Sunday, 27 May 2012

One Week Three Days: Parts of Calista

Just in case you did not catch the entry:  "The Fallen Musketeer" Photography Show featuring the works of the Four Musketeers and celebrating the beautiful life of Calista Jasmine Fleming (and, no, she was not named for a Disney character.  We selected based on versatility; as she grew she could be Calista, Cali, Jasmine, Jazz, C.J.; anything she wanted.). At the McKinnon Photography Studio, Courtenay BC, June 16, 2012, starting at 6pm.  Enough shameless promotion.

I want this to be a good day, an upbeat day, a happy day. Today is another Calista day, where you get to meet some more of the person this is all about. The person that could have taught all of us to live better and would have if she had survived long enough.

An old friend of mine passed on to me an ancient Indian tale about a grandfather teaching the children about the nature of good and evil. The grandfather tells the children that within all of us live two wolves: one is good and the other evil and both constantly vie to lead the pack. The youngest child asks the grandfather which wolf usually wins and the grandfather replies "the one you choose to feed".  I am trying to take my friend's advice to heart and I am trying to let some of my bitterness bleed out now; it has been a hard day filled with regrets and anger. I am not sure I am really able to do my Calista justice tonight, but if I don't post something each day until her memorial I will feel as if I was betraying her memory by being a quitter. And Calista hated quitters.

I should talk about Calista's lifelong attraction to artwork. I will ignore her first faulty efforts at true artwork since they amounted to the liberal use of indelible markers on the face of her peacefully sleeping father (not appreciated at the time, but early signs of a healthy sense of humor). In my opinion, the first sign that Calista was headed into the arts was what Roni and I called "the art appreciation hour". It was, by any measure, peculiar behaviour for a child that could barely walk.

I grew up in a home filled with fine art. My father had three things going for him in that regard: an eye for good contemporary art, a widespread network of art and antique dealers, and, as a doctor, the cash flow to feed both of  those. We had excellent Canadian art hanging on many of our walls and father taught all of us the value of refined aesthetics.  I inherited his taste in art, but not his earning ability. I am afraid my art collection runs to well framed quality prints and a single valuable painting that I received as my share of my father's estate. Sometime in 1993 I acquired a very nice print of a scene of a western frontier gaming saloon called "Mind if I Join You, Gentlemen?" by Arnold Freiberg. I was taken by the detail and reality of the scene and the superb quality of the framing. The print was completely inappropriate for our decor at the time, but I was young and quite lacking in taste. The strange thing is that now, nearly 20 years later, the picture is perfect in my home. It now sits across from a 200 year old lithograph of an old veterinarian caring for a dog and an excellent Jack Lee McLean western scene.

For some strange reason, Calista took quite a shine to the Freiberg, asking me repeatedly to lift her up so she could look at the print closely.  Each night I would arrive home from the clinic and she would demand that she inspect the painting for long minutes at a time. I basically would hold her there until my arms gave out. (she was a lot heavier than she looked). Eventually this game was getting a bit old for me and I started just paying lip service to her art appreciation.  I thought that she was just basically asking for attention from her father rather than actually looking at the print. That belief came to a screetching halt the night I came home and she had dragged her high chair out of the kitchen, across the carpeted floor (no little effort there) and out in front of the print.  When I entered the dining room there she was, climbing up the chair as it tipped side to side precariously and demanding that the light be turned on and trained on the print.  Roni and I carried the chair to that spot for weeks after and she happily sat and gave us her uncensored opinion of the work each night. Lucky for Mr. Freiberg that she could not actually speak much more than Daddy, Mommy and a few choice swear words that I had mistakenly used in front of her (why do kids always pick up those words so darned easily?).

Calista recieved her first camera at the age of 7 or 8. My wife was a little incensed at the time that I would give an youngster something delicate like a camera, but I asked her if I should instead give her a knife, the treasure I recieved on my 7th birthday. The argument stopped. I think Calista still has that silly little point-n-shoot viewfinder camera stashed somewhere.  I am not sure that she ever went anywhere without a camera after that. I am not going to lie to anyone and pretend that Calista was a child prodige: most of her pictures at 7 were poorly constructed scenes involving blurry kittens and fuzzy puppies.  Focus and stabilty were not something she was concerned about back then, but puppies and kittens were very important subjects. On the other hand, it is embarrassing to admit that many of her early pictures were better than anything I ever took in my life. (I am one of those guys that read all the books, bought many of the toys, and still cannot get a good photograph if my life depended on it)

