Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Quoted, telephonically

My pontification parade continues...

A colleague and I were interviewed by a senior editor from Jupiter Media last week. We chatted about Voice over IP deployment issues, and generally had a lovely conversation with someone who clearly understood what this technology means to regular business folks.

The article, VoIP High on List of Tech Investment Priorities, was published yesterday by VoIP Planet. I know it's geeky and not really related to my more usual forms of writing. But it's still a kick to be on the other side of the writer's pen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Time of few words

I don't much feel like writing anything creative right about now, so I'll leave the words for another time.

On the admin side, after living through weeks (months) of Blogger's performance-challenged commenting system, I enabled Haloscan comments on the site (don't worry, I backed up the Blogger comments, but need to figure out how I'll implement them in the archives.) We'll give this a try and see if it performs any better. Please let me know if this is an improvement over the old. I may still tweak things in the days to come, so thank you - both pre and post - for your patience.

Many thanks for your words of comfort about our cat. One thing that struck me after bringing the kids home was how our youngest, Noah, wanted to be the first one into the house. He walked in, looked around, and said, matter-of-factly, "The house is so quiet because Shadow isn't here."

He hung up his coat, then walked through to the living room, as if he was looking for the cat. He found Shadow's toy mouse and picked it up with a big smile on his face. He asked me, "Can we put it up in a special place?" Of course, I told him.

More wandering and looking until he found a spot beside the TV. "So I can always see it," he said.

The little man misses his "best cat", but something tells me the lessons in compassion he learned from his furry friend will persist long after the pictures begin to fade.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Endings

We’ve known for a couple of months that our cat’s days have been numbered. Shadow was diagnosed with diabetes in January, and it’s been all downhill since then.

Long story short, he hasn’t responded to anything we’ve thrown at it. Between diet and meds, he falls into the majority of felines who simply won’t get better. His reaction to being at the vet – namely, enough hissing and howling to permanently disqualify him from cat-of-the-month honors – dictates the absolute uselessness of even considering insulin injections.

During his most recent checkup last week, I brought up the dreaded topic of euthanasia when it became painfully clear he was getting much worse. Our vet, Dr. Tom, explained it all to me as we scheduled him to be put down the following Monday (tomorrow). I didn’t have the heart to do it any sooner, and I wanted the kids to have a chance to say goodbye. I swear when he looked at me when I let him out of his carrier back at the house, he knew.

I know, he’s a cat. In the overall scheme of things – a phrase I use a lot these days – a cat’s fate doesn’t amount to a huge impact on the celestial plane. But he’s been a part of our own little world since just after we got married, and he’s the only pet our kids have ever known.

We broke the news to them Saturday morning, trying to balance the wish to keep them in the blissful ignorance of childhood with the eventual and necessary intrusion of the real world of loss. We thought giving them the weekend would be enough.

Zach, our eldest, is having the roughest time. Just over ten years ago, Shadow sniffed the car seat after we brought our first munchkin home from the hospital. The cat seemed unimpressed at the time, but he became a furry friend to the first kid he had ever really known. Zach grew, and grew to love his aloof animal with the extra thumbs on his front paws.

Earlier tonight, Zach said goodnight to his now-much-smaller-than-him pet for the last time. He’s been negotiating for a dog, and the edge in his voice as he asks is enough to break a parent’s heart. He has spontaneously broken into tears through the weekend. Nothing hurts more than to see your child hurting. I wish I knew what to do to make his pain go away (beyond bringing home another furry friend, of course.)

Tomorrow morning, the kids will say a final goodbye before we take them to school. In the afternoon, my wife and I will bring him to the vet one last time. When we come home, the house will be silent.

Time will heal this, as it always does. Soon, they’ll be able to look back at their life with Shadow and smile at all the kooky things he did. They will, unfortunately, learn of losses far more profound than a mere pet. And as they do, I’d like to think that just having had Shadow in their lives will have given them an additional perspective, a few more tools to handle whatever challenges life throws their way.

All from a black cat who, despite never having uttered a word, had more of an impact on three young lives than he ever could have imagined.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Read these folks...

My high school writing teacher (yes, that's you, Marie...may I call you Marie?) once told me that writers are only as good as the writers they read. It was one of the few literary lessons from my high school years that I held onto as I went out into the big bad world of higher education and, later, on-the-street journalism.

To this day, I read a wide range of writers. Some inspire me to write like them. Others simply get me thinking. But you never come away indifferent, which come to think of it is what I try to do with my own scribblings. Here's a quick rundown of a few. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do:
  • Steve Tilley: Edmonton Sun columnist and Sun Media games reviewer. He does funny better than anyone in the country. Do not read him over breakfast, especially if you value the integrity of your laptop's keyboard. Don't ask how I know this. His latest piece, Plane truth, flying sucks, is classic Tilley.
  • Rob Pegoraro: Washington Post Fast Forward technology columnist. Says it like it is; a rarity in today's tech press. He also hosts regular online discussions (next one is here) about his recent work. Definitely an example of an old media institution understanding how to adapt to the new media reality.
  • Gene Weingarten: Washington Post columnist (Below the Beltway), and the oft-referenced heir apparent to Dave Barry's crown. I think that's an injustice to Gene: he's a great writer in his own right.
  • Jeff Jacoby: Boston Globe Op-Ed columnist. His take on some of the most contentious issues of the day never fails to get me thinking. For anyone wondering what opinion writing is all about, his column is a self-encapsulated lesson in the genre.
Your turn: If you have any pet writers of your own, feel free to share 'em here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Along came a spider...

