Monday, September 29, 2014

Thematic Photographic 310 - Messy

Mystery in the vegetable aisle
London, ON
September 2014
Click photo to embiggen
I've been shooting pictures in the grocery store again, and, no, I haven't been caught. Yet. In fact, I snagged this particular shot as a store employee wandered right next to me to reload the zucchini display. He didn't even bat an eyelash.

Next time I may not be so lucky. But I won't let that stop me, and I hope you don't, either.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme, messy, celebrates the randomness of the world around us. This riot of roots struck me as worth a trip to the security office behind the meat department if it came to that, and while I don't expect you to expose yourself to supermarket-centric danger to bring home your shot, I do hope you use this as an opportunity to stretch your lens a little but and have some fun.

If you're new to Thematic, head here and all will be explained. If you've done this before, you know what to do. Enjoy the ride. I know I will, thanks to you.


On the fine art of achieving balance

"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
Havelock Ellis
I'm still working on that balance thing. Not sure I'll ever fully figure it out, but I suppose the never-ending-ness of it all is pretty much the way it's supposed to be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Decimated by unknowns

Welcome to the holy land
London, ON
September 2014
Click photo to embiggen
‎I know that nature follows its own set of rules, and things that seem sad to us might simply be difficult-to-swallow examples of Darwinian processes playing out as they're supposed to. We are, in the end, only human, and our general sense of planetary arrogance notwithstanding, we are merely visitors here.

Still, it was hard to ignore the jarring scene here - not to mention the bushes worth of similarly near-dead leaves in the immediate area. Whatever it was, I hope the upcoming winter's rest gives this plant and its neighbors the time and resources necessary for a full, lush recovery.

Because it may be nature's way, but it still makes me wish it didn't always have to end with the evolutionary equivalent of winners and losers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On doing what you love

"If you're doing what you love to do, you're doing what you were meant to do."
Don Daglow
Your turn: Do you love what you do?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

5 years on...

Anyone who says time heals all wounds is sadly mistaken. Likewise the kind-hearted folks who leave condolence notes that talk about "returning to life's routine" or are otherwise sprinkled with similarly cut-and-paste phrasing that I suppose looks good on a screen at the time but is ultimately meaningless and useless.

I lost my dad five years ago today. We got a late-night call that he had died suddenly at home. It wasn't a surprise, as he had been deteriorating for years, but the snap-your-fingers nature of his death made an already difficult thing that much more so.

Mind you, there can be no easy way to end a life, and every transition is marked by its own unique cruelties. But this one, with its absence of any kind of goodbye, seemed to have its own particular signature, its own way of reminding us that we're just sub-atomic pawns in a universe-scale game to which we've only been given knowledge of a tiny subset of the rulebook.

There are no rules to death just as there are no rules governing what you're supposed to do after someone close to you passes away. Wounds don't necessarily heal or otherwise disappear. Sure, the acuteness of it all fades with time. The numbing sense of loss that stops you from functioning in day-to-day life eventually subsides just enough so you can return to something approaching normalcy. You can work, you can parent your kids, you can head back to the beach and not feel guilty that you're able to enjoy the moment.

But to a certain degree it's always there. You had, and then you didn't, and that's a hard break point to forget. And life does indeed go on, and other stuff happens - people die, you get sick, your own circumstances may evolve. Yet you don't forget, you don't fully heal, and you never go back to what you once were. It hovers over you, sinks into your conscience, presents itself when you least expect it, during those quiet times when you're alone with your thoughts.

Which, on reflection, isn't necessarily as negative as it initially sounds. Because we'll all suffer loss in our respective lives, and we'll all have to figure out how to navigate the planet within the context of our unpredictably changed, always-healing-but-never-fully-healed, imperfect selves. In the process, we'll grow. We'll take the lessons learned from those we've lost and figure out a new path that makes sense to us. Our connections to others will evolve, as well, some for the better and some, well, not.

And that process, of evolving and travelling on without them in the tangible sense yet never having their memories, lessons and guidance more than a quick thought away, will never really be done or complete in any true sense. Life doesn't work that way, but this is as it always should have been.

