this could occur is present, but his love for music and his competitive nature overrules that concern.

It’s a Family Thing

Growing up and doing something you love is remarkable. It becomes even more gratifying when it becomes a family affair. His father has been singing and writing music since Dank was a child. This gave Dank the opportunity to meet some incredible influences at the beginning of his musical career.

Dank explained that as a child, he was fortunate enough play and practice with musical role models like Rick Danko. Danko was an iconic Canadian musician, bassist and songwriter who was most commonly known as being a member of The Band.

But the family tree of musicians doesn’t stop there. In fact, Dank explained, that he and his daughter ‘jam everyday’. When he is not creating his own music, Dank says he loves to ‘rock with my daughter.’ He challenges her, he says, by encouraging her to make songs from daily events and sing them to him.

Day Job to Dream Job

While Dank is a talented musician and artist, he has not always been in the business professionally. He briefly alluded to a dark past before he became the successful musician that he is today. This change began around the time when he found out he was going to be a father.

He explained that he straightened out his life. For many years, he then worked as a roofer for his step-father’s company. After his long days, he would come home exhausted, but keen to continue improving his musical talents. Throughout his entire roofing experience, he felt that his life was unfulfilled.

He realized that it didn’t make sense for him to continue at a job he hated if he was able to provide for himself and his daughter doing what he loved. Through large amounts of effort, he was able to make a living as a musician. He then made the decision to quit his roofing job in favour of being a full time musician.

As his new career took off, he found that to take it to the next level, he would need to create music videos to accompany his new songs. He then discovered that to have a video created, the price ranged from 1000 to 1500 dollars per video. He couldn’t believe the cost and instead of hiring someone, went out and bought his own equipment. Dank has now created videos for bands like MOP, Young Buck and Deep Well. He is now working for GOOD GUY pictures, a photography and music video company.

Playing Guitar is not as scary as it sounds!

Coming from someone with NO musical talent or rhythm, playing a guitar really isn’t as scary as it seems. If I can learn the basics, you definitely can too. The first thing required to play guitar is…well, a guitar. While the price range for some guitars can go upwards of $5000, most are relatively inexpensive to start out. Long & McQuade sells guitars starting at $120, but you can even find a cheap one on Kijiji or Ebay. It’s amazing to me that for such a low price, you can buy something to create music. Of course there are lessons and books that are also useful to have, but there are incredible free online resources available as well if you are hoping to stick to your low budget.

            Acoustic vs. Electric

There are a million and ten different guitars (actually, there is probably more than that) you could buy, so it depends predominantly on what you want to play. I’ve looked through several sources online with varying opinions on which type of guitar to use as a beginner. Your decision on which type of guitar to buy is entirely your choice and mostly has to do with what type of music you would like to play.

Do you want to impress your friends with rock or medal? Perhaps and electric guitar is your best fit. How about sitting around a camp fire playing country music or folk? You would probably prefer an acoustic. Check out Dawsons for a more detailed explanation on the differences between acoustic and electric guitars.

            Tablature vs. Sheet music

So now you have your guitar. That’s great! The next step is learning how to play. There are two main ways in which you can do this. One is reading sheet music and the other is using tablature (or tab) music. Sheet music is the way music is traditionally written for any instrument. Each note represents a letter. This is a great video to check out if you would like to learn the basics of reading sheet music.

Tab music on the other hand is specifically designed for string instruments, with fingering displayed. There are numbers that correspond to each fret which tells you where to put your fingers on the guitar. There is also usually and pattern for the rhythm that it used throughout the duration of the song. Check out this video on how to read tab music!

In general, most songs have both plucking (where you strum a specific string) and chords (where your fingers are pushed down in different spots on the guitar at the same time while strumming). Add these together, and you can create a song.

            Tuning a guitar

Tuning a guitar sounded terrifying to me when I started learning how to play, but thankfully technology has once again improved our lives. There are several apps that can be downloaded on your phone that actually listen to you play and tell you how to tune your guitar based on what the song you are playing requires. ‘androidauthority.com’ has a great article about which tuning apps are available for android and ‘theguitarjournal.com’ also has a list of tuning apps available for Apple products.

            Time to start!

So now that you have a tuned guitar, know the rudimentary basics of sheet or tab music, it is time to find your first song to play. Deciding which one to play first is sometimes overwhelming with the wide variety of choices out there, but there are some songs that help you learn the basics.

One of the first songs everyone learns on the guitar is Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Guns N’ Roses. This song is easy to learn and has a simple rhythm that allows you to learn how to strum a guitar. Check out ‘ultimateguitar.com’ here for this song’s tab. There is also a video available on the website, but you do have to sign up to gain access. Youtube, on the other hand, is a wonderful free resource that helps you work through even the toughest problems on the guitar.