Here's the scene:

I'm finishing up breakfast in the kitchen. Good Friday in Canada is a stat holiday, so we're home with the munchkins. The children are playing quietly in the living room. Suddenly, there's a commotion. No, they're not fighting, and no one has "accidentally" stepped on anyone else. Nothing like that. Rather, our daughter has spotted a spider walking across the ceiling, and has enlisted her younger brother's help to visually track it while she runs to the kitchen to fetch Dad the Spider Eradicator.

Dad grabs a tissue from a nearby box and follows spider-phobic little girl to the scene of the arachnid intruder. The eight-legged dude has arrived at the crown molding and is sitting (standing?) on a spot directly above the kids' computer. Dad grabs a chair and assesses the tactical situation. He usually tries to get them out of the house bloodlessly, but this one refuses to play along. It doesn't move when the tissue is placed next to it.

This is bad: a spider that won't cooperate can easily make a run for it, rapelling down a quickly-spun line of silk into some never-to-be-seen-again hiding place inside a dusty piece of computer equipment. No, says Dad, not today. After what seems like hours but is more likely 30 seconds, Dad squishes the intransigent insect (murderer!) and wipes the spot a couple of times to ensure there are no spider-guts left behind.

Daughter cries, "Ew, there's blood there." Dad confirms, no, it's just a shadow on the edge of the molding. The spider is very much an ex-spider, and all of him (her? it?) is now firmly stuck in the folds of the tissue.

Formerly-squeamish children suddenly lose their fear and become very curious children. They must visually confirm the deceased state of the spider, and insist that father opens up the tissue and shows them.

"Ewwwww....cool!" They both ooh and aah over the state of their father's recently-dispatched victim as they all meander over to the bathroom for the ritual flushing.

The tissue is tossed in. The lever is flushed. The children wave and say goodbye as it circles the bowl before beginning its inevitable trip down sewage pipe lane.

Once it's obvious that spidey is good and gone, the children turn around and go back to their toys on the living room floor. Crisis averted.

End scene.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Quoted, Jerrily

"It's amazing the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper."
Jerry Seinfeld

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Publish Day - death penalty

Today's column in the London Free Press, Get tough with violent offenders, reflects my growing frustration with the threat that career criminals represent to the rest of us. Sometimes a little anger is enough to get people thinking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Admin update

Sorry in advance for the overt geekiness of this entry. I wanted to share a couple of quick infrastructure updates with you before we get back to the fun stuff:
  1. New comments are temporarily disabled. I suffered a bit of comment spam at the hands of someone who, shall we say, had a lot of free time on his hands. Bad news: all you good folks won't be able to post for a bit. Good news: I'm building a pretty good case study for process steps to deal with a cyberstalker (ever notice how these morons don't have the guts to use their real names?) More good news: I should get some articles and at least one opinion piece out of it. Thanks for your kind comments, Thumper!
  2. I'm wireless, sort of. I seem to have sniffed out an unsecured wireless LAN connection in the neighborhood. Tsk tsk to whoever's running that network for being such a security slacker, but woo-hoo for me. So here I sit on the living room floor in the middle of the night, typing my first wireless blog entry (all together now: who cares?) Still, I think it's rather neat. Maybe tomorrow I'll install my own damn wireless router. Hey, there's an idea!
Until I figure out a way to balance comments and security, please e-mail me your thoughts and I'll post them later. Thank you for your understanding. More later...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Little man hangs out

I wouldn't wish illness on anyone. But I've got to admit it was nice spending a couple of days at home last week with our ailing four-year-old son.

The fact that my wife is a teacher and I'm a writer often influences our planning when one of the kids gets sick. Since all I do is toss words at a screen until some of them stick, I can easily work from home - or a suitably-equipped Starbucks (yes, I'm dreaming. For now.) It is decidedly more difficult for her to phone it in to her class. Oh, I suppose her kids could make do with a webcam.

Oops, maybe I've just given a bean-counting school district administrator somewhere a really bad idea. But the truth is elementary school teachers need to be in class. That's a bummer when your little people wake up too sick to leave the house.

As of Tuesday, little man had been up for most of the two previous nights. We weren't sure what was worse: the high fever, his coughing, or his general state of restlessness as he tried to drift off in between the two of us. By that morning, my wife was starting to look greener than our son, and I got on the phone to get him a Doctor's appointment. I did this only AFTER sending the now-routine "my-kid-is-sick-so-I'll-be-online" today message to the office.

By mid-day, he had been diagnosed with a throat infection. I gave him his first dose of antibiotics and he was happy. He ate apples, crackers, and anything else he could get his busy little hands on. Mom brought home the DVD for The Incredibles, which made him and his elder siblings very happy.

