# 225

The last 12 months have been the craziest, busiest, and most exhilarating of my life.  I have never worked so hard, pushed myself to such extremes, and still walked off the “battlefield” with a smile on my face.  The highs were high, the lows were low, and I did exactly what I set out to do.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
225 festivals attended and photographed in 1 city in the space of 1 year.
If I repeat myself a lot it’s simply because I still can’t quite believe it all, like it’s just a dream and I’m going to wake up any minute and realize that none of it happened.
But it did.  And I have well over 3600 images to prove it.
Now it is all over and I have the luxury of time again.  Time to reminisce, time to sort through thousands of negatives, time to make sense of it all.  Not for long, though.  Soon it will be time to buckle down and get to the really hard part: drumming up some press and preparing submissions for prospective publishers (or possibly be facing the long, frustrating road of self-publishing), and most importantly, organizing the best of the best images into a cohesive photo essay.
But for at least a moment I can let myself enjoy this feeling of accomplishment, to allow myself the time to remember the stories as I sift through my photographs.
This most likely will not be my last blog post, although they will probably be even more sporadic than before, but I would like to take this moment to thank all of you.  Thank-you for every like you have given my images and posts, thank-you for taking the time to read my ramblings, thank-you for following along on this crazy ride… I couldn’t have done it without your support.  In my most desperate moments you have all kept me going, and I truly appreciate every little bit.

Second chances

This Saturday I will be attending Barbegazi, a winter action sports festival, which has descended upon Montreal’s downtown core in time to kick off the city’s highly anticipated 375th birthday celebrations.  This year the organizers have extended the festivities to span 2 weekends rather than its usual 1, providing ample time to enjoy this immensely fun wintertime event.  While most of the spectators are excited to have a go at the winter obstacle course, arm-wrestle mascots, or simply enjoy themselves by one of the many fire pits scattered around the site, I am excited for this festival for an entirely separate and distinct reason.
You see, last year Barbegazi was held at the beginning of March, which so happened to coincide with the very beginning of my project… in fact, I had only attended 1 other festival beforehand.  10 months ago I was a different person, a different photographer.  Having been much more timid than I am now, combined with a lack of confidence in my abilities, I allowed my vulnerabilities to take over and produced a set of disappointing images—in short, they sucked.  But now, as it would seem, I am getting a second chance.
Second chances don’t come around often in life—and even less so in photography—no matter how hard I have hoped and wished for some.  A chance to make things better, to fix what has gone wrong.  When they do appear, second chances are notorious for showing up unannounced… like running into an ex on the street for the first time since the break-up.  You don’t have time to plan what you’re going to say, or how you look; it just happens, leaving you dumbfounded and feeling stupid.  This time, however, I saw it coming a mile away.
I have been anticipating this event ever since the dates were announced a couple of months ago (a perk of having to maintain an incredibly accurate and up-to-date schedule) and this time, I’m ready.  Over the past 10 months I’ve learned so much about photography, about people.  But perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned as a photographer is to not waste an opportunity to capture an image, as most times the shot will not still be there when I go back for a second look.
Luckily, I now get to take advantage of such a rare opportunity, I get my “do-over”.  And while I still suffer from bouts of shyness and insecurities—I’m only human after all—I have experience on my side, and a few new tricks up my sleeve.  I won’t let this bit of good fortune get away from me, not this time.

#200

Did you know that Montreal hosts a dog festival?  Did you also know that it hosts a cat festival, a kite festival, a LEGO festival, a puppet festival, another puppet festival, and a festival dedicated to board games and board game aficionados?
Over the past 9 months I have attended and photographed as many festivals in Montreal as I could.  From the mainstream to the underground to the beyond underground, I was there.  Last night at the Défilé des Rêves Plaza St-Hubert—not the first, but the second Santa Claus parade I have participated in this year—I attended my 200th festival, frozen to the bone and with a grin from ear to ear!
This milestone also coincided with another one: my project has reached 75% completion as I now have only 3 months left.  I still cannot believe that I have come so far, it seems like it was only yesterday that I timidly explored the Place des Festivals during Montréal en Lumière for my first fest.
Although the summer blockbuster fests have come and gone, I look forward to discovering what the city has to offer during the snow-covered months to come!

