The Fall of 2020 was a whirlwind. About a month before we went back to work in schools, the government decided to completely change the way that the schools would be set up. We would now be in a “cohort model”. For high school teachers, this meant being exposed to an entire class of students (that did not have to be physically distanced or wear masks) in the morning, and then teach an afternoon class in a “blended model” with instruction happening primarily over Teams and small groups of students (masked and physically distanced) coming to class three days of the week. It was a complete shift from the model that we were told to expect before the summer and it meant that we would be exposed to many more students and, in our morning class, have absolutely no protection from them.
This was an incredibly hard pill to swallow. However, the situation became worse and worse over time. Schools in the north of Surrey, the area I work in, started to get COVID exposure letters very quickly once school began. My school remained off the list of exposed schools for weeks and we all felt good about that. However, that gave us a false sense of security because our time was coming and it would be a nightmare. Once we had our first case, they started coming fast and furiously — by the winter break, we had received more than 25 exposure letters and had experienced multiple cohorts going into self-isolation.
This was not the safe school experience that had been promised to families and teachers in the summer. The tracing process was so slow that classes were notified weeks after exposure, far later than they could do anything to protect themselves. To make matters worse, teachers were completely excluded from the contact tracing process, so we were unable to give accurate information to the tracers that would have protected countless individuals. Our lives and the lives of our families were put at risk and it seemed like no one in the public health sector cared at all. We had been deemed expendable and our safety was just another casualty of COVID 19.
It was very difficult to teach at that time when every day we were hearing of colleagues and their families that were falling ill, when every week there were multiple exposure notifications and every day teachers were excluded from the process of helping to protect each other and the students that we care for every day. It was the lowest time and the most difficult time of my career to date. It felt like my family and I were looked at as unimportant. Teachers have always been undervalued and underappreciated, but this was a new low, this was truly heartbreaking.
At the same time, our master’s program began again on Zoom. Lynn was at the helm of the new course that focused on aesthetics. Some weeks it was hard to put on a brave face and talk about positive things and other weeks it came easily, but it was always an inspiring night nonetheless. I needed the community of this virtual classroom more than I knew.
One of the assignments for this course was the Place and Aesthetics assignment. We were expected to visit a certain location at least once a week for eight weeks and “notice” things. Then we were supposed to interpret what we noticed in some way, through photography, dance, drama, visual art etc. After that, we were asked to reflect on the process and what we had learned. I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment and I did not realize how much I would get out of it. I chose to visit the North Delta Social Heart Plaza every week. It is a small park in the middle of North Delta, my hometown community. I grew up in North Delta and through this assignment, I realized just how much memory that community space held for me. I was about to get married a few months later and move to a new place and this assignment gave me a way to honour the memories and importance that North Delta has had in my life and to take those with me when I left. It also gave me new memories with my mother and my fiance, as I often visited the park with them.
Below is My Place and Aesthetics Project (Slides) followed by my Reflection Paper:
Place and Aesthetics: A Practice of Noticing and Creating Reflection Paper
Moments of Memory from my time at Delta’s Social Heart Plaza
It’s a glorious day. The temperature feels like late summer weather. My mother and I are on a walk. We will take some photos for my project and then continue on to get our steps in — making the most of this gift of good weather. I am struck by the green. Everything is still vibrantly green and growing — well almost everything. There are a few flowers that are brown and dead, but they are the exception. I find myself cropping them out of the photos. I want to focus on life today. I want to keep the beauty and vitality of summer alive. I get to choose what my camera looks at, and I choose life. I wander aimlessly about the place. This is North Delta’s “Social Heart Plaza”. I remember when it was unveiled and when it was named. I remember walking to it on almost every Remembrance Day since I graduated from high school. It’s a place where we gather as a community and remember. I like that.
I distinctly remember one remembrance day when there was a dead, dried ball of Roseum (a white flowering bush) on the ground. I just remember noticing it and thinking that it was so fitting for such a sombre day. Something dead but also beautiful and dignified, it just seemed to make sense. I remember that I based an acting project on it in my BFA acting class. I described it or something along those lines. For some reason, I’ll never forget that dead flower. I like that I have memories in this plaza. I am struck by the thought that I won’t live in Delta soon and there is a twinge of sadness and the feeling of loss. I have loved this place deeply for a long time. This place has had a defining effect on me in a lot of ways. It is the place I call home and I feel strange that now, after over thirty years, this will no longer be the case. I am pleased that this project gets me more in touch with my home as I prepare to leave it. It’s a bittersweet feeling. But back to “Life” Melanie, focus on the Life, the Positive, the Good stuff, the Green.