I got a ton of work done. And despite the fact that I still had a ton of work left to do, it felt good to power through a mountain of stuff while a munchkin played at my feet. Every once in a while, he'd quietly call my name and ask for something. A movie, an apple, some crackers, and even water for the cat (oops, glad he caught that).

He smiled the whole day, and was ever the trooper when it came time to take his meds: like a champ, he insisted on taking the syringe (we fill needle-less syringes with the medicine...less fuss and mess than spoons) in his hands and self-administering the dose. For four, he's remarkably easy to have around.

I found myself periodically staring at him. Occasionally, he'd catch me in the act and give me his Silly Daddy look. But I couldn't help but wonder what I ever did to deserve a kid like him, or kids like his brother and sister. They're not perfect - indeed, whose children are? - but they're little slices of us. Pretty magical, even when they're not feeling well.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Vacation images - fins

A small picture of a small scene often ignored by the beachgoers who walk past the lifeguard tower. Simple and overlooked: definitely my speed.

What small aspect of your world will you be staring at today? Take the time to peer deeper. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you see.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bumper-to-bumper parenting

As much as I hate being off my bicycle during the winter, my malaise is pretty much offset by the fact that I get to drive into town with my wife and kids every weekday morning. London's not a huge city, so we're only talking a total of 15 minutes in the car. But that's often enough for something notable to happen. With that in mind, I give you yesterday morning:

We were sitting at a red light in one of London's infamous traffic jams - you know, seven cars in a row - when my wife noticed an arm come out of the driver's side window of the van in front of us. The driver tapped on a cigarette in the universal better-to-mess-up-the-road-than-my-vehicle maneuver before retracting said hand inside for another cool drag of some luscious nicotine.

My ever-observant wife shook her head in disbelief upon spotting Part 2 of this sad scene: the handle of an infant carrier in the middle of the rear seat. Lovely, we both thought at the same moment: a parent who cares so much about the welfare of his child that he'll smoke inside the vehicle.

Two or three decades ago, when smoking wasn't the social equivalent of leprosy that it is today, perhaps this was considered acceptable behavior. As a child, I can recall many an evening when my parents, afraid to offend visitors to our home, would allow them to literally turn the air blue while I tried to barricade myself in my room to escape the fumes.

Times have changed, yet this kind of thing still persists. Of course, the times also dictate that we keep these things to ourselves, since you never know when someone will beat you with a tire iron for so much as tsk-tsking in their general direction. So we said and did nothing.

The light turned green. The van drove away. A baby sat in the rear, breathing the smoke of a parent too stupid to understand, or to care.

---
BTW, I'm not exactly unbiased on this issue: I wrote a column entitled Fuming over smoking litterbugs last July. I guess that makes me a bit of a militant when it comes to smoking-related issues. I'm OK with that.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

On crime and punishment

I have to admit I pretty much cheered when I first heard that Scott Peterson was sentenced to death for killing his eight-month-pregnant wife.

Call me a cruel and inhuman human, but a part of me likes knowing that some jurisdictions in the world still aren't afraid to give back to murderers what they gave to their victims. It's my ultimate revenge fantasy, lived out by proxy.

It bothers me immensely that we live in a world where victims can be repeatedly victimized by criminals, but those same criminals can go to prison and get a degree. I know I'm oversimplifying, but the unfairness of crime and punishment in today's society is enough to make most of us law-abiding folks nauseous.

So where do you stand? What do you think we should do with the likes of Mr. Peterson? How can victims be treated more fairly in the eyes of the law?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Quoted, relatively

I'm working my way through a fair bit of writing this eve, so I've got precious little time to write anything coherent here. Then again, when do I ever write anything coherent? (Don't answer that!)

Still, I came across a quote from Albert Einstein that I'd like to share. Why him? Because he never fit the mold. He failed math and generally had difficulty fitting into life's established order. He blazed his own road and in doing so redefined how we look at the world - and beyond. Imagine if he had listened to the naysayers and followed the conventional route.

I know, frightening. Now think of all the people around you - or even you, yourself - who are at risk of tumbling into the same trap. Have you ever doubted yourself because someone dismissed you or your gift? This ought to change your focus a bit:
"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
Albert Einstein

Your turn: what quotations do you use to keep yourself pointed in the right direction?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A writer's milestone

Not a day goes by that our children don't do something that causes us to stop dead in our tracks and realize that right under our noses, things have changed forever.

Today's news: seven-year-old Dahlia started learning cursive, or script. As usual, it got me thinking about how moving beyond block-letter printing represents another step on her long road to adulthood. It also got me thinking how I wanted to mark the date in some small way, so here it is.

The earth didn't move and the skies above our house didn't open up when she carefully wrote her name in pink so that I'd see, for the first time, what her real handwriting looks like. But it was nonetheless important to us. This time thing continues to march in only one direction. I hope I'm doing a good enough job making notes along the way.

And if I'm not, another member of the family can now take over in case my writing hand gets tired.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A bad few days

When you're four, you don't have a job, pay bills, or fight rush hour traffic. You don't fret over your hair or your clothes, either. You simply live in a happy bubble of childhood (I really should copyright that term) where you're generally happy and carefree, and your sadnesses tend to come not from the politics of others, but from the hands of a sibling.