Another relatively easy song to learn is Tennessee Flat Top Box, the first song Dank ever played on guitar. If you want to start where he did, check out the tab music for Tennessee Flat Top Box.

 

My interview with Dank was an eye opener on following my dreams. He put the effort into following his and is now pursuing it as a career. I’ll take note and keep working towards my own!

 

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Art: Light and Dark Side

By August 22, 2017 General
A passion for art over a cup of coffee

‘Why are you studying art history and chemistry in university?’ This is a question Meaghan tells me, she is often asked. To me, the two seemed like a crazy combination.  When Meaghan explained that her final goal is to work in art conservation and collection over our chai tea lattes, it was more clear. An avid artist and dancer, Meaghan has a passion for art. She creates her own pieces and has developed as an artist since her childhood.  She would love to be able to create more while she works in art conservation as a career.

In high school she found the subject of art history utterly boring. With the help of an interesting professor in university, however, she became intrigued with the subject. She has now graduated  and hopes to pursue her dream by applying to the Art Conservation and Collection Master’s program at Ryerson.

It comes in all shapes, forms and sizes and Meaghan is no stranger to that notion. She uses oil pastels to create stunning landscapes and also makes her own clothing. Some of which, she told me, has recently used for her salsa team’s dance competitions. Using pastels, she explained makes it easier to fix mistakes. There can be both vibrant and muted colours to give to the subtle hints desired in a piece with the use of layering.

While she would love to create art as her dream job, she explained that she finds the business side of the industry somewhat daunting. I’ve heard from many artists, Meaghan included, that there is a large amount of work that goes into selling a piece of art. From creating and being happy with the piece, to marketing it in galleries or small businesses, there is a lot to do.

Art has both a light and dark side and inspiration can come from anything. To Meaghan, finding interesting pieces on Pinterest or researching other artists provides her with a starting point for her own work. She explained to me that through school, she has developed an interest for contemporary Canadian artists. She prefers ‘artists who look at identity and politics in their art.’

Studying Art

When looking at a piece of art, Meaghan says, it is important to consider the social and political time periods. Modernmet.com defines contemporary art as any art that is created in our lifetimes.  The problem with this definition is that we were all different ages.  The general consensus in the art world is that any art that was created after the 1960s is considered contemporary art.

This is one reason why she has a preference for contemporary Canadian artists like Norman Takeuchi. Through one of her university courses, Meaghan had the opportunity to meet and interview Takeuchi about his work.

Norman Takeuchi

There are dark times in history and Canadian history is no exception. Takeuchi, an Ottawa based artist was born in Vancouver. He lived through the Japanese internment camps during the Second World War. The idea of interning Japanese Canadians began on December 7th, 1941. Both Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong were attacked by the Japanese. From this day forward, Canadians and the government alike became distrustful of Japanese Canadians.

One of the very first memories for Takeuchi is not a happy one. The Canadian government forced his family, along with many others to relocate to interior British Columbia where they remained until the end of the war.  They returned to Vancouver once the war was over, where he attended the Vancouver School of Art.

The Cube Gallery interviewed Takeuchi and he described his work as:

‘unsettling and uncomfortable abstract forms which allude to the early exclusion years [that] jostle with images from old Japan. While the paintings represent an uneasy search for harmony and balance between the two worlds, they are ultimately a celebration of my dual heritage.’

From someone who knows little about art, I found his work intriguing and saddening. If you’re interested in seeing some of his work, click here.

Everyone looks at a piece of art with a different background and interpretation. I will go forward from my interview with Meaghan a little more informed about the process of creating art.

 

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Life is a Highway Driving a Motorcycle

By August 14, 2017 General

Not too long before we sat at our table over our cups of hot chocolate at the Happy Goat Café (one of my favourite spots for a coffee), dusk had fallen. The winter wind whistled against the windows and made us cherish the warmth of our drinks.

Peter was in his final semester of college and told me not only of his passion for motorcycles, but also about his desire to be an architect. His plan, he shared with me, will take six years, but he is on the way to his dream. He now has a diploma in the Architectural Technician program from Algonquin College and is currently working at Richcraft Homes as an Architectural Technician.

When he is not working, he spends his time riding motorcycles and swing dancing.

Dream Job

When asked what his dream job would be, he said that it would be to either become a residential architect or motorcycle designer. He also explained that the two are ‘not mutually exclusive’ as he can work on motorcycles over the weekend.

His interest to become an architect began when one of his high school teachers recommended an architect course. This opened up the possibility of architecture for him as a career, rather than just a hobby. When asked why he preferred residential to industrial architecture, he said ‘a good house is important to keep stress away and have a space you can enjoy being in. That helps you not become over stressed and allows you to always have a place you can go to reset yourself.’ I definitely agree and when the time comes where I want to design mine, I’ll know who to call.