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Défilé des Rêves Plaza St-Hubert 2016

Rediscovering cool

It is a cold and misty November night; I am sitting alone in a warm and darkened bar on Prince-Arthur Street and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.  20 feet in front of me, Bif Naked weaves in and out of intimate stories and songs from her colourful past—completely enthralled and captivated, the 17-year-old me sits firmly in my subconscious.  It is the most powerful performance I have ever seen.
The moment I saw Bif’s name among the performers as part of this year’s “M pour Montreal” festival I immediately knew that I was going to attend that show as part of my project.  In fact, I even organized my schedule around it.  There was no way I was going to miss this.
Throwing myself into the intensity and unpredictability of a year-long photography project, I have sometimes had to make compromises.  Being a struggling artist is both a cliché and an unfortunate reality for me.  Many times I have had to opt for the free festival offerings in order to lessen the financial burden of the project as a whole.   This night, however, was not to be compromised—a perk of being your own boss!
It is now a week later, and whilst writing this I am still moved by the night.  Clearly, the memory of her and her husband performing the songs I listened to over and over again as a young and impressionable college girl is one that will stick with me for quite some time.  I can still remember screaming “we are the lucky ones dear” at the top of my lungs with my friend Caitlin whenever we needed to let loose.  Music as a means of temporary escape.  Bif exemplified everything we aspired to be: women comfortable in their own skin who weren’t afraid to speak their minds.
Over the years I lost touch with Caitlin, Bif, and my 17-year-old self.  I discovered new music, made new friends, and thought I was growing up and evolving… I couldn’t be that silly little girl anymore because of the immense social pressure to be a responsible and respectable adult that comes with the transition from one’s idealistic 20’s into their supposedly mature 30’s.  Over the subsequent years I have realized the importance of self-growth, that there is no one mold for everyone to fit into, and that the notion that one’s priorities are to be re-evaluated on every 10-year anniversary of their birth is ridiculous.
Still, I felt as though something was missing.  All of this soul-searching and coming to terms with my demons and what do I have to show for it?  The exercise has proved to be in futility, as I feel the fun has figuratively been sucked right out of me.  In the end I felt like a shell of my former self.
I have been noticing, however, that over the last 9 months sparks of my former self have been popping up here and there.  That, on occasion, I have been spotted screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs, jumping around, and just generally being silly.  What was initially dismissed as momentary lapses in character are now undeniable.  I now realize that I have room in my life for all of the parts of me, the 17-year-old me as much as the 34-year-old me.
And just so you know, the humour in the fact that it took me 17 years to become a 17-year-old, and a further 17 years to become a 17-year-old all over again is not lost on me.

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M pour Montreal 2016

Sneakers and spandex

I am not a runner.  In fact, I hate running.  I would rather do almost anything than run.  Or jog.  Or even power walk.  Watching people run in all their vile spandexed glory in the streets does not look like a good time to me.  Sure, it’s great exercise.  It’s part of a healthy lifestyle, I know.  But I still don’t like it.
Within a period of a month and a half I had to attend not just 1, but 3 separate running events for this project: The Color Run (a.k.a. the Happiest 5k on the planet), followed by the Montreal Oasis Rock N’ Roll Marathon, and finally the Night edition of The Color Run.  All around me people really seemed to be enjoying themselves—elated even.  Smiling faces surrounded me as everyone passed through the finish lines, immensely proud of their accomplishment.  Thousands of packets of colored powder were tossed up into the air at both of the Color Runs as people danced to the music provided by DJs long after the runs themselves had ended.  It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement and delight, and I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face as I photographed the chaos, myself becoming a victim to the colored powder.  During the marathon, the spectators were as much a part of the show as the runners were; they lined the streets to cheer on every single person who ran past them, whether they knew each other or not.  It was a beautiful display of community spirit, one I am lucky to have witnessed.  These events managed to make running look like fun, like something to be proud of doing.
Surprise!  I have made the decision to run in these events in the future.  I still dislike running, but I am falling in love with the idea of challenging myself and doing things I never thought possible.  I cannot stress the point enough that I am not a runner… but maybe I could be.  Maybe I would have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment by taking part in one, or perhaps more, of these events.  Life is too short to waste it sitting around on my couch and eating bags of potato chips, as much as I do enjoy that more often than I should.  I want to spend my time inspiring myself to break free from routine and get out into the world, to experience everything that it has to offer, even if that means strapping my feet into a pair of sneakers and running through the streets of Montreal.
So, next summer when The Color Run rolls around again, you’ll know where to find me.
But I won’t be wearing spandex.  I do have my limits.