Noah's bad weekend got started a little early last Friday morning when he bumped his face on the bathroom vanity while playing with his big sister ("It was an accident!" said she. Isn't it always?)

As always, Mom was there with an ice pack, a hug and some soothing words. I did my usual run for the camera and took this picture of the sad clown. Thankfully, beyond the bruise on his face - it's always fun watching everyone's reaction at the grocery store...no, I don't abuse my kid...please go back to choosing between the Alpha-Bits and Frosted Flakes and stop judging my parenting - he's fine.

Then he spiked a fever last night, so Debbie and I will alternate working from home today. Yet, despite his run of bad luck the last few days, he sits pyjama-clad beside me on the couch, watching Shrek 2, with a rather contented smile on his face. He's also found time to make nice to his cat, to wave to the neighbors on their way to work, and to try to fill his own bowl of Cheerios from the pantry (don't ask.)

I'll keep this morning in mind the next time I approach meltdown because some overstressed doofus with challenged hair and clothing tried to run my bike off the road. Maybe that bubble doesn't have to be limited to kids after all.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Zach's mosaic

It's tough being surrounded by a wife and kids who have artistic abilities in their blood when I'm still struggling with stick figures. But I make do: they generate amazing creations that end up on shelves, walls, and wherever else they will be seen by visitors to our home.

Here's Zach's latest. Suffice to say we've been very careful about where it goes. He's done an amazing job rebuilding it from its first fall...we don't want to go through a second one!

The question is: where should we hang this for maximum effect?

Publish Day - a tech opinion on blogs

I logged in this morning to find a lovely surprise waiting for me: My latest opinion piece for Processor.com, Time For Some Blogging Common Sense, was published online on Friday.

I love writing for Processor.com because I get to combine the two things that I love to do during the day: write, and write about technology. This piece touches on something that I know is near and dear to the heart of everyone who reads this blog, so I hope you take a few minutes to read through and then rant right back at me in a comment.

This whole publishing thing is so cool, isn't it?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Quote - a writer's philosophy

My friend, Tim, sent a quotation to me earlier today, and I thought it would be appropriate to share here.

As many of you know, I write an Op-Ed column for the London Free Press. In the process, I have fairly regularly stuck my neck out on issues that tend to polarize readers. Every time I've dug my stake in the ground, I've done so with the firm knowledge that I'd be sitrring up a tempest in the process.

But I've never done so in fear or with any sort of hesitation. I'm privileged to have the opportunity to regularly publish, and I decided early on to use the space to change the world - even if it's in some small, barely-visible manner. If it prompts some people to disagree with me, I'm absolutely fine with that. At least I've reached them. And even if they want to hurl partially-open ketchup packets at me, that's fine, too. Perhaps I've helped them view their world through a slightly wider perspective - which is really all that matters.

The writer is Thomas Merton. The work is True Solitude:
"If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people, you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn.”
Your turn: I guess you know how I feel about Mr. Merton's words. How do they make you feel? Do you have any other similar quotations to share in a comment? (I'll be posting more of my own, but I'm hoping you'll feel free to share some from your world, too.)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Carmi sent me...

I've been seriously remiss in recognizing the zillions (OK, maybe not that many...yet, but plenty nonetheless) of visitors who have graced my site and taken the time to share their thoughts since I went live last year. Without you all, I'd be barking in the wind - and believe me, that's a pathetic thought. So I'm going to take a cue from the queen of blogdom and start my own "Carmi sent me..." tradition. Periodically, I'll pick a blog of note and let y'all know about it. Sound OK? Cool...let's roll...

---
I'm not sure if you've had a chance to visit Michele Agnew's site. If you haven't yet done so, drop in and look around - and please let her know Carmi sent you. She paid me a huge compliment earlier this week, and I believe she deserves to be recognized for her own contributions to this nascent medium.

What stands out about Michele is the fact that she turns her focus completely outward. Most folks write about themselves. Not in this case. This site is all about the people who visit. And a lot of people visit. After a couple of minutes reading through her extensive comment logs, you'll know why.

It's hard to explain, but suffice to say it reaffirms that there are a lot of good people floating around the blogosphere. The world needs more of that now.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tuck in

Bedtime is my favorite time of the day, and not simply because it holds the promise of a couple of quiet hours for me and my wife after the little people drift off to sleep. I love the ritual of changing into pyjamas, brushing and washing. I love the way the house seems to hum with the concentrated activity of three kids converging on one bathroom. I love the questions that come up as they approach the sink:
  • Which toothbrush? Each of our kids has at least three. I'm not sure where they all came from, but they do look quite impressive arrayed across the back of the sink. Each munchkin has to pause for at least 60 seconds to mull over which toothbrush will be picked. It's a huge decision, fraught with peril if the wrong one is chosen.
  • Which toothpaste? Somehow, we always have at least four or five tubes of toothpaste. Remember the 60 seconds they spent on toothbrush selection? Well, now add another minute for toothpaste selection as well. Heaven forbid I try to hurry things along by suggesting a brush/paste combination that violates the Bedtime Code. "No, Dad, Scooby-Doo toothpaste does not belong on the Dora the Explorer toothbrush." Who knew?
  • Where's my blankie? Each child has a beloved woven companion. Zach has a faded green blanket with parrots. Noah has a lovely blue Winnie the Pooh blanket, while Dahlia has a beloved pink bunny. At least one of them will be wondering right about now where he/she left it. My wife and I try to take turns hunting for the wayward comfies. There is no sleep without them.
The fun really begins when we tuck them into bed. Zach never goes down without a book and his reading lamp. He'll stay up until all hours if he can, reading by the small light that pierces the darkness of his room. My wife was just like that as a kid - and still is - so it's heartening to see the proverbial apple not falling all that far from the tree.