Perhaps we have to experience the journey first-hand to appreciate why this is so.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The things we do to horses

Does this make me look fat?
New York, NY
July 2014
Thematic. In the pink. Here.
I grew up in Montreal, which like New York has a thriving tourism trade that includes horse-drawn carriages.

I completely get that a century ago it made sense for horses to live and work in the middle of large cities because cars and trucks as we know them simply didn't exist then. I also get that it took decades for cars, trucks and other horseless vehicles to relegate Trigger, Mr. Ed and their ilk to the fringes of urban life. Somewhere in my grandparents' dusty past, there's an old story of a horse, a wagon, and a thriving business spent criss-crossing the dusty streets long before I was a gleam in anyone's eye.

What I don't get is why any of this still happens today. And why these poor horses are still plying their significantly diminished trade in the middle of a landscape that no longer seems to have any room for them. Supplying real people and residents with the essentials of daily life from the open back of time worn wagon seems somewhat more worthwhile than pointing out the sights for camera-toting tourists in a gaudily painted caleche. Call me judgemental, but it seems to be a bit of a waste of these lovely animals' potential.

As I watched this particular pink-festooned horse head off with another load of tourists in its caleche - sorry, carriage - I found myself silently willing the honking masses of cars to stay very far away from her. I'm sure she's used to the chaos that surrounds her, but I still wonder whether that's enough to justify the trade in the first place.

I'm sure she's well cared for, bit I still can't shake the feeling that she should be on a farm and not here. And the pink totally has to go.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The day a helicopter flew over my head

It's funny how small decisions to shake up the daily routine can lead to experiences that might not have happened otherwise.

Case in point: I decided to ditch the bike today and instead ended up driving to the office. I know it's completely out of character. Left to my own devices, I'll pick two wheels over four every time. There's something elemental and fulfilling about powering through traffic on a bike. You feel remarkably alive as you move through the gears and the machine meshes seamlessly under your touch.

But this morning's pre-breakfast writing jag took longer than I expected, and by the time the rest of the house had awoken, I was behind on time. So car it was. Monday's another day.

On the way home, I decided to take a different route home, one that took me through the northern part of London. The sun was out, there was just a bit of fall crispness in the air, the music was wafting out of the open sunroof, and I was feeling pretty good about how the day had unfolded.

And then I heard it. The distant thump-thump of spinning composite blades. A helicopter. Getting louder. Maybe I felt it more than I heard it. Before long, it was clear that it was getting closer, and I was about to get buzzed.

So I did what any av-geek would do: I parked in the mall parking lot that happened to be conveniently beside me. I got out of the car and spotted the unmistakable orange form in the brilliantly blue sky. It was from Ontario's aerial medical transport service, ORNGE, one of the new AugustaWestland 139s, and it was on final approach to the helipad in front of University Hospital barely a kilometre away.

I wondered who was on it. I wondered what his or her story was. And I hoped whoever it was was well on the way toward getting the right kind of care from an institution I know all too well. Because the only reason I could even stand in the middle of a deserted parking lot and watch this seemingly small moment unfold was because of the good folks at UH. Last year, they saved my life. And I said a prayer that they'd work their same magic on whoever was flying over my head right now.

Of course, it could have been a simple ferry flight. And maybe I was overthinking it. Not every overflight signals an emergency or a life-threatening situation. But I said a quiet prayer for an unseen stranger, anyway. Because you just never know. And I figure some stranger might have done the same thing for me on a similarly sunny early evening just over a year ago. Returning the favor, however disconnectedly, seemed like the right thing to do.

I think I see more shaking up the routine in my near future. Because when life decides to throw an unexpected moment your way, you want to be sure you're in the right place to appreciate it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the two sides of the pen

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
Benjamin Franklin
The question is this: Can I choose to do both?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thematic Photographic 309 - In the Pink

Hot city, cool treat
New York, NY
July 2014
I've learned the secret to getting a primo parking spot in one of the most notoriously traffic-clogged cities on the planet: Drive a food truck. Even better, make it a pink Frostee truck on a warm summer's night right on the edge of Columbus Circle, a the southwest corner of Central Park. If only I had known this in high school I might have been more popular. Ah, hindsight.