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The Color Run 2016

Time immemorial

I recently attended the Montreal Ukrainian Festival, held in a pretty little park in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood.  The day was a “Goldilocks” kind of day—not too hot, not too cold, not too cloudy, not too sunny—just perfect.  The setting was simply gorgeous with huge trees providing ample shade while still allowing the sun to peek through the leaves and dapple the faces of children as they chased each other throughout the park.  All around me friends and family warmly greeted one another, everyone dressed in traditional clothing, beautifully displaying the intricate and colourful embroidery on fine cotton.  Here and there people could be found perusing authentic Ukrainian wares set up under tents by various vendors, lining up for deliciously decadent food, or sitting together and watching the performances of the different dance troupes.  Everyone was incredibly friendly, quick to smile and laugh, and so proud of their unique heritage and traditions.
After taking a portrait of two women, they inquired as to why or who I was photographing for.  I explained my project to them and one of the women remarked “Well, travelling around Montreal is just like travelling around the world!”  And she is absolutely correct.  Many times I have attended a festival and felt as though I really was walking down a crowded street in Italy, a spacious park in Peru, a bustling market in Ghana, or even a lively community centre in Japan.  Without having to submit myself to full body checks executed by airport security, or worrying about connecting or cancelled flights, I get to experience all of the perks of travelling, and no jet-lag to boot.  This city hosts an amazing variety of cultural festivals, open to anyone with an interest in learning something new… and sometimes they just might discover a new part of themselves.

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Montreal Ukrainian Festival 2016

What strikes me as most interesting is not just the obvious pride people have in regards to their birth rights, but also the intense love they have for one another and for the lands they have left behind.  When I think about what it means to be a Canadian I inevitably declare my love for maple syrup and poutine, but I never really contemplate my heritage much further.  Sure, we all have Canadian flags permanently attached to all of our luggage, but it’s not out of pride for our country, it’s to announce to the rest of the world that we’re not Americans.  Tim Hortons and Molson Canadian have the monopoly on cheesy commercials that demonstrate our supposed Canadian-ness: early morning wake-ups to drive the kids to hockey practice, teaching locals in Thailand how to play soccer on the beach and then cracking open bottles of beer, or even using hockey players to pose as restaurant staff to surprise the customers.  But are any of these commercials realistic, do they really show what it is to be an average Canadian?  The truth is that the country and its inhabitants are spread out over a large area and we don’t necessarily all know, or even understand, each other.  I’ve often heard that Albertans don’t like Quebecers, and Quebecers don’t like Ontarians, and Winnipegers don’t like anyone, and the entire East coast has just given up and keep to themselves, and the North has simply been forgotten.  How can we come to agreement on what it means to be a Canadian when we are all so divided?
For many years I didn’t celebrate Canada Day; I couldn’t agree with the day of commemoration for various political reasons and it became a day just like any other.  With my project in mind, this year I had left myself with no choice but to attend the festivities.  I chose to attend the Canada Day Parade that took place downtown since I’m a sucker for a parade.  The tender moments of humanity that I witnessed there took my breath away.  I photographed Syrian women holding a handmade sign that thanked Canadians for welcoming them and their people, for giving them a new home away from war and devastation.  I saw Hungarian, Italian, and Chinese flags waving in the wind, always with a Canadian flag in hand as well.  There were families from India, and Brazil, and Indonesia that were fully decked out in red clothing with fake tattoos of Canadian flags plastered on their faces, all waving and smiling as the parade passed by.

