Birds Art Life Death, by Kyo Maclear

Sometimes we falter not because the ground beneath our feet is unstable but because it’s exhausting to keep moving, to keep trying, to keep performing the same actions again and again. Strong one moment, vulnerable the next, we falter because we are alive, and with any luck we recover.

Rating: 4/5
Author: Kyo Maclear
Genre: non-fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins

Birds Art Life DeathBirds Art Life Death collects Kyo Maclear’s inner musings on the art of observation and how we can learn to appreciate the small things in life for what they are, without expecting anything in return. Maclear feels at a loss when her father, whom she has a close relationship with, falls gravely ill. From that point on, Maclear delves into what she calls a state of “anticipatory grief”; after all, her father had taught her that there is some protection that comes from expecting the worst, whereas relying on empty hopes makes you unbearably vulnerable. Faced with this situation, the author seeks to cling on to something – or someone – that propels her forward. She finds the answer in a documentary called “15 Reasons To Live”, more specifically, in a musician and bird photographer, whose work reflects images of animals that stand out in the urban environment; those imperfect, dirty and pedestrian places we call home. In a way, the photographs feature an unusual glimpse of beauty over the vulgar and flawed.

© Jack Breakfast

The book is made up of 12 chapters, following the 12 months during which the author decides to follow the photographer in his various walks through the city of Toronto. Maclear talks about regret, loneliness, lulls, waiting, and other topics that relate to art and creativity. Her observations, devoid of useless turns or pretentious wordiness, speak about the need to slow down and pay attention to our surroundings. Interestingly, the author finds it difficult to justify the most apparently meaningless creative outlets and wonders whether giving ourselves to them suggest some form of privilege.

Why did she turn to bird during this crisis? They symbolize that constant clash between beautiful and ugly, urban and nature, freedom and reclusion. Humans pride themselves on the free will that derives from their ability to make decisions. At the same time, it’s those decisions that lead us to stillness, whether this means a person or a place. The circumstances that we tend to value the most give us a false sense of comfort: I have a stable income, a family, and I feel comfortable in my environment, what else could I ask for? On the contrary, we can also decide to lock ourselves up out for fear of the unknown. Following this train of thought, is it possible to live locked up and not be aware of it? If you have only experienced captivity, would you recognize freedom and know what to do with it?

Throughout her journey, Maclear discards the idea of becoming stranded dreaming of abundance; instead, she learns to focus on the abundance we can create with limited resources, as well as how she uses these obstacles to flourish her artistic output. Any creative person will surely find something to ponder about after reading Maclear’s ideas.

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The Gloaming, by Kirsty Logan

To stay in the gloaming is to hold off the night. But if the night never comes, then neither can the day.

Rating: 3/5
Author: Kirsty Logan
Genre: fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Harvill Secker

The GloamingThe Ross family decided to move to a remote island with their two daughters to live a more peaceful life. A large, pink-ish and abandoned mansion makes for their new home; however, despite their feigned efforts, it will never be completely renovated. Truthfully, it will never be anything but a house in ruins. Come hell or high water, the Ross family seeks desperately for a place to stay grounded. Mirroring the family’s desire, the nameless island fights continuously against the dominant force of the sea. When its residents are about to die, they climb up a hill where they will become statues forever. Finally, they reach stillness, a place where their roots can cling to the earth.

The Gloaming is a story about hope, growing up, love and grief. Angela Carter’s influence in this book speaks volumes, offering that unique twist to fairy tales, those stories that talk of ferocious beasts, maidens with hacked-off toes or mermaids that kill children. Logan explores the real meaning behind these fairy tales; more specifically, gender roles, the oppression of women and the idealized concept of love. A fairy tale does not necessarily suggest a fairy-tale ending. Does happiness mean staying in the same place and fighting for what you love? Is there any happiness in abandoning and getting back to your old self? The Ross sisters had been exposed to sugar-coated fairy tales while growing up, and only their turning point occurs when they finally experience that suffocating feeling from a love that consumes everything, even your own identity. The fisherman snatched the selkie’s skin to force her to stay; however, no matter how much you give the selkie in return, she will always long for the sea.

Furthermore, the Ross family is inevitably involved in a constant struggle between stillness and change. This false sense of balance that they are striving to hold can waver as they approach a relentless storm, whose force is strong enough to sweep everything on its way, while also returning everything to its place.

How are these stories different from real life? Read the book to find out. You will be surprised to discover how a story full of fantastical elements conveys such a real message.