I've also got a bit of a thing for fluorescent light spilling out into the night, so it was a given that I'd grab this shot as I headed back from my photographic tour of the neighborhood. Only as I started composing the scene did I realize there was a cop double-parked over there on the right. It didn't stop me from taking the picture, mind you. I was almost looking forward to the opportunity to talk my way out of it if it came to that.

The things we do for our art.

Your turn: You know what to do. And if you don't, here's the lowdown: Take a pic. Post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here so folks know where to find it. Visit other participants. Add additional contributions through the week - serial posting is encouraged, as is bringing a friend to the party. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. And thanks for continuing to support our little photographic insanity. It may seem bizarre, but it gets us out and shooting. Which, in the end, is all that matters.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

You'll never see this scene again

Live at the Lincoln
New York, NY
July 2014
I was at a mall recently with the kids when we decided we'd been walking for a while and needed a break. So we found some benches in the atrium between a couple of corridors and took a load off. I almost missed the fact that there was a large water fountain in the middle of the courtyard, but my kids didn't.

I suddenly realized why: These had been fixtures of my childhood, where every mall seemed to have a fountain at every crossroads. Throwing coins into the fountain was a tradition, and a reward for us if we didn't cause too much difficulty for mom or dad while they shopped.

Fast forward to today and most malls have removed the fountains, probably because they cost too much to maintain or aren't energy efficient or some lawyer is worried about the risk of drowning or liability from a runaway, possibly slippery penny. I explained all of this to my kids as they listened to the soothing white noise of the water jets mask the uber-commercial din of the place, and they agreed not having these things around makes malls a lot less interesting than they used to be.

So when I happened across this incredible fountain in the middle of the plaza at New York's Lincoln Centre, I immediately thought of my kids and the little things we come across in the urban jungle that make life slightly more memorable, slightly more human, and give us things to remember and share decades later.

The next mall that installs a fountain gets my business. Bonus points for a water slide.

Your turn: Things you remember from your childhood that are slowly disappearing. Aaaaand...go!

Friday, September 12, 2014

When little girls turn 17

17 years ago today, my wife gave birth to a sweet little munchkin who, when the nurse first put her in my arms, seemed almost too small and light to be real. I peeked underneath the rolled-up blanket to see if there was any more of her under there. There wasn't, and yet, she was absolutely perfect in her teenie-ness.

We shouldn't have been surprised. After all, from the first moment we had seen her on the ultrasound screen all those months earlier, she seemed smaller than life, almost like a little peanut. So that's what we called her: Peanut. Or Peanut Girl. And it's what we've been calling her ever since. And probably always will.

The funny thing is, in 17 years, Dahlia has managed to grow from smaller than life to larger than it. She is as close to a force of nature as anyone can be, someone who grabs on to a moment and makes it firmly her own. Just like my wife, she's sensitive, smart, creative and empathetic. She's lived on honour roll from the moment she got into high school, she's fiercely protective of her little brother as he settles into his own high school life, and she's emerging as an immensely gifted artist whose work blows minds and merits a spot above anyone's mantel.

For all her accomplishments, she is as rooted in the forces of goodness as anyone can possibly be. Just like my wife, she has a soul that draws others toward her, makes them smile, makes them think, and makes me glad we had her. Everyone knows Dahlia, and everyone adores her.

Closer to home, she stands her ground in a house that never seems to slow down, with enough backbone and sheer strength of will that I don't ever worry about her. Of course, we always worry about our kids, but somehow I know she'll always find a way to navigate whatever life throws at her. Some people have that innate sense of gravity, and she's one of them.

She's grown in so many ways since that fateful day 17 years ago, and I can't wait to see where she takes herself - and us - next. 

Happy birthday, maidel. May you continue to go from strength to strength, and may you continue to bring light and joy to our lives.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Small screen stuff...

While most of my professional life is spent stringing words together, I also get asked on occasion to sit in front of a camera and explain geeky stuff. It's the broadcast yin to my writerly yang.

Working a full-time-plus schedule can make it a challenge to find time for sleeping and just chilling out in a Muskoka chair with a tall glass of ice water, an iPad filled with great tunes and reading material, and a napping dog at my feet. But in the end it's a worthwhile tradeoff, because it takes the words that I write and shares them with a different audience in a different way. I never forget how lucky I am to have opportunities like this. Blessings, folks: Cherish them.

