Northern Exposure: Three Weeks in Toronto

By Alexander Brown

It’s three weeks ago, mid-May in Toronto. The temperature is pleasant. Still sweater-weather for some, but I’m in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m in the midst of being cycled off Escitalopram and Bubropion, and an unexpected side effect has caused my body temperature to rise 10 degrees. Any additional layers and I’d have looked like I’d spent the morning sweating it out at a methadone clinic.

My new, mid-tier Nikon DSLR is draped across my good eye, when my bad eye, the one that required an eye-patch when I was young, spots the shape of what appears to be a middle-aged woman moving towards me with purpose.

“Do you have permission to take that?”

My normal, overly polite Canadian courtesies failed me. The preceding 24 hours had been tough. A real Bad Day.

“Didn’t know I needed it.”

“Well you do, people are here to study and you’re making them uncomfortable.”

I looked around the reference library’s atrium and couldn’t match eyes with a single solitary soul.

“Are you sure about that?” Again, a Bad Day had happened.

“You need permission!” She was getting angrier, probably understandably so. “What are these photos even for?”

She liked it even less when I told her I didn’t know.

On the way out the door I stopped at security and asked for permission. They made me fill out a form. Once it was complete a sleepy security guard stamped his permission in dull blank ink and told me to keep it on me as long as I was taking photos. I handed it right back to him and told him I already had.

“So why did you fill it out?” He asked.

“I don’t know.”


A week passes and I’m getting a bit better. My body temperature has slid back into an acceptable range and all I have to contend with is the odd electric shock in my head. The honest-to-goodness accepted medical term for this phenomenon is known as “brain zaps.” They only happen about twice a day. I’m still weary from the Bad Day, but there’s a growing distance to the proceedings.

I’m taking even more photos. I circumnavigate Toronto and parts of Southern Ontario like Magellan himself. I don’t always get the aperture settings right. I’m learning, though. Getting a bit better. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.


Two weeks pass and I’m in the country. The lightning strikes are gone. I take photos of plants, trees, and the sky. There’s very little to do, but no permission forms required.

On cloudless nights I can see the Bad Day has drifted even farther away, its lights only occasionally visible on the horizon. 


It’s three weeks later and I’m here, and again I’m thinking about that woman. She had told me I needed permission. She wanted to know what these photos were for. Why I was taking them.

I couldn’t tell her she was right, that I did need permission, or how I was there because the Bad Day had been my fault; that the camera in my hand had arrived knowing that day would come and that I needed it more than she could ever know.

And maybe she would have understood: she of the inclination to make a beeline across a crowded atrium just because she cared enough to do so. She’d had Bad Days. Probably even Worse Days.

I could have told her everything, but I wasn’t ready.

I took these photos instead.

And as it turns out, I think some of them are pretty good.    

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