Sixnie & Salt

Dia di los Muertos

November 2, 2017

The Day of The Dead @SixnieAndSalt

The only day of the year I light every candle on my altar is November 2nd, aka The Day of The Dead. I often worry this space in my home gives people the impression that I’m very religious. I’m not, but I am intrigued by faith. Regardless of how you choose to affiliate, even atheists know what its like to believe in something you can’t see or prove. You can be godless and a believer in the unknown. I have faith in people and art and the good of the world, even when I can’t see it, even when there is evidence to the contrary. Faith is faith and it all comes from the same place inside us. Both my grandmothers had altars of some kind, so did my parents. An altar isn’t about just about religion. It’s a place to light a candle and visit the dead and find faith.

Each cross is from a different country I’ve visited. I’ve got smudge sticks and voodoo candles from New Orleans and rosaries from the Vatican and prayer beads from Africa and Buddhist statues and Hindi paintings and protection masks from Indonesia and a page of the koran painted onto a wooden board by a young Moroccan boy. I’m probably using half of them wrong. People sometimes send me things when they go to a spiritual site, all sorts of faiths are represented here. I love to sit here and think about that, all those different people believing different beautiful things.  It’s filled with the photos of people I have loved that have died. A few of their things, too. My grandmothers thimble. The lucky coin my grandfather carried in his wallet. My mother’s madonna statue. I don’t want to tuck these trinkets and all these people away in drawers. I want to see their faces and incorporate them into my life. All those mass cards from funerals come to live here, too. Sometimes I bring things to them. A flower on my mothers birthday. I took a rock from the driveway of Graceland to put next to my fathers picture, did it again when I went to Abbey Road. A small dragonfly pin for my friend Tim. Every night when I blow out the candles I sit there for a minute and just think of them. It’s nice to have a place that isn’t a morbid grave. Because I see them so often, in some ways, it’s like they’re still here.

The Day of The Dead @SixnieAndSalt

I grew up thinking that we shouldn’t talk about the dead, it was too upsetting and made us contend with our own mortality. I get it- grief hurts. But we often turn so far away from the pain of death that we end up forgetting our dead to protect ourselves. In the end, I believe that this hurts worse. That is how people really die. Not when they leave the earth, but when we stop talking about them. I don’t want to do that. There is a way to remember and celebrate and love our dead without pain. I know because I have seen it and I am a living example of it every day. My father’s mother took me to my first Dia di los Muertos. It rocked my world. By then I had stopped telling people that I missed my mother or asking questions about her because it made them cry.  I loved that there was a day where we didn’t turn away from mortality, a day where we ignored our grief to celebrate the people we missed, where we openly didn’t pretend we were okay and talked about them. It freed me to do the same. I went home and lit my first candle for my mother that night.

My friend’s mother died before his kids were born. Every year on her birthday he cooks his mothers favorite meal and sets her photo a place at the table and tells his kids a story about the grandmother they’ll never know. I love that. You don’t have to have a massive shrine in your house, I’m a bit of an extreme person. But I hope that you all have a quiet space, whether that be an altar or a dinner table or a place in your mind, to visit with those that you love and miss.

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cross wall in the day 
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mama’s corner

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the wall opposite the cross wall is blank right now save for this shadow box I built to house my grandfathers war memorabilia. I’ve got plans to finish this wall with a genealogy project. 

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My favorite photo of Ryan. There is an adult one of him on here too, but I’ve always loved this image of him at 5, covered in puppies. 

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my Memere, the woman who brought me to my first day of the dead. Her photo is in a picture frame that she made and this DotD sugar skull lady reminded me of her, she was always smoking. Her favorite bird was a cardinal & she always wanted to go to Africa, so when I was there and saw this carved wooden cardinal I brought it back for her. 

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The Day of The Dead @SixnieAndSalt

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A love letter to film, and an unexpected gift

July 29, 2017

How many photos do you have of you and your partner? In today’s digital age, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands. I lived with Ryan McAlpine for almost 3 years. You know how many photos I have of us? Maybe 50. And that’s because of film.