Dahlia must be surrounded by a precisely laid out array of stuffies and blankets. She seems so small in the middle of this sea of softness, her head sticking out just enough for us to kiss her goodnight. She's our little lady, and that is never more true than when she's buried in a sea of soft pink, her huge blue eyes beginning to droop while she waits for her Mom and Dad to say goodnight.

Noah loves when we crawl into bed with him. Last night, I tucked myself in next to him and listened to his happy chatter. Just as I thought he would never run out of evergy, his voice slowed down and he got really mellow - this is always my favorite time. I asked him if he was happy. He slowly nodded his head, leaned over to me for a final kiss, then gently closed his eyes and was in lalaland. How lucky I was to watch him at the very moment when he fell asleep.

I carefully climbed down from his big boy bed and tiptoed out of his room. I don't know how many bedtimes we have left before they no longer want us to be right there with them as they drift off, but I don't want to miss any more of these magical times than I absolutely have to.

If you have a favorite time of day, I'd love to hear your story, too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Publish Day - Not just a tie

I can't sleep tonight. Actually, that's a lie. I was sleeping, but now I've woken up and my eyes just don't want to get droopy again. It's 4 a.m. But since it's a Publish Day, I get to be one of the first to see my new column online.

Never mind that I saw it when I actually wrote it. It's not the same as when you actually see it for the first time in print or onscreen, there for all the world to see; out there. I've published scads of times in recent years, yet that thrill never seems to wear off, nor do I hope it ever does.

This piece is entitled Dad learns about the ties that bind. If you've been hanging out on my blog recently, it may look familiar to you. Sometimes, I like to try ideas out on the blog to see how you will respond. Every once in a while, something I post here will strike a particularly resonant chord. When this happens, I'll try to shape it into a column. Sometimes it'll work out and other times it'll simply flame out.

Since I had been on a bit of a rant-fest in recent weeks, I felt I needed to turn off the spigot of venom – temporarily, anyway – and return to the themes that bring comfort. When some of you so kindly shared your comments with me, I thought I was on to something. After I had shaped the post into a column and gave it to my wife, I knew this was the one.

I hope you enjoy it. When you're done reading it, I hope you'll come back and share your own thoughts on the following:
  • Have you had similar experiences with members of your own family?
  • How important are generational ties to you?

Thanks again for your continued support. Readers make the writing process go 'round, and I couldn't do this without the unbelievable feedback you all so willingly and generously share.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

On my own

I worked from home today. I did so partly as a way of getting more writing done - I'm always infinitely more productive when there's no one around me - but I also simply needed to be surrounded by silence for a little while.

I know that sounds arrogant and secessionist of me. I'm not anti-social - not most of the time, anyway - and I generally need to be surrounded by a certain level of people-based activity. It gives me the energy, the fuel I need to generate ideas and write about interesting stuff to which people can relate.

But some days, it helps balance things out if I seal myself out and keep things to myself. Today was the perfect day for that: a bitterly cold and intensely clear morning gave way to a gray, snowy afternoon. I layered on a bunch of warm clothes (word to the wise: turtlenecks, flannel shirts, and overalls do much to counterbalance the electronic thermostat that turns the house into a meat locker during the day), made a giant mug of tea, selected some happy music and got to work.

I was, of course, not as alone as one would suspect. The myriad workplace technologies that follow us home made me just as reachable as always. I bounced ideas back and forth with colleagues via e-mail. I called a couple of folks at the office to chat through some ideas I had. I was Instant Messaged fairly consistently - until I turned the damn thing off, that is.

But in the end, I wasn't there. In the quiet spaces where I wasn't typing or thinking about my next phrase, I got to think about whatever it is that comes to mind when there's no one around to guide your thoughts for you. I tried to gain some perspective over the past few days. I failed miserably, for perspective will come in time, but not now. But it felt good to at least make the effort to readjust my focus from close-in to something broader and more future-focused.

Late in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. I perked up, thinking Debbie and the kids had come home a bit early and my relatively silent writer's world was about to be replaced by a more tumultuous family one. My heart sank when I realized it was a door-to-door salesperson who launched into his script even before I fully registered who he was.

No, thank you. I'm not really interested in what you have to say. Next time, please read and actually obey the prominent No Soliciting sign on our front door. Stay warm out there.

My brood came home a little while later. The noise level returned to normal; I was no longer immersed in myself. My little guy wandered over and handed me a toy and a diagrammed sheet of stickers. I began the arduous task of putting the stickers where they belonged, taking great pains to ensure they aligned perfectly with each other (yes, I obsess even over a child's toy zamboni.)

