Yeah, kinda like the platform in Harry Potter that will take you to distant, unexpected places. As much as I’ve become a tech entrepreneur, pitching an app that facilitates cross-cultural understanding, I am, at my core, a writer. Reason # 1 for starting Culture Dock got personal. Where it left off, is also where I began writing my next book, over eight years ago when my husband left me.
It took me awhile to steady myself to write, but I did. I had been a hausfrau, writing when I could. I wrote a regular column for a Swiss parenting magazine called The New Stork Times (yeah, you read that correctly). I authored a book about Swiss culture. I penned a feature for The World & I about Bosnian refugees in Switzerland and a couple of freelance pieces for The Globe and Mail, one about the return of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich’s old town — the birthplace of Dadaism, the other about an Igloo hotel in Zermatt. I told myself this work wasn’t much because I, deep down, hoped to be a prolific writer while raising small children in a foreign country with a husband who worked pretty much all the time. I poured my heart into everything I wrote. It all mattered to me. Even when I couldn’t sit down to a computer to write, when I had no idea who I was writing for, the words were always there backing up inside of me. I’d have scraps of paper and grocery receipts with notes scribbled on them of things I wanted to write about scattered in my car and around the house. Sometimes they came together, sometimes they didn’t but right now, after all these years, I’m stringing them together in a story that even I find hard to believe.
I’ve been through a series of small explosions that are not strong enough to kill me but powerful enough to take me down, for a beat. Below, you’ll find the beginning of my book. I’ll keep posting, hoping you’ll share if you want to read more. It’s the preface to a story that led me to meet some of the world’s top female photojournalists in destinations around the world, to travel with my daughters so they could understand the world beyond their own pristine doorstep, to conceptualize an app that helps people around the world better understand one another. Throw in there a battle with breast cancer (that could be a book itself) that ends up being the impetus for rediscovering my own core strength.
If you are more into entrepreneurship than a woman’s journey to reclaim what matters in life and want to help get a cool product out into the world here’s our crowdfunding site. It explains, in detail, the app and our intentions for its growth.
Today, when we can put ourselves out there so easily; say what we’re about and what we care about I thank you for taking notice of the ‘blue bits’ that have held me together and have kept me moving forward — perhaps they’ll do the same for you.
You may not realize it, but every time you bring your camera up to your eye you’re making decisions about composition. Simply put, composition is how you choose to frame the picture you’re about to make.
Dragging the heavy cardboard box outside into the sunshine, I struggle to remember what’s inside. This was the box left behind, stored away in a friend’s basement after packing our belongings and sending them off to Canada. Kathrin gently reminded me of its presence when I arrived. ‘Perhaps while you’re here, pick a sunny day, take that last box outside and go through it to see what you need’. I’m staying at her home near Zurich while my two daughters visit their father who still lives here in his native Switzerland. The box had been taking up space in their basement for a year and a half now. She was right, it was time for me to deal with it.
With a knife, I slice open the packing tape and tentatively peel back the flaps. On top is a decorative hat made by one of my daughters in art class. This must be the box of things too fragile to ship, I’m thinking as I gently remove the hat, wondering what lies beneath. Peering in, I find, layer upon layer, the many paintings and drawings made from kindergarten through grade school. The ones I could never throw away.
Beneath the art, at the box’s core is something solid, heavy. It’s a black case that I immediately recognize, I remember. The strength mustered to drag the box into the fresh spring air dissolves as I anticipate the case’s contents. Sitting down on a cement wall, perching its bulk on my lap, I gently unzip its sides, causing photographs to fall to the pavement at my feet. Precious images of little girls in princess costumes, riding bicycles and holding pet rabbits; those of daddy and his daughters with the majestic, powerful Alps as backdrop splay around me. Mixed in are other images. One of my ex-husband in the mountains of Lesotho in Southern Africa from the time we’d met when I worked as a photojournalist in South Africa. Others, a right-wing Afrikaaner with arms in the air, moments before his execution, and one of me, in a flak jacket, flanked by South African soldiers, confront me.
Finally, scattered on the box’s floor are heaps of photos and negatives, all taken at any given time over the last eighteen years. After I remove each one individually, I sit motionless, staring at the chaotic stack in front of me — an abandoned game of cards after all hands have folded. If only it had been a game. This was the box of things too difficult to bring forward; it was all that was just too much. Moving ahead without them for a time created a buffer, one that allows me now, one image at a time, to endure. In a long game of Solitaire, I hold each photo for a time, allowing memories to wash through me. By recognizing pairs and sequences that no one else could have possibly seen, I am, bit by bit, being pieced back together. Not until I’m finished do I begin to understand, it was I who held the camera. There was someone who existed outside the frame of these photographs, who was strong enough to stand in the world bearing witness to all she loved and all she feared.
Putting most of the photos neatly back into the box ready to be shipped, I choose several of my kids with their father, some of the children alone, and a handful of my ex father-in-law who recently passed away. I put them in a large envelope. Tomorrow, I’ll give them to my daughters, to give to their father. I don’t know why. It’s the only hand I feel I have left to play.
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