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Canada Day 2016

To me, being Canadian means that we are able to make room for people of different backgrounds, we can accept them as our own, and it gives us the luxury to constantly redefine the landscape, to not remain stagnant and oppose new experiences and ideas.  It means that we can open the doors to discussion and realize that we are not all so different as we were taught to believe.  It means that we can all come together in Montreal and perpetually celebrate our diverse multi-culturalism with open minds and little judgement, because at the core of it all we just want to let loose and have fun once in a while.

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Fiesta del Peru 2016

Boy, do we have fun!  From the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, to Eurofest, to Fiesta del Peru, to Italian Week—and so many more—this city is clearly all about the fun.  And really good food.  But aside from that, these festivals allow us all to learn more about the people that we share this planet with.  We are incredibly lucky in Montreal to have so many chances to attend events that can both broaden our horizons and fuel our compassion towards one another.
And we don’t even have to worry about getting stuck on a layover at JFK airport.

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Eurofest 2016

Gumption

About 3 months ago I discovered Solo Steph.  A fellow Bishop’s grad, at 22 years old she was attempting to travel to 201 countries within 3 years by herself.  I admired her incredible courage, knowing that I do not possess what it takes to undergo such a feat.  She had secured a little financial support through various sponsors and was raring to go, her first destination being Iceland.  I watched over the next 3 months as she hopped from country to country, adding photos on her Facebook page of herself smiling in front of landmarks, and giving her followers tidbits and anecdotes to keep everyone interested and engaged in her journey.
Little did anyone know, there were tears behind those smiles and panic attacks behind the stories.  Loneliness set in and took hold with such a force that the heart-wrenching decision to end the journey and come home had to be made.  With trepidation and bravery, she took to social media to describe the torment she had experienced, and her relief to be going home.  I immediately understood the internal dialogue that had been going on in her head, the anxiety over having to make such a decision.  How?  Because I almost made the same decision to quit this project.
My first 3 months were the hardest; I almost threw in the towel so many times I couldn’t keep track.  Feeling increasingly overwhelmed with the workload I had imposed on myself, the tight scheduling, the guilt of not being available for friends and family, I was left with the impression that I was losing control.  Attending most of the festivals alone was an entirely new experience, one that I wasn’t really comfortable with.  Even though I was constantly surrounded by smiling and happy people, I was very much aware of the fact that no matter how many great conversations I had, I was never really a part of their celebrations.  Having a notoriously terrible sense of direction did not help either… I got lost more times than I am proud of, and came home in tears of frustration on a few occasions.  And the money, oh boy, the money.  Watching my depleting bank account from the cost of tickets, film, developing the films, and food was causing me so much anxiety and guilt that I started having nightmares.
You might ask, “so why continue?”
I could have cut my losses and wiped my slate clean.  I could have decided to dedicate my time to the handful of other photography projects I have started and not yet finished, or tried to line up another exhibition, or even looked for a job.  I could have had free time again, I could have finally started to read the pile of books that had been accumulating for months beside my bed, I could have even done my spring cleaning.  I have quit so many projects over my 34 years, why not abandon this one too?
Because just as going home is part of Solo Steph’s journey, continuing until March 4, 2017 is part of mine.
I agree, exploring 1 city extensively for 1 year isn’t quite the same as traveling to 201 countries in 3 years.  It bodes well in my favour that it also happens to be the city in which I currently live.  But there are some parallels to be found in our respective journeys.  There have been days where I have had to attend as many as 5 festivals, making it seem as though all I am doing is ticking events off a list rather than taking the time to properly enjoy them.  Being alone for much of the time can wreak havoc on your mental state, you cling to any tiny shred of conversation—or even a smile—to give you the energy to keep going.  The highs are high, and the lows are low.
In my case, the highs are what keep me going.  The thrill of seeing my images come to life through my scanner.  The amazingly nice people I meet.  The hugs I get when I come home exhausted and screaming in pain.  The positive feedback I get through my blog and Facebook page.  I pride myself on my newfound ability to go to the movies alone, or a restaurant, or a new-to-me part of town, things I never would have done 6 months ago.  Even my sense of direction has improved.
The fact remains that we all have our own journeys to take.  For now, mine is taking me through the streets of Montreal, but who knows what will happen next year, next month, or even next week.  I can only hope to continue to find the strength and gumption to get me through to the end, to keep on smiling.  And if my apartment is a mess, so be it… there will be time to clean it in 6 months.
With all that said, my hat’s off to you, Solo Steph.  Thank-you for your honesty throughout a difficult period in your life, and I admire the courage it took to make such a decision.  You’ll find your way.