I no longer needed to be on my own, as I once again had everything I needed right in front of me. Maybe I was starting to get that perspective thing after all.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A few observations...

...of a gloomy, melancholy, gray, and redundantly-described day. I apologize for the length. Writing helps me stay balanced. Your kind thoughts and words are very much appreciated. I wish I had a better way to thank you all for your kindness beyond simply throwing more words onto my site.

I'm not worthy

I still feel immersed in sadness. And despite this, I feel like I don't deserve to feel this way. He wasn't my direct relative, after all, and others in my extended family have experienced a clearly more significant loss: My mother lost a brother. My cousins lost a father and a grandfather. My aunt lost her husband. Yet I still feel sad. I suspect it's because he always reminded me so much of his father, my grandfather.

I know it's not PC to play favorites, but my zaideh (Yiddish for grandfather, and in my vernacular, an amazingly rich term of endearment) was always the one who stood out like a giant in my young life. My uncle reminded me more of him as the years wore on. From seeing him in photographs to having him kick my tail on a ski hill to listening to him talk to reading his writing, it was as if a chip of my grandfather lived on.

And now I feel as if another connection to the seeds that resulted in my generation has been lost. No, I didn't lose an immediate relative, and so I have no right to grieve as my mother does. Yet I feel a palpable loss regardless. I'm a writer, yet I have difficulty explaining this. Odd.

In no mood to be social

I spent a good part of the day immersed in writing as I tried to focus on the little, controllable aspects of my writer's world. I didn't much feel like talking to anybody, and simply smiled and shrugged my shoulders anytime anyone asked me the typical Monday-only question, "So, how was your weekend?"

No offense to them, but I had no interest in discussing my weekend. I figured anyone who reads my blog would eventually find out that way. Anyone else wouldn't really matter. (That sounds colder than it actually is. Truth be told, when I'm sad I simply want to be left alone. I need to work through life's challenges on my own. Only my wife and kids get to peer inside the chaos that is my world.)

The comfort of words

So I finished off my column over breakfast. It's a soft-focus piece that revolves around family. It made my wife cry, so it must be good (she's my ultimate litmus test for everything I write, and she'll cut me down to size if she thinks my writing doesn't hit the mark.) It felt cathartic to submit it, and I hope you enjoy reading it when it's published this Wednesday morning.

When I got to work, I tossed my headphones on, fired up the tunes and dug into my tech-focused articles that were deadlined for review later in the afternoon. The nice thing about analytically-oriented technology research and writing is its logical, dispassionate flow. Unlike Op-Ed, I don’t leave pieces of myself on the paper. I blasted through the process and delivered some nicely-tightened prose. That's likely because I was able to write about stuff that didn't twig any emotions. And that was just fine for a day like today.

When I spoke to my wife before leaving the office, she asked how I was feeling, and promised a big hug when I got home. Her tone of voice, always empathetic, somehow became even more so during that brief phone conversation. Sometimes, it's the simplest comforts that matter most. Actually, make that all the time. And she always gets it. Lucky me.

Bedtime

When it came time to tuck our munchkins in for the night, I crawled into our little guy's bed and lay under his fuzzy Spongebob Squarepants blanket as he carefully picked a book for me to read to him. As I finished the first book, he grabbed it from my hands and bounced off the bed to fetch another tome from his bookshelf. After he spent a couple of minutes softly talking himself through the next literary choice, he confidently announced that I would be reading four books to him tonight. He counted them out on his fingers to make sure I fully understood the deal. I would have been OK with ten, frankly.

He climbed into bed and tucked himself in next to me. I rather liked having his wiggling little form beside me, as it reaffirmed why this life thing is so precious. My heart still felt heavy, but I was immersed in my son's world, so it couldn't be all bad, right? I tried to hold onto him after I finished the second book. I know he didn't understand why I simply needed an extra Noah hug. But he eventually relented, and even planted a squishy kiss on my cheek. There is something about four-year-olds that just gets to me. Perhaps its their limitless blend of sweetness and innocence that convinces us that all can indeed be right with the world if we believe just hard enough.

A blast of reality

After the house settled down, I had to pick up a couple of things at the nearby grocery store. I've got to say I rather love its 24/7 schedule. Instead of driving the three blocks, I grabbed my coat, boots and associated woolies and set off for a quick walk. The weather, which had been very warm and slushy/wet all day, was firmly in free-fall. This meant everything had flash-frozen over. The winds were whipping wisps of snow along the black ice on the road as they turned my face numb and cut through my warm coat. I found myself incredibly aware of all of this, almost like a multi-lenses video camera, recording it all for later playback and analysis. It felt good to be outside despite the sting in my face.

On the way home, I walked around the block an extra time. Not for any reason beyond the fact that I could, and it felt reaffirming to feel one of winter's final blasts howling in my ears and driving shivers down my spine.

And onward…

That word, reaffirming, keeps popping back into my head. I think it's my way of convincing myself that life always finds a way to go on for those who are left behind. Tomorrow, then, I'll once again pick up my pen as I continue my quest of whatever it is that writers pursue. It's what the giants of my youth would expect me to do whether or not they were there to witness the result.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Incomprehensible sadness

If your e-mail inbox is anything like mine, it overflows with too many messages to read, let alone answer.

