Sitting by the Window

CJ by the Window

Each morning
I look in the mirror
And fix my mask
To face the day

I took this photo yesterday. I wanted a photo for a new profile pic for my social media sites and possibly for an about the author photo. I’d been meaning to practise taking more self-portraits as well (mainly to experiment on myself first so I can feel more comfortable directing lighting and poses) so I thought this would be a good start too.

I’m usually quite difficult to photograph so this is quite a good one for me. Most photos of me come out looking a little strained and flat. The reason is because it’s quite hard to capture a posed photo of someone when they’re in pain a lot of the time; sitting still and holding a pose is difficult and I usually look better in more spontaneous photos. They tend to capture the real me, not the me hiding his face behind a mask.

I think we all wear masks in life; there is the real us and then there is the persona we want others to see, the mask we wear to project an image we find desirable. I find with chronic pain that is doubly true as I don’t want people to see I’m in pain and so I have a carefully created mask I wear that I only take off when I’m alone or with very close family and friends. It helps to hold me together in public and let me function when the pain is awful and for me, my smile and my sense of humour are my mask. They help deflect questions and attention and tell people I’m okay.

The haiqua above is very much a reflection of my daily routine; before I go out or see someone, I always look at myself in the mirror and make sure my mask is in place. Sometimes it is harder than others depending on how much pain I am in or how tired I am but I never go out without practising a smile and making sure it is in place.

Ironically though that mask usually tends to fail with posed portraits like this. I can’t sit still and hold a pose for long very easily and trying to hold a smile in place tends to end up looking rather strained or flat in the photo. That’s why I quite like this photo as it doesn’t have that look and for once I got it without having to take a few dozens photos to capture it. That could have been luck or maybe it’s that I’m now starting to understand more about posing and so I’m starting to get better at capturing the real me sooner.

I could have done more with it; some gentle lighting across my face would have softened my face and removed some of the shadows under my eyes and a flash might have created a little more separation. But to be honest I didn’t want to do any of that. This is close to the real me and the real me usually does have those flaws and shadows from being tired and in pain. If the goal was to try to capture the real me then removing those wouldn’t be an accurate representation.

I also like that there isn’t too much separation and you can see the photo frames and some of my books etc properly. They’re a part of my life and I wanted to show that too and make it more of an environmental portrait.

CJ by the Window 2

I took this photo at the same time and converted it to black and white in Lightroom afterward. I like it as well, particularly the black tones, but you can probably see my expression is a little more strained in it. I thought it was a useful comparison anyway.

Photos and Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Blog Updates

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye
My mother (right) and Colette, an old friend visiting from England. 

This is just a quick update to thank everyone for their comments and emails after my last post. I’m still not feeling that well at the moment and so haven’t felt up to replying properly yet; I’m over the effects of the infusion now but it also made my migraines a lot worse and they’re taking a while to get back to normal. I am starting to feel more like myself again now though and just wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts and messages; I really appreciated them and I’ll be answering properly over the next few days.

I’ve had time to think about what happened more fully now and looking back, I still can’t believe how little I was actually told about the infusion before the procedure or how my concerns were never listened to. I expected a lot more, particularly from the Prince of Wales. I’m thinking about changing specialists once I’ve looked at my options or at least getting a second opinion about what to do next… my next appointment isn’t until late October, so at least I’ll have had time to have fully recovered by then and to think about what to do.

In any case I thought I’d post a couple of quick updates as well as I haven’t posted in a while. First, I’m back writing again now… well, sort of. I’ve written a few pages so far and I’m still just easing my way back into it but I’m happy what I’ve written so far. I’ve got a little further with my novel and just started writing a new poem which should be finished in the next week or so as well. Might have a short story done soon too.

As far as the novel goes, I’m about 80% of the way through the rough draft now. I’m at the point where Continue reading

Losing Control

I’m writing this post after undergoing a procedure at the Prince of Wales hospital on Tuesday morning. It’s been two days now and to be honest I still feel awful… my whole body is sore and I still feel quite dizzy and nauseous. I’m writing this post as I want to write down a record of what happened while it’s still fresh in my mind and to help collect my thoughts.