Stefan and I arrive. We are in the middle of a discussion. We love to talk, to ponder, to question things together. He has reminded me to come to this park on our walk. He’s always very supportive of all of my assignments. He loves to help where he can. It’s dark. I see our shadows stretch over the ground. Oooo! I like it. I don’t know if I’ve ever come here in the dark before. I must have…haven’t I? It’s wet and the air is fresh and cold. I move from place to place to see what is different in the darkness. What can I capture? He wants me to take a picture of the “I love Delta” on the digital sign, but it keeps changing before I can take the picture. Ah! I got it. Meh, it doesn’t look that good. I ruffle about in my leopard print rain jacket. He tells me it sounds like a shower curtain. We laugh and he assures me he likes my jacket very much. I know he’s telling the truth. What a goober. It feels like it’s ten o’clock right now but it’s only seven. The darkness is starting earlier, and on this very overcast day, it seems like we never really saw the light. I like the freshness of the air. I like the darkness. I like being here with him.
It’s very wet and very windy. We skip the walk and decide to drive up to the park/plaza, whatever you want to call it. I hide my camera underneath my jacket as we walk quickly from the car to the park. My mom holds the umbrella over my head as I snap pictures of wet leaves. The umbrella can’t do its job well in this wind. I’m getting wet, so is my mom. We are giggling — enjoying the chaos of this moment. I don’t know why but I like how shiny the rain is making everything. I’m drawn to the grate, the drain, and I think about how vital it is at the moment. A place for the water to go. Someone thought about that. They planned for rain. This area is also a quasi water park. If you press a button, fountains spring up and spray for a few minutes. We don’t need them today. We are wet enough.
I am here by myself today. This is a conscious choice. I recognize that I have been avoiding myself lately. The thought of being alone is a bit daunting to me these days. Therefore, I know that I need to be alone at least once before the project is over. I’m at the park much earlier than I have been before on a school day. I little girl and her mother are walking towards me on the sidewalk. The toddler breaks into a warm, dazzling smile as she sees me. It melts my heart. I want to take a picture of that smile. Wait, that would be weird. I’d need to ask permission. Too many awkward moments will result from this — forget it. I haven’t taken any pictures of people at the park, you can’t these days, it would violate their rights I guess. I don’t know — it’s just weird. What to take pictures of today? What haven’t I noticed before? These stick things I guess. They are kind of bland and dead looking but whatever. Then I see it, one dried ball of Roseum. Oh my gosh! These were the first thing I took a picture of, the Roseum bushes. They’ve been completely cut back to almost nothing — just sticks are left and one dried ball of flowers. I am shocked that this didn’t register sooner. I’m stunned for a minute. I feel a sense of loss. I continue on, up to the flags and the plaque. Someone has put flowers here. There is a note that says, “Lest we forget.” There will be no Remembrance Day gathering here this year. I wonder who has left these flowers. A teacher and her class, or maybe a family? They want to have their moment to honour the sacrifice. They do it early to make sure that it gets done, to remind us all that even now, it is important. I notice the vibrant red of some of the trees. They are stunning. There are so many beautiful colours even in the midst of so much of nature dying off or going dormant. I notice the green benches. They are so old. They might actually be the ones that my mom sat on to watch me take my swimming lessons. They used to be on the other side of the pool… there used to be a different pool. The older one was small and rectangular and full of memory. I remember looking up at my mother from the pool. Watching her on the bench, watching me. She didn’t look happy. It was an overcast day. Her face matched the sky. Did I do something wrong? Was she mad at me? Was I not practicing well enough? Now, I think about this scene with a less self-centred view. She was probably cold, maybe even getting rained on. She could have had a bad sleep. It could have had nothing to do with me. Why do I have such a
distinct memory of this one moment more than twenty years later? I breathe in the cold air, the awkwardness of being alone. I’m glad I faced this moment head-on. It really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be.
End of Paper
One of the other gifts that this course gave to me, was the opportunity to listen to incredible artist scholars discussing their art and their research and how the two are intertwined. I was inspired by every one of the artists that spoke to our class, as well as the two artists who have passed away and whose work and legacy still speak volumes. Here is an excerpt from one of my reflections on our guest speakers and their work:
“My mother left this earth too early before I cared to archive the past I have been longing for all the flavours of my childhood in my adult life. The parts I remember and the recipes I follow still do not produce my mother’s flavours Every Christmas I make the cheese boureg and I come closer to the cheese that melts in my mouth, but I know there is a language of Armenian cooking I have yet to live into.”
Snowber, Celeste. “Chapter 7, Fragments of the Body, Landscape, and Identity: A Dancer/Poet’s Terroir.” Excavating Armenian Identity through the Poetic, Koninklikje Brill NV, 2020, pp.71.
This quote resonated with me because…
I am also trying to reconnect with my ancestry through food, as well as continue to bring the gifts of my mother and grandmother into the future. I have become aware that if I do not take the initiative to watch and learn by their sides, all of their beautiful food will be lost to history. Along with those recipes and traditions, pieces of who they are will be lost as well. I want to keep them close to both me and my children. Now is the time to do the work that will help to carry their love and creative gifts into the future.
End of Excerpt
During the time of this course, I also decided to invest in my learning as a food photographer and I registered for two food photography courses with Foodtography School. Through these courses, I learned so many things about the technical aspects of photography and the design elements involved in photography. I grew immensely in these areas and saw a huge change in the quality and composition of my photos. I also was able to share the work I had been doing on baking and photography with those in my master’s class and they were incredibly supportive and kind.