As you scan your day's To Do list, you probably figure the ones from your friends and family can wait until you've got some free time.

With that in mind, I smiled when I received a message from my uncle, my mother's brother, a couple of weeks back. As he had done so often since I started to write for a living, he was taking me to task for a recent column I wrote. An avid writer and historian who extensively chronicled his experiences flying for Canada in the Second World War and for the nascent Israel Air Force in the 1948 War of Independence, he took every opportunity to push my journalistic buttons, always with a wry smile in his prose.

I was privileged during journalism school to help edit a book manuscript he had written. That was my first experience editing a real-world piece of work, and it taught me much about how to deliver a constructive editorial critique. My uncle, as opinionated and focused an individual as I have ever encountered, reviewed all of my edits and responded to each one in great detail. The end result was a thrill for me: a published piece of work within which I could practically touch the parts I had massaged with my pen.

It set the stage for my life as a writer. He followed my work and used e-mail to maintain a years-long dialog with me: no easy feat given a forty-year age difference, and the fact that he lived so far away and saw us so rarely. Still, a message from Uncle Eddy meant I was still in his writer's cross-hairs; it was a good sign.

As much as I enjoyed tossing messages back and forth with him about some obscure aspect of my writing, I just didn't have any time that morning to compose a thoughtful response. I made a mental note to get back to him when things slowed down. I thought he, of all people, understood just how busy I was, and would understand why I was – again – a little slow in getting back to him.

Now, this message will remain forever unanswered. Our phone rang at an insanely early hour this morning; my father calling to let us know my uncle had died suddenly the previous day.

I never did manage to find the few minutes that it would have taken to respond to that message. His words now sit in my inbox, mocking me for being so myopically self-centered.

Oddly, Superman's ability to reverse the earth's rotation and turn back time so that he could rescue Lois Lane came to mind. I wish I could somehow go back to the morning when I first read the note. I wish I had dashed off a half-baked answer, just to close the loop, to let him know I got his message and, as always, he got me thinking. I wish I knew then what I know now.

Instead, that morning I rushed out of the house so that I could get to the office early in time for a meeting that is now forgotten.

We called my mother later in the day to see how she was doing. She was the youngest of three, and I shuddered as it sank in that both her big brothers were now gone. Her voice sounded suddenly small, as though it had shed the last bit of omniscience I remembered it having all those years ago.

I didn't tell her about the unanswered message. Instead, she told me about the last time she spoke to him about a month ago. She regretted that she hadn't spoken to him afterward.

Donning the role of dutiful son, I tried to reassure her that she had no way of knowing. I tried to explain how we simply have no way of knowing what life will throw at us next. I told her despite being separated by a couple of oceans and a bunch of time zones, he still knew how his baby sister felt about him.

Maybe I was trying to comfort myself as well. That day, my uncle was once again trying to get my goat from thousands of kilometers away. I didn't bite, and now there's no one left on the other end to read my answer.

I'll hold onto that message from him, if only to remind myself that the large and growing workload of a writing career that's just now starting to snowball is no excuse to ignore messages from the people who matter.

Somehow, my traditional sense of priority-setting – namely, I'll get to it when I have time – needs to be replaced by something that attaches a little more urgency to the things I used to dismiss in the name of career-focused expediency.

In other words, the work will always be there. The people may not.

Looking ahead, I am left with the challenge of finding comfort in a loss that seemingly offers none. All I can come up with is that he had a voice that, through a life of seemingly endless achievement, he was always willing and able to project far and wide. His voice always resonated. My goal is to ensure that, like the voice of his late father – my grandfather, from whom I inherited my love of the written word and the storyteller's tradition – his voice continues to resonate in my own writing.

I only wish there were some way for me to more concretely let him know.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Vacation images - peace by the pool

I love this image of Zach for so many reasons. Beyond the visual one of my son alone with his thoughts in a quiet place, there's the flashback I have to my own long history with all things aquatic. Whenever I would swim, at some point I would find some time to sit on the side and relax to the gentle reflections of the water's surface.

It's where I learned to appreciate that life doesn't have to be lived foot-to-the-floor every second of the day. If this picture is any guide, history has an amazing way of repeating itself.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Annals of news history

Unless you've been living under a large slab of stratified rock, you know that Martha Stewart has been released from prison.

My question, and it's a journalistic one, is this:
What is it about this story that justifies it being a wall-to-wall, front-page mega-event? Why must members of the media constantly fall all over themselves to "cover" non-events like this?
(I know, I actually asked two questions. Sorry about that. It's Friday. I'm tired.)

The bottom line is simple, and doesn't require a whole lot of Wolf Blitzer's so-called analysis: She broke the law. She paid her debt to society. Enough.

Yes, I'm annoyed, because I believe it taints the entire industry. We are now all painted with the same brush of disdain we have traditionally used to dismiss the tabloids.

Thoughts?

Vacation images - giants of the sky

It's been a while since I posted pictures from our driving adventure to Florida this past December. As we continue to wrestle with never-ending snow and ice (note to Ma Nature: it's March...enough, already!) I thought it would be nice to revisit some vacation-related themes. Here we go...

