One Leg, No Name

The night was cold and still, dark save for the lights that lined the empty streets.  The moon hung its heavy head low in the sky like a watching vagrant.  The automatic glass door at the entrance slid open as we arrived.  A man in a ragged denim jacket with long knotted black hair well below his shoulders stood in the corner closest to the sliding door staring at calling cards.  His beard grew long and thick and greyed in streaks across his face.  He held no expression, but there was a weight to his tired eyes.  They were too familiar.  I felt like I’d known him from somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. 

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One Blood

On October 31st, 2010, I hovered my heavy head above a toilet at Famous Players and waited for my stomach to rest, trying to block out the images of the Asian girl cut in half by a power saw as everyone in the theatre laughed.  On October 31st, 2010, thousands of miles away, Iraqi Catholics of the Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Baghdad were shot at, maimed and mutilated by grenades, ball bearings and shrapnel – men, women and children alike, by men who thought these people were less than animals. 

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A Heart Like Lebanon

I’d met Khalid many years ago at the St. John the Compassionate Mission on Queen and Broadview where I serve every Sunday.  He was a short man with a slight forward tilt.  He looked well into his fifties or possibly early sixties.  The man rolled a small cart behind him filled to the top with bags stuffed with all kinds of miscellaneous items.  He wore a small cap too small for his head, black Denver Hayes old man pants and a knitted grey sweater with stitched red diamonds that would make Bill Cosby proud.  The man smiled at me and told me his name.  I gave him mine.

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No Respect for Gravity

Creative people are driven by curiosity.  The need to find out the inner workings of the moving parts of a mechanical or living thing and their effects on the world around them is integral to the artistic mind.  A mind that seeks to understand is one that can be nurtured to build.  Of course, the work of an artist is fraught with failure.  One of the greatest failures from the most misunderstood budding artists in history is found in the myth of the flight of Icarus.

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Throw Down Your Stone

Flannery O’Connor, considered one of America’s greatest twentieth century writers, once wrote that “Conviction without experience makes for harshness.”  She spoke of the hypocrisy she’d seen within some of the congregation of her Catholic church, many of them who believed in what they were told to believe and used it as what she called “the poor man’s insurance system.”  Just in case what they believed was true, they would not go to hell.  A man who believed in what was told to him, lived in safety and never had much of a challenge to his faith, has never needed to examine his faith.  His understanding of right and wrong is factual and absolute.  The liar, drug addict, drunk and prostitute, these are all immoral people and their end is eternal destruction.  Their stories of how they became these things are all irrelevant in an unexperienced religious mind.  They are their vice, and they deserve their end.

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If You Don't Like Your Reflection

There is a core principal in my Coptic faith that states that we, as humans, fashioned from the same organic chemical compounds as dirt and water, were stitched together in our mother’s wombs by the Original Artist, created with purpose, and named and known before our existence.  Our purpose exists before we do, innate, not created, but also not destined.  This leaves us with a choice, to find a purpose that was intended to be etched into our eternity for reasons greater than our own happiness, or make ourselves with our own hands and follow the way we feel.

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Choose Fire

History has proven change necessitates a divergence from the norm (see any revolutionary since the history of time).  And though not all change is progress, all progress necessitates change.  The greatest danger of status quo is its safety.  Safety in popular opinion is undoubtedly effective at bridling the mind and sedating the heart, stripping a person of any fear of standing out, at the price of their freedom.  Art does not live in safety.

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Street Doctor

One of the most memorable characters I’d encountered on Toronto's streets was a portly brown man I’d met on the corner of Queen and Sherbourne, right outside the Maxwell-Meighen men’s shelter in downtown Toronto, in late November of 2016.  A thick black moustache hugged the man’s upper lip and down the sides of his round face, spotted in stubble.   A slight hopeless smile graced his lips and heavy eyes. 

