Sunday, March 31, 2013

The planet gets tanked

Petroleum dreams
London, ON
March 2010
Click here for more Thematic grey
Lots of debate in the Great White North over pipelines. Specifically, the Keystone pipeline, and the broader issue of Canada's oil production capability and what we're willing to do as a nation to sell it to the rest of the world.

As the arguments rage this way and that, the headlines bring us something akin to an ultimate irony: an Exxon-owned pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas ruptured, spilling Canadian crude all over local backyards and forcing homeowners to be evacuated.

I realize that we've pretty much guaranteed our addiction to dinosaur-juice for the forseeable future. Any my owning a car means I'm one of the billions of people on this planet who are contributing to the problem. Indeed, we're all part of the demand-side problem that makes pipelines through the backyards of regular folks a sad necessity of modern life.

There are no easy solutions to any of this, but it still strikes me as somewhat tragic that decades after the first so-called "oil crisis", we still haven't taken anything beyond tentative steps to figuring it out. We happily maintain our petroleum-based reality and in doing so continue to pump untold billions into the coffers of nations whose most notable contributions to humankind involve being situated in the right stretch of oil-soaked desert. If only we had seriously invested in technology that would have broken the chain sooner.

I know, I know: hard challenges, and no easy answers. But still...where's the will?

As I walked through this East London neighborhood and snapped this scene, I wondered how much longer we'd be having this conversation. And how much longer some of us would cast wary glances out the back door of the house.

Your turn: Will we live to see the day when our economy is no longer mostly based on oil-based energy?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Grey path to nowhere

Landscape of little color
Komoka, ON
November 2012
Click here to share your own Thematic grey contribution
A funny thing happens in autumn, just after all the leaves have fallen and just before the snow covers it all up. The landscape seems to become almost monochrome.

Sure, if you look closely you'll see flashes of color buried deep in the margins - like a stray leaf or two in the middle of a pile of muted browns. But overall, it still seems like Mother Nature sucked the life out of what was, just a few days before, a riotous explosion of a rainbow.

Of course we all know the color will return next year. First, the bright, hopeful greens of budding leaves and flowers, then the full spectrum of summer foliage. This sense of greyness descending on our world is only temporary. But for now, the leaching effect of late fall seems to give pause to the fact that we'll have to live without it all for a few months, and if we really want to experience it in the coming months, we'll have to close our eyes and imagine hard.

Perhaps absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

Your turn: Seasons changing. Good, bad or indifferent?

Friday, March 29, 2013

On one of life's tougher lessons

"There is a lesson we learn early and harmlessly, or late and traumatically - that there are things we can break that our parents can't fix."
Robert Brault

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Over the edge

Where almost no one walks
Laval, QC
September 2012
For more Thematic grey, head here
It's a forgettable concrete footpath in an otherwise forgettable development, the kind of landscape that countless people might walk through, but no one ever seems to take the time to pause and drink it in.

Indeed, this stretch of bad-1970s landscape design almost seems to discourage such behavior, as if it wants you to hurry anywhere else so you won't have to be here any longer than you have to.

Yet with a little sneaky-eyed composition you can find ways to make this forgettable place a little more memorable. Looking at this shot, I feel like I almost want to return here. Almost.

Your turn: Do you take the time to enjoy the ordinary places around us? Got an example of one?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cinquecento in the wild

Waiting by the tracks
Milton, ON
November 2012
Click here to share your own grey-themed Thematic
There isn't a whole heck of lot you can do when a train inserts itself between where you are and where you'd like to be. You can either sit there and stew, or you can sit back and enjoy the scenery.

I generally prefer to do the latter. Because life's too short to fret. And as you can see here, I had some pretty interesting scenery to take in.

No, the Fiat 500 isn't going to inspire children to quit school so they can design cars. That's what Ferraris and Lamborghinis are for. But it has a certain charm all its own. And the glowing red lights and red paint seemed to make a nice counter to the gloomy sky and slick roads. Besides, the number on the plate would make Iron Maiden proud.

On this day, I was glad the train gave me an extra couple of minutes to reflect. Wish that would happen more often.