Do you remember how special film was? When you only had 26 frames, you didn’t waste them. You didn’t click away mindlessly, you chose your moments. You waited for the right shot and then you waited again. You had to use up the whole roll and then bring them somewhere and wait some more! It was torturous, not knowing what turned out. I resisted the digital age for so long. I loved film. I loved the lesson in patience, I loved the way my hands smelled after hours in the darkroom, I loved the way the camera shutter clicked, that satisfying clunk. There’s a reason we love photos from that time so much, why their vintage quality almost makes them look more real. It’s because we take too damn many photos now. Today’s kids will never get to experience that feeling of walking into the photo shop to pick up a double set of your newly developed photos, all of which turned out. Of tearing open that package in the parking lot and passing them around in the car with your friends, laughing at the moments you’re all simultaneously reliving, together. It was euphoric. Film taught us to be hopeful, that things would turn out alright.

When Ryan died almost 12 years ago, I thought I might never be alright again. I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone that before, but that’s the exact thought I had the night I went home from that emergency room without him. It was the only I could think actually. I stared at the ceiling, chain smoking and picturing his dead face in my mind, thinking over and over: I may never be alright again.

I recently dug out my old film camera, the one my grandfather placed in my hands when I was a teenager and said ‘a camera is a gift that teaches you to see the world without a camera.’ I put it together and ordered several obscure batteries and cleaned out my old camera bag and found 2 rolls of never developed film rolling around in the bottom of it. It took a few tries to find a place that developed true black and white film but a week later I was sitting in my car, ripping open packages with anticipation just like I used to. One roll was dead, a single hazy image came out. The other was the last roll I shot on the camera. There were some of a camping trip, a few of the house and then there he was. Three frames, never before seen. His eyes, eyes I haven’t looked into in over a decade, staring back up at me, cradling our old dog.

What a gift.
And a reminder that everything turns out alright.

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Six

April 9, 2017

a 6th birthday @Sixnie&Salt

The end of March marked 6 years since I woke up from a coma. On the evening I came to, there was a sign at the end of my bed that said
‘Today is March 31, it is sunny outside, you are at Guelph General Hospital’

I immediately and simultaneously thought 3 things:
1- What the fuuuuuuuuuccckkkkkkk
2-Water. Dear God. Water. Please. No coherence. Will never ask for anything ever again. Dying. Give me water. Only water (hours later I was offered a disgusting faux-mint moistened swab to quench a two month thirst).
And 3-I cannot BELIEVE I have missed out on being able to play the world’s BEST April Fools joke by ONE FREAKING DAY

Okay, jokes aside, my post-coma year in 2011 was one of the worst periods of my life. When I finally was discharged from the rehab hospital, I had nowhere to live, was too sick to work, had a goddamn tracheotomy tube sticking out of my neck, a brain injury and was in a painful haze from being weaned down off a boatload of fentanyl. I could barely talk or walk. You know that cliché about when things go to hell you find out who your true friends are? It’s an unfortunate truth. The guy I had been casually seeing for months met another girl while I was having my big nap. A bunch of my friends bailed on me. My body, my mind, my relationships, my heart- everything hurt. To be clear, this isn’t a ploy to air my grievances with those who I felt abandoned me, not at all.  People, particularly people in their mid twenties, are not always emotionally equipped to deal with a friend with critical illness and the grapple with mortality that comes along with it. I harbour resentment towards no one and I bring it up only to illustrate what it was like for me at the time. As anyone who has had their health taken away from them can tell you, the road to recovery isn’t just about your physical health, it is multi-faceted, long and overwhelming. 

One particularly bad night about week after I went ‘home’, I laid awake in bed in a friends spare room, my possessions piled around me in boxes, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure my life out. I was mentally in such a dark place, I didn’t know where to start or how to do it. Then a song I had never heard came on my spotify that had been playing randomly in the background that straight up saved me from giving up. You hear emo kids say trite things like ‘music saves lives’ all the time, but for me it was really true that night. I needed that exact song so bad in that moment. It was William Fitzsimmons ‘Beautiful girl’ and I listened to him sing ‘girl you will get better, you will get better’ over and over and in that moment, for the first time since getting sick months before- I believed it.

A couple years ago I ended up working merch for William at his Toronto show and I got to tell him that story. When he went on stage and started playing that song, I watched in wonder at how far I had come from that sick person clutching her stomach on that bed. I only recorded this short clip towards the end because cause I was so caught up in the moment but here it is below, along with the full song. I keep it on my phone and still watch it when things are hard.

At the risk of adding to the faux inspirational garbage that saturates the internet: Wherever you are in life right now, no matter how daunting the road ahead of you seems, however far you need to go- you can get there.

Thanks to William for writing this song and telling me that I would get better.
It worked. I did.

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