From Michigan to Florida, the I-75 is dominated by literal forests of massive billboards that dot the sky. As you approach an exit, they compete with each other in an increasingly-cluttered sky, crowding out more natural phenomena like trees and hills.

These things are huge. I didn't have my ruler with me, of course, but I'd reckon they range from 50 to 80 feet tall. At night, they cast a neon-lit glow over the countryside as they scream their brand names across the otherwise-darkened countryside. By day, they lurk in otherwise-pristine mountain passes, ruining views that should otherwise be magical. There's always Photoshop, I guess.

These giants of the sky have to be planted somewhere. This one stabbed the ground smack in the middle of the parking lot of our hotel in Ringgold, Georgia. Don't worry, we didn't eat at the Waffle House. We knew better.

My only consolation as I stood at the base of this blight on the landscape was that all steel must eventually rust or otherwise degrade. By then, of course, humans will likely have moved on to another form of intrusive advertisement. God bless urbanity.

Photographic note: you may need to crank up the brightness on your monitor to see this one in its full glory.

A small moment of sharing

The city where I grew up, Montreal, is arguaby home to some of the world's most aggressive drivers. They stop for no reason and no one. Emergency vehicles fight for road real estate just like everyone else, and that's the way I always thought it was. Until I moved here, that is.

London drivers are quite a bit more docile. They actually seem to take the time to read the code of the road. Including the part where they pull over to allow emergency vehicles to pass. Even if said emergency vehicles are on the other side of the road. And across a median. It doesn't seem to matter: cars pull over and stop as soon as the flashing lights appear. It's really quite heartening to see community-minded behaviors so universally applied.

So as I drove to a meeting tonight, no less than five fire trucks, all a minute or two apart, came flying up the road toward me. The line of cars I was in dutifully pulled over at the first sight of the red and white flashing lights, and stayed on the side of the road, signals on, as the parade passed. When a final rescue vehicle crested the hill a couple of minutes later, everyone repeated the dance and headed back to the side of the road.

All I could think of as I watched the road magically clear out on both sides was that if it was my house and my family at risk, how glad I would be to know that everyone pitched in without so much as a second thought.

It took a few dozen motorists a few seconds longer to reach their destinations tonight. But because of them - not to mention the heroes who drove helter skelter over ice-covered roads to reach the stricken home - a family was likely able to hold on to the only destination that mattered to them.

A small thing for some. A much bigger deal for others. Sometimes, people really can change the world.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Around the world in 67 hours

Cool stuff from the world of aviation: Steve Fossett has successfully circumnavigated the planet on one tank of gas. Here's the latest from CNN.

What will the rest of us do to mark our own respective spots in history?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

In like a lion...

This is an image from my walk into work yesterday. I guess y'all now know what the weather is like in London, Ontario, Canada. Sigh, at this rate, I'll be riding my bicycle by July.

But enough about me. Now it's your turn:
  • Where are you on the planet?
  • What's the weather like in your part of the world?
  • How are you coping?
  • Can you head outside and grab a quick picture to post to your own blog?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Got another letter

There are few editorial events more satisfying to me than to have something I write prompt someone to write a letter to the editor. The actual content - pro or con, positive or negative - is of little consequence. Reaching someone to the degree that he/she writes something and sends it in is everything a writer could ever want. It validates the editorial process and proves that a free press is the every foundation of a pluralistic society.

Yup, I'm on a soapbox again. Sorry about that.

So it was with glee that I opened up my inbox to a message from my friend and tireless supporter of my wordy crusades, Nat. She said today's paper might be of interest to me. I opened up the letters page to this missive from one Tom Chapman. As you'll see, he didn't much agree with my perspective on this issue (original column / blog post.) But I didn't care. He read. He wrote. The dialog continues. The fact that I get to cross words with readers in this way is very, very cool. Here's his letter:
Insurance 'gouging' a misconception

In his column, Public sours on insurance firms' sweet deal (Feb. 23), Carmi Levy adds his voice to the predictable bandwagon of outrage that followed the insurance industry's profit results for last year. Perhaps the oil industry is the only other business in which a large profit increase is proof positive of gouging. No other explanation is acceptable.

In recent years, insurance saw the worst combination of claims experience and poor investment returns. Profits plummeted to a level representing 1.7 per cent on equity two years ago. Last year, conditions were almost entirely reversed and returns on shareholders' equity rose to 20.6 percent. Is that too high? Is a total of $4.2 billion too high when it's spread among 206 companies? It only takes two of your big five chartered banks to reach that total. They all have returns on equity in that 20-per-cent vicinity. But they do it year after year!

Levy says we'll wait "ages" for rate reductions. I guess he missed it but, in response to widespread complaints and pressure from governments, some reductions actually occurred in 2004. If you didn't see any, try some real shopping around.

"Auto insurance," an agent once told me, "is a unique product. You're required by law to have it. But you're penalized if you use it."

Like the oil companies, insurance is an easy industry to hate. But gouging? No, not really.

Levy's diatribe follows the usual pattern, but it is unjustified and incorrect.

Tom Chapman
London