Your turn: What do you see when you take the road less travelled?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On choosing people carefully

"Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people."Elizabeth Green
Which begs the question: who are your right people? And what makes them right in the first place?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thematic Photographic 237 - Grey

Love me
London, ON
April 2011
I've chosen grey as this week's Thematic theme for two reasons. First, I rather liked the response to last week's white theme, and felt this would be a natural extension of sorts. Second, the world's just a little greyer for my little brood these days, and being the creative that I am, I'm pretty lousy at keeping what's going on inside my head from bubbling up to the surface in some way.

So grey it is. And I figured what better way to kick an otherwise dark topic off with a little bundle of Frasier-centred brightness. He can't talk - not that we can understand, anyway - but he has a way of connecting with people that absolutely transcends normally established channels of communication.

Which is my way of saying he brings an enormous amount of color into our world.

Your turn: The Thematic drill is a simple one. First, take a pic that evokes the theme. It's totally up to you how you'd like to interpret it. Second, post it to your blog or website. Third, leave a comment here. Fourth, visit other participants to spread the photographic joyness (yup, it's a word.) Fifth, come back as often as you wish, as there's no limit to any of this. For more info on how Thematic works, just click here. And please accept my thanks for bringing the color here each and every week.

On mortality

"And all I kept thinking, over and over, was; you can't live forever, you can't live forever."F. Scott Fitzgerald
He was right, of course. And I'm not entirely sure anyone would really want to live forever. Maybe if we just got a bit more time, with a bit more happiness, a bit more health, and were surrounded by better people.

Um, sure.

One more thing: Thematic's new theme, grey, goes live tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Hope you'll join us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vanity be thy name

My name in metal
London, ON
November 2012
If they wish to take advantage of it, Ontarians have the privilege of paying a few hundred bucks to the cash-strapped government to choose, within non-profane reason, what they get to put on their license plates.

I've never really understood the need - I'd rather drive anonymously, without a virtual billboard on the front and back of my car - but hey, if it floats your boat, it's not my place to stand in anyone's way.

Besides, it makes for a fun pastime while we're on the road, as some vanity plate owners can be downright creative with the up-to-eight letters that they've been granted.

For the record, this is not my vehicle. I don't know who owns it, but I've seen it around town enough times that I'm pretty sure they live close by. I do wish they'd give it a bit of a scrub, though. I don't like seeing my name covered in road grime.

Your turn: What's the most memorable vanity plate you've ever seen?

One more thing: This plate is white. Well, kinda white. Coincidentally, our Thematic theme is white, too. We're still collecting submissions here. Because it's never too late to grab some lens time.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Scene from a diner

Breaking bread over formica
Toronto, ON
March 2013
Wanna share your own Thematic? Click here
The world around us has been paved over by chain stores and global brands. While they offer the kind of consistent experience that consumers love - you know exactly what you're going to get whether you're around the corner or halfway across the country - it's just as true that we lose something in the process.

Essentially, they're all the same. There's nothing to differentiate a Tim Hortons in Toronto from one in Vancouver. Centralized, homogenized control over the experience makes it hard to connect the experience to the specific location where it happens. We're losing our sense of place, our ability to differentiate places from one another.

This is what seemingly compelled me to capture this moment at a bagel place on Steeles in Toronto. It's been there seemingly forever, and the characters who work and eat there are tightly woven into the fabric of this place. Sure, we had lunch there. But the real experience was drinking in the overlapping conversations floating through the room. This would simply never happen at a Tims, at least not as richly or memorably. Pity that we're allowing these places to disappear.

Your turn: Why does local matter? What does it feel like to you?

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Shakespearean wisdom

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."
William Shakespeare
Hmm...half a millenium old and still oh so relevant.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Behold a frosty door

 Grab on
Mississauga, ON
December 2012
Click here for more Thematic white
Technically, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere this week. In reality, we still live in the middle of a winter wonderland.