I don’t talk about my health that often but many of you probably know or have guessed that I have a few health issues. I don’t like to talk about them much as I’m a private person but essentially I have had chronic head and neck pain since I was a child, the most frequent of which are severe migraines which have worsened over the years. They’re extremely painful and the main reason why I don’t update my blog as frequently anymore and why my writing has slowed, as it’s become much more difficult to concentrate. I treat them with medication which helped for a while but over the years it’s stopped being as effective.

I’ve tried a number of different treatments over the last few years but they either haven’t worked or I’ve had very severe reactions to them. Many have actually made me much, much worse and have taken weeks or months to recover from. The doctor I have been seeing at the PoW suggested trying a lidocaine infusion instead as it works in a different way to the other treatments I’ve tried and he thought it might have more success.

To be honest I wasn’t that comfortable with the idea. Lidocaine works by blocking pain signals before they reach the brain and it’s increasingly being used to treat neuropathic pain and refractory migraines. The thing I didn’t like about it was that it requires up to a week’s stay in hospital while they monitor the effects; given how I’m extremely sensitive to light and noise, I didn’t see how that was going to be practical – spending more than a day outside of a controlled environment for me is like torture. I was also wary of subjecting myself to yet another treatment given some of the severe reactions I’d already experienced over the last year and I dreaded the idea of going through all that again. But I agreed to a short day trial to at least see how it went, particularly given that the side effects seemed fairly routine.

I had about a six week wait and I still felt rather anxious about it, so I tried to keep busy and get as much done before the procedure as I could. I got stuck into my writing, saw a couple of films I’d been waiting to see, read a few books, started going through my possessions for when we move in a few months, and I also started getting back into my photography and exercising more as well as I knew I probably wouldn’t feel up to it for a while after the procedure.

Unfortunately when the day finally arrived, from the beginning everything just seemed to go wrong.
Continue reading

I Am

I Am Another You

Image: I Am Another You ~ Jeff Robinson

I am many things
A son, a writer, a boy, a man, a friend
I am all those things and I am nothing
On myself, I depend

I am a memory that will be forgotten
I am a face that will fade away
I long to be remembered
But even night must fade into day

I am a student, always learning
I am a child looking at the sky
I seek neither knowledge or power
Just the means to open my eyes

I am a dreamer of great dreams
I am the voice of all sorrows
I live for the simplest of things
A laugh, your smile; gone tomorrow

I am an atheist, asking questions
I am a soldier seeking peace
I do not fear death, or darkness,
I welcome its release

I am the wind howling in the treetops
I am the voice whispering in your ear
My anger can be quiet and unspoken
Or fill your heart with fear

I am the beggar on the street corner
I am the insect crushed beneath your feet
Pity me, for I am no one,
A lost soul in full retreat

I am a chameleon with many faces
I am a prisoner suffering on my own
I struggle silently behind my mask
But cry when I am alone

I am wise and I am stupid
I am a writer lost for words
My past haunts my footsteps
My story is waiting to be heard

I am honest like a true friend
I am jealous like the gods of old
Hurt me with tears and I am forgiving
But words make my heart grow cold

I am the fire burning brightly
I am the thunder and the rain
Everywhere I leave death and destruction
In my wake life grows again

I am a child born at the wrong time
I am the remnant of another age
I long for an end to violence
But war is history’s stage

I am a walking contradiction
I am everything I should not be
Proud; arrogant; ugly; beautiful
I am me

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

You can also listen to the poem at AudioBoo


If you’re wondering what inspired this poem, I wanted to write something different than I had written before. I have been feeling unwell recently and I wanted to write an honest examination of life, with all of its ups and downs.

It’s about me, an exploration of who I am as a person, but it’s also about everyone. I wanted it to feel personal but also to mean something different to everyone who reads it.

I hope you enjoyed the poem and that it means something unique to you, as it does to me.
~ CJ