Six months

Labour Day weekend has come and gone, its passing signifying the unofficial end of Montreal’s festival season. But with this transitory time comes another milestone: I am exactly halfway through my project! Six months done, six months still to come, and still so much to see and do! Even though there are still so many events to attend, my next six months will undoubtedly be a tad quieter, giving me more time to catch up on scanning my negatives and writing new blog posts, I have so many things to say!
I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone who has read my blog, checked out my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/festivalprojectmtl), given me so much positive feedback, or gave me some of their time for some amazing conversations; I sincerely appreciate all of it. And I have to give a huge shout-out to my “manager”, my wonderful partner Jody… without your undying and relentless support, none of this would have been possible.
So stay tuned, there will be many goodies to come! Until then, here’s a reminder why we should wear sunscreen out there (I have never been so tanned in my entire life!).

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A rock and a hard place and me

Within the realm of photography as a form of artistic expression there are many sub-genres.  When at a festival I generally apply a street photography approach to my images.  The concept that the most important depiction of history is that which leaves the scene unaltered by the artist is one that greatly influences the aesthetic of my work.  That being said, sometimes a moral grey zone gets caught in the crossfire.  I use the term ‘moral’ instead of ‘legal’ here as, in this case, the legalities of taking photographs in public spaces are crystal clear.
However…
I only photograph what I find beautiful and intriguing as a way to connect with my fellow human beings and to pull as much as I can from the human experience while I am on this planet.  I try to be as respectful as I can but on a crowded street the decision to take a photo or not is made within seconds and I am not always able to properly “read the scene”.  In this case, the use of film over digital comes at a huge disadvantage to diffuse a hostile situation as I am not able to simply delete an image and instead am left with an important decision: Protect the undeveloped negatives and escalate the situation further, or sacrifice a whole roll of work to destroy one image as a courtesy to a stranger.  A tricky situation indeed.  The last thing I want to accomplish in this project is make people upset, but on the other hand I will ALWAYS protect my negatives.
Alors, à la mademoiselle avec le parapluie que j’ai photographié sur la rue Mont-Royal aujourd’hui, voici ma photo de vous.  Bonne journée.

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The future is unwritten

One thing that I have come to learn is that festivals come and festivals go.  Sometimes a great idea catches on like a wildfire, expanding until it seems that it can’t possibly grow anymore.  Other times an idea may be on a path towards failure from the very beginning, be it from lack of funding, interest, or timing.  Regardless of the passion and drive from the organizers, many start-up festivals will unfortunately experience a quick demise by design.  It is important, as I’ve already seen with many events, to keep up with the changing times and adapt in order to attract younger and more engaged audiences.  While some may not fare as well as others, there will always be a new generation of festivities in line to replace the old in the never-ending smorgasbord of celebration Montrealers have at their fingertips 365 days a year.
Think about festival season in this city.  What comes to mind?  No doubt if a street poll was taken the ‘Big 5’ would look something like this:  Jazz Fest, Just For Laughs, Osheaga, Grand Prix, and Francofolies.  These are the events that draw immense crowds, attract international attention, and remain high up on the list of eagerly-awaited affairs.  So, I must pose the question, what would happen to the landscape of the city if these festivals disappeared?  Completely unthinkable, but not entirely impossible as public interest, security, or corporate sponsorship evolve over the span of a decade.  The expression goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” but luckily these events seem poised for continued success for many years to come.  The same, however, cannot be said of all festivals in this city’s ever-changing cultural landscape.