Of all the cameras Calista owned, the most durable and constant camera has been a little digital point and shoot that travelled everywhere with her. This version of the point-and-shoot is the second she has owned: her first was stolen, likely be a friend at swim work-out.  There is an amusing story behind that though. One afternoon that I was home early from work, Calista comes through the door, crying hysterically and babbling incomprehensibly, the latest boyfriend in tow. Her crying is getting progressively worse and finally her boyfriend volunteers to give me the bad news. Well, picture it: middle aged father with a 14 year old daughter dating a 16 year old boy, she is crying hysterically and he is looking sheepish. You have to know what I am thinking. Finally Calista blurts out that her camera was stolen at swim work-out. I just start laughing and tell her not to fuss, stop crying. It's just a camera (albeit, an expensive camera), its not the end of the world. I tell her to cry like that when your best friend dies or you are told you have cancer (or you are told by a young police officer that your lovely daughter has suddenly died). I then turn to the boy-friend and, seriously, tell him that he is one lucky dude because I thought I was going to have to kill him.  I swear that kid went as pale as an anemic ghost and he was already had transparent white skin and blond hair. I replaced the camera the next day, hopefully teaching my kid that possessions are just things and can be replaced (but maybe I just taught her that daddy would do anytthing for her and that he had good credit).

Calista bought her very first real camera when she was 17 and had her first real job stocking shelves at Staples.  A very capable salesman convinced her that a Canon 40D would be a good gateway camera to get her through photography school and start her on the way to a professional career. I paid for the $1800 camera, but that girl was rigid about paying me back; she never missed a monthly payment and actually paid it off well ahead of time.  About that time she took her first course in photography; an introductory course at the high school.  She did a lot of projects that semester, but I remember her final project. It was supposed to be a photos essay in a series.  While the other students did enthralling subjects like "my favourite sport", "my dog" or  "the color red", she decided to do "The Nature of Good and Evil" and proceeded to do a series filled with visions of the 7 deadly sins. It seemed appropo since she was enrolled in a Catholic school, but really shocked the class.

 That salesman really knew his stuff though: the Canon 40D really did come through and did very well until just three months ago when a small malfunction forced us to step up to the Canon 7D to finish the course. (I likely will give that 7D to one of her close friends; I will never be able to bring myself to use it).

Once Calista graduated from high school, it was obvious that she was really an artist. I had hoped she would enter the sciences where a more assured career could be had, but you cannot make an leopard into a lion. I was never sure that the university environment was appropriate for her; too formal and I suspeced that she would falter as the professors tried to make her just another brick in the wall.  I eventually realized that she needed some help if she was going to find her way in the art world.

 I was very lucky; one of my favorite clients happened to be an internationally well known wild-life artist by the name of Jack Cowin.  Jack agreed to take her under his wing and nurture her abilities until she found her way. The only conditions that he set is that she turned in his various assignments on schedule without exception. The first missed assignment and the deal was off. He thought she would last maybe three months; she lasted 18 months and finally left him to move with her family to BC. 

Jack realized early on that Calista had very limited drawing abilities. That girl just could not draw and she had only a very basic understanding of color use. What she did have was a natural gift for composition. Jack questioned where this came from and realized that her real calling was always photography. After that revelation, Jack concentrated on photographic assignments and their relationship smoothed out.  It was Jack that recognized her gift for taking pictures of clothing, shoes and jewelry and making them desirable.  I am not sure if he aimed her in the direction of marketing photography or if he just saw a skill waiting to be released.  I believe it was Michaelangelo that said that a great sculptor merely revealed the statue trapped inside the marble rather than actually sculpting the statue.  Perhaps this is true here: Jack merely revealed the artist waiting inside my daughter and released her to pursue her dream. Either way, I owe Jack for finding my daughter's "Magic One": that one job that she would do for the rest of her life and never call work. Thanks Jack.

Last Friday I brought my girls ashes home. The funeral home director said something quite funny as I left the building; watch out, she is suprisingly heavy for such a small package.  I bitterly laughed at that: Calista always was surprisingly heavy,both physically and mentally. That's Ok: she's not heavy, she was my daughter.

1 comment:

  1. Bryce,

    thank you for your continued story-telling about Calista. She surely was a delightful girl and young woman.

    And I hope that your laughter at the funeral home director's comment about the heft of Calista's remains is a sign that the pain of losing her will always be balanced by the great(er) joy of knowing, loving, and remembering her.

    Still I weep bitterly with you and find myself praying for you and your wife through the day that you'll find the strength to press on.