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Boy From Damascus

Almost everyone knows of the bloodshed in the name of religion and honour in the Middle East, but no one knows or cares to know the names of the children maimed by IEDs on their way to school or the mother shot by a sniper as she shooed her children away from a city she didn’t know anymore or the 21 men in Libya’s coastal city of Sirte that were beheaded for believing in the wrong God.  I’d met many people from a few different Arab countries, namely Egypt and Iraq and Syria, who’d seen these atrocities first hand, like my little friend Marcus. 

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Man with Four Fingers

The man closest to the counter had black wild bushy hair and a pencil thin moustache.  On his face sat a pair of black glasses with tiny oval lenses that framed his small, wide open eyes, much like how I figured a serial killer would look.  His clothes were dirty and ragged, like the man who sat a table across from him.

The other man had a hard stubbled face and soft stare, a close-mouthed gaze of a heart lost in space and time as victim to an unforgiving world that never knew his name or gave him reason not to close his eyes and slip into the cold dark shadow of eternity.  I looked down from the man’s face to his hands.  He had a thumb and a pinky on each.  Nothing in between. 

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Art Above Aesthetics

There’s an honesty to true art that pokes holes through the dynamic canopy always before us where the grime of the raunchier shades bleed through and what’s left is the hidden beauty of the world.  To an artist, an old tree on the verge of death and decay becomes a part of history that ran with the land and gave shelter and clean air and life and breath to its people.  The dirtiest beggar seen by any other is a vagrant and a drain on society’s space and resources.  But an artist sees a life broken by pain and circumstance but still fighting.  Still alive.   

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Relationships and the Crown of Martyrdom

The marriage ceremony in the Coptic church is called El-Ekleel, or The Crowning.  The end of the ceremony sees the priest crown both the man and his new wife, a sign that the two have become one through the mystery of the sacrament of marriage.  I used to think The Crowning was a symbol that the man became the king of his household, and the woman his queen.  I later found out from a priest’s wife that the crown received during an Orthodox marriage ceremony lies on the bride and groom’s head as a crown of martyrdom.  The man and his new wife have died to themselves and now live for the other. 

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Understanding Evil: Why a Writer Should Search for Good in a Bad Character

One of the hallmarks of bad writing is the creation of characters that are perfect archetypes, caricatures with no backstory or reason but to push plot by sticking to their simplistic script (i.e. the bad man with the moustache that ties the girl to the train tracks, or the perfect prince charming used to rescue the damsel in distress).  These crude narratives of absolute good and evil take away from the humanity of a character which is far more complex and demands story and reason for the creation of a monster.  People are rarely, if ever, simply born evil.  But how do you find good in a person that hates another simply for their ethnicity?  And more importantly, why would anyone choose to look to understand a monster? 

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Architects of Words and Life

King Solomon famously declared that the power of life and death is in the tongue.  He went on to explain that a fool’s words pierce like a sword, but a wise man’s words bring healing.  This idea that words carry a spirit heavier than their simple auditory symbol of meaning has always interested me.  If Solomon’s words were true, the meaning that sleeps beneath our words, whether to others or about others, either bring life and healing or a degree of destruction to the world.  The implications of such a belief are drastic.  The idea that you are just a speck in a universe that doesn’t recognize your existence is replaced by a notion of a life with purpose that is capable of helping to build others if you so choose.  I know this to be true, because I’ve experienced it as a writer.

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On Art and Truth

Unlike math or science, the question of the true definition of art is not an absolute.  The philosophy of art and beauty is indefinite and varied amongst different people.  For instance, I may see a painting to be beautiful, and though I may have a reason for seeing it as such, my reason will most likely be different from another person’s perception of the painting.  There is no absolute when it comes to the reason a certain aesthetic may appeal to the masses or to just one or few within them.  However, I feel most people can tell when art is contrived to be something for reasons other than actual artistic merit, such as an “artist” that creates to pander to the masses for his own (financial?) gain, and art in its most pure form. 

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