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Francofolies 2016

Some festivals, while well-attended, appeal mostly to a more mature age demographic, and the struggle for long-term survival then becomes how to attract the new generations.  Some may also be plagued by the additional struggle of funding issues, despite their long-running status.  FIFA, the International Festival of Films on Art, is currently facing both.  They have been running for 34 years now, and have announced their dates for the 35th edition, which is encouraging, but they have to address these problems nonetheless as there was a time when it was unsure that the 34th edition would even happen.  This is one of those fests that I would not have attended had it not been for my ridiculous plan to attend as many fests in Montreal as one can handle in a year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the films they offered, a varied selection in both English and French, and had I not attended the loss would have been felt on both sides.  I would have missed out on an amazing cultural experience that has broadened the way I think about certain subjects, and they would have not only missed out on the admission revenue from the two films I attended, but also the word-of-mouth publicity that I am able to provide them through this blog, as well as through my enthusiasm towards their event in conversations with friends and family.  I sincerely wish them continued success in the future.

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International Festival of Films on Art 2016

Others may not be so lucky.  Recent events surrounding the Flavours of Monkland festival have left a huge question mark on its future.  While the organizers have stated their desire to start new street festivals in other parts of the city to give forgotten neighborhoods a renewed sense of purpose and revive community spirit, they are undoubtedly saddened by noise and traffic complaints of some of the residents.  Festiblues, held annually in Ahuntsic Park, is yet another example.  After 19 years of existence, the festival will sadly be pulling the plug due to a long string of funding issues.  And on what should be a grand celebration of 40 years in the making–not to mention one that I was really looking forward to attending–the Montreal World Film Festival may or may not happen this year after all.  A mass exodus of employees, immediately followed by the news that Cineplex has dropped their support may be too much for the organizers to handle; only time will tell.  The list goes on and the fact of the matter remains that in a world oversaturated with multitudes of distractions, it is getting increasingly difficult to entice people with film festivals, music events, or even street fairs.
But there is still hope.
The Montreal Chamber Music Festival has notably been working hard to remain relevant by offering free lunchtime concerts in the lobby of Place Ville Marie, allowing classical music to be enjoyed and discovered by the masses.  As someone who has only recently discovered an appreciation for a style of music that I had (unfairly) disregarded for most of my life, the noontime performances were a beautiful way to learn about something new and revel in the up-and-coming talent in the Canadian classical music scene.  An example of a grassroots event done right is the Montreal Folk Fest on the Canal.  Having just wrapped up their 9th edition, this is a festival that began with 500 attendees and grew steadily each year–with help in part by the growing popularity for the genre as well as an obvious and true love of the music by its organizers–and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Home Run, a performance art festival set in people’s homes in the Villeray neighborhood celebrated its 2nd year with the intention of hosting a 3rd.  I discovered this festival through a flyer taped outside of a bar on the route between my apartment and the metro.  I love discovering fests like that.  The young and very motivated organizers were pleasantly surprised to discover that I had attended of my own volition, not having befriended any of the artists ahead of time or having any connection to the organizers’ inner circle.  Finally, this year the Montreal International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition announced to a that it had reached an important milestone: they broke their previous year’s record of attendance by one more ticket… mine.

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Home Run 2016

So if you think that you can’t make a difference in whether or not a festival endures, you are wrong.  Sure, we can’t save them all, and knowing that another one will pop up in the ensuing vacuum definitely lessens the blow, but by stepping out of our comfort zone and trying new things we are actively nourishing the massive and diverse festival culture in Montreal.  My challenge to all of you is to find something that you may not have previously thought about attending and get out there.  Try something new.  You do not need to be as crazy as I am and go the extremes, nor do you have to feel the need to attend something that you know as a fact you won’t enjoy, but I sincerely hope to inspire, at the very least, a few of you to cast aside your inhibitions and free the child that still exists inside, even if only for a day.