I was on CTV's Canada AM last week explaining the Jennifer Lawrence/celebrity photo hacking story (video here, or see tweet below) and am scheduled to chat with them again this week in advance of Apple's big iPhone reveal in California. What can we expect? I'll run it all down Tuesday morning at 6:30 Eastern.
I also do a regularly scheduled weekly segment with CTV News Channel anchor Scott Laurie. It's called Clicked In (hashtag: #ClickedInCTV) and we talk about the top 2 or 3 tech topics of the week. Here's the video from last week's segment - or see tweet below. It airs Sunday nights at 7:15 p.m Eastern. The camera may not add 10 pounds, but it sure makes me look goofier than I already do.
 Your turn: What tech stories should I be talking about next?

On remembering our best teachers

"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see."
Alexandra K. Trenfor
Now that we're through the back-to-school rush, I thought this quote seemed especially appropriate. As my wife settles into her groove with a classroom full of new students, our youngest son completes his first week in high school and our daughter begins her final year before graduating, Ms. Trenfor's words seem to resonate even more strongly.

Many of us owe so much of who we ultimately become to the teachers who help us lay the foundations. The best of the best stand out in our memories, and even if we aren't thinking of them directly at any given moment, I like to think that their lessons show themselves, unheralded, in the things we do day-to-day.

I often wonder if they remember us the way we remember them. I often wonder if we're thankful enough for all they've given us.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Clinging to life

Life, defiant
London, ON
August 2014
Thematic. Vegetation. Here.
I'm starting to really enjoy shooting with my smartphone. If you're a purist, please don't worry: It'll never replace my DSLR, or even my wife's little Canon that I secretly steal from her when I don't want to shlep my ginormous camera bag.

I love my BlackBerry Z30's camera, but pound-for-pound against my Nikon, it just doesn't have the control or the quality. Still, when you've just dropped the munchkins off at one of their myriad programs and you have a few extra minutes to wander the neighbourhood before you head back, that slim piece of glass, metal and plastic will easily do the job. And it opens up a whole new way of looking at photography.

To a certain extent, being limited to "only" a smartphone forces you to approach the moment a little differently. You choose subjects, compose and shoot them with a completely different mindset. It isn't an absolute quality thing. Rather, it's how you can creatively work within the limitations of the hardware to bring home an ideal result. And pushing a lowly smartphone camera is often more fun than slumming it with the photographic equivalent of an F-22A Raptor.

On this particular evening, the low-angled sun was painting the old buildings in this dead-silent warren of downtown side-streets a delightful shade of gold. It seemed like such a waste to not take advantage of the opportunity. And my little BlackBerry managed to bring home the moment just fine.

Your turn: This is an example of an in-between moment. What will you shoot next in your own in-between moment?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

On finding - and using - your light

"Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world."
Oprah Winfrey
I'll admit that I haven't always been the world's most ardent Oprah Winfrey fan. Her particular brand of feel-good marketing has always felt a little too sugar-coated and oversimplified for my taste.

Watching her - or any of the other dozens of knockoffs that her template has spawned - can be painful in its sameness. Every show follows the same routine, with the same guests spouting the same easy-to-follow smack-my-forehead-common-sense pap that, if only we choose to see the light, will doubtless revolutionize our lives and those of everyone around us.

The message is punctuated with perfectly timed breaks for canned applause, audience adulation and shameless sponsorship and product placement moments. I feel I need to give my brain a shake after watching any of these mid-day staples, and it makes me wonder if maybe we're missing something more substantive along the way.

My take: Get off the couch, tell Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and their kind to stuff it, turn the TV off, and go out into the real world. Lots more opportunity there to live up to our potential, no?

And yet...

It's difficult to completely write off the forces of positivity inherent in Ms. Winfrey and her ilk. They're trying to help those who follow them lead better lives. And if we can ignore the millions of couch potatoes who will do nothing but watch, and instead focus on the minority of guidance-seeking souls who will act on that guidance, who am I to dismiss what works for these folks?

With that in mind, Ms. Winfrey's words at the top of this entry seem to have struck a chord in me. In 15 words, she summarizes the key to a purposeful life. Once we look past the formulaic-TV shtick, we'd all do well to let her substantive life lessons sink in.