My next question was a bit of an obvious one for someone whose dream job is to build houses… what would yours look like? His response made me laugh and reminded me of my brother and dad who are both car guys. He said that he would like to find an enormous warehouse and convert the top level into living space while the bottom portion would be used as a garage for his motorcycles.

The beginnings of a passion

I don’t know about you, but my parents would not be okay with me driving a motorcycle at 16. They aren’t quite okay with my desire to own and drive one even now. Peter’s father on the other hand was one of the primary reasons why he became interested in motorcycles. His dad, he told me, drove a moped at 16 and has been riding motorcycles ever since.

When most teenagers turn 16 years old, they run (or have someone else drive them) to take their G1 test so they can drive a car. Well, Peter did something much different. He passed his M1 and M2 (the tests required to drive a motorcycle) and automatically received his G1.

Peter explained that he owned his first car before a motorcycle, but did buy one soon afterwards.
His current motorcycle is a 1986 Ninja 1000 that he bought for $500 two years ago. He explained that it was in extremely rough condition and ‘if I wanted the bike to run, I had to do the work myself’. This led to the other portion of his passion of working on and repairing motorcycles. He prefers German or Japanese motorcycles that are from the 80s or 90s because they have simpler parts. While he favours working on older bikes because he doesn’t feel as bad about taking them apart compared, he does still like the newer models quite a lot.

When asked why he prefers motorcycles to cars, he explained ‘driving a car is about the destination, riding a bike is about the journey,’ ‘you just get to ride.’ Peter impressed on me that riding a motorcycle was more about the experience than the destination. When working on a bike, he said, the engine is also more accessible than a car, which makes it easier to improve.

How to Start Riding

Lately there has been a large amount of bad press surrounding driving a motorcycle because of several recent crashes. Transport Canada says that motorcyclists only made up 10.8% of fatalities by road users in 2015, but when you consider that there are only so many months when there is no snow on the ground, that is still quite a lot. It can be dangerous, but I’ve been told by Peter that it’s worth it and there are quite a few things you can do as a driver to maintain your safety before starting and once you’re on a motorcycle.

Safety Equipment

One of the first things in almost every article I have read about driving or being a passenger on a motorcycle is that before starting out, it is an absolute necessity to have the proper equipment. In our interview, Peter explains that having equipment that fits and is comfortable can make the difference between an enjoyable ride and an uncomfortable one. So what safety equipment do you need? I’m glad you asked!

Helmets

The most important piece of equipment you need is a helmet. When picking a helmet, the Highway Traffic Act says that you need to have a DOT (Department of Transportation) or ECE (Economic Commissions for Europe) approved helmet. A DOT or ECE certified helmet essentially means that the helmet has been through and passed rigorous impact tests. Check out The Bike Bandit page for more information on what’s included in the testing process.

Jackets

While motorcycle jackets aren’t required by law, they are a necessity to prevent you from looking like a giant piece of road rash if you ever fall off of your bike. These jackets are designed specifically with extra padding to protect elbows and shoulders; the parts of your body that are most likely to hit the ground first should you ever fall. There are a variety of different types of jackets, but a T-shirt is definitely not a recommended choice of attire when riding. Not to mention, with this weather, you might find yourself freezing cold and drenched to the bone while out for a ride.

Types of Motorcycles

Motorcycles come in almost as many shapes and sizes as cars. When picking a motorcycle, Peter explained that it’s important to know what you would like to do when riding. Heading to work? Maybe, a commuter’s motorcycle would be best. Driving through the Gatineau Hills? A sports bike might give you what you’re looking for when riding. Ever dreamed of going cross country on a motorcycle? I definitely have that to check off my bucket list and maybe a cruiser would be ideal. Overall, picking a bike is largely dependent on the purpose of use. Check out Revzilla.com


How to Ride a Motorcycle

So now that you have the safety equipment and type of desired bike, the next step is learning how to actually drive a motorcycle. One of the most important things that I’ve learned about riding a motorcycle is ALWAYS look where you want to go. This is a great metaphor for life, actually. Regardless if you’re on or off the road, this is really important for staying upright and moving in the right direction.

Across the country, the Canada Safety Council offers the Gear Up course for beginners. This course teaches beginners the intricacies to riding a motorcycle, defensive driving techniques and how to properly operate a motorcycle, all under the supervision and teachings of an accredited motorcyclist instructor. I’m definitely planning on taking the course before I start riding.

Driving a motorcycle is far more complex than an explanation of a few sentences or even a short video and I strongly suggest practicing in an empty parking lot before hitting the open road. The video posted below, does however, give you a brief overview on the different parts of a motorcycle, how to start it as well and the basics of shifting gears. Check it out for more information.

 

I cannot wait to own my very first motorcycle and start driving and my conversation with Peter fueled that dream even more.

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