So be it. Especially if it means scenes like the one you see here. You're looking at a Subaru BRZ after it's been sitting in a frosty parking lot for a good chunk of the night. I couldn't stop staring at the door when I first came across it, as it reminded me just how powerful a force nature can be.

Well, maybe powerful isn't the right word here. Perhaps deft. Or subtly artistic. Or delicately gifted. It doesn't really matter how I choose to describe it. What matters is that it happens in the first place. And we take the time to drink it all in before it disappears for good.

Indeed, barely 15 minutes after I took it, the sun was up and the frost was gone. I'm glad I drank it in while I still could.

Your turn: A time when you stopped and smelled the proverbial roses before they were gone. Please discuss.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The shocking beauty of this land

Fractured land
Somewhere in the Canadian Rockies
February 2013
Click photo to embiggen (you'll want to...)
Head here for more Thematic white
I'm posting this in honour of Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield. He's currently Commander of the International Space Station and a rising Twitter superstar because of the remarkable pictures he's been taking his entire time in orbit. Earlier this week, he said the only frustrating thing about being in space was not being able to sleep less, because he'd use that additional time to float over to the window and shoot more pictures.

Definitely a guy I can relate to, and not simply because he grew up a few kilometers down the road from where I live.

My lesson from watching him do the incredible things he does, with a spirit that can only be described as inspirational: Treasure every day you're given. Because being alive means you get to see stuff like this.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thematic Photographic 236 - White

Not going anywhere
Toronto, ON
February 2013
The groundhogs apparently got it wrong, as despite their prediction of an early spring, winter shows no signs of loosening its grip on the region anytime soon.

I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, mind you, because it's rather pointless to fret over things we cannot control. There are so many better ways to expend energy.

Like...this! I've been away from Thematic for a bit. Life threw us a curve and unlike in baseball, we don't simply get up, dust ourselves off and move on. The process is a lot more ponderous than that, and I'm deeply thankful for the notes of encouragement I've received from all of you over these past few weeks.

So here we go. A little late. And not quite "there" yet. But getting there. Because there really is no other choice.


Your turn: Please share a photo that reflects, supports or otherwise evokes this week's Thematic theme, white. As ever, how you interpret it is entirely up to you: there are no rights and wrongs in this game. Share a pic on your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joyness of all that is Photographic (yes, I make up words.) Click here for more background on how Thematic works. Thanks's good to be somewhat back.

Looking in the mirror

Jewish rituals surrounding mourning are incredibly complex. There's a rule for everything, for every moment, for every place, even for the clothes you wear.

It may seem overwhelming, and on a certain level it certainly is. But at the same time it's somewhat comforting to know that there's a given structure or cadence to the process, that over the centuries successive generations of folks far wiser than I'll ever hope to be have pondered the matter and applied as close to a logical framework as one can add to the illogical process of death and irreplaceable loss.

I could start an entirely new blog just on the topic alone, spend the rest of my life writing about it, and still not even scratch the surface. But I'd like to touch on an interesting snippet that seems to have stuck with me as we've moved, foggily, through these past few difficult weeks. It revolves around mirrors.

The basic tradition is a simple one: no mirrors in a Jewish house of mourning. You're not supposed to be able to look at yourself, so every mirror is covered up - either with smudged on stuff or taped-on paper or some other substance. My in-laws' place, festooned as it was with mirrors by the previous owner, presented an especially significant challenge, and I think more than a couple of trees were felled to make the paper and masking tape needed to cover all of them.

The sliding door near the front door presented a bit of a challenge, as the tape would blow off fairly regularly courtesy of a breeze that blew in from the hallway every time someone opened the door. I quickly learned to keep my ear attuned to the telltale sound of flapping paper, and I always seemed to know where my roll of masking tape was so that I could quickly retape the offending corner and once again cover up the glass. As the week of shiva wore on and we spent day after day having countless friends and family coming through the house, I became ever more comfortable walking away from conversations to take care of it.

I'll share more about the whole walking away from folks thing in another blog entry. But for now, I simply wanted to share another slice of this surreal journey. Because as trivial as covering up errantly exposed mirrors may seem, in retrospect I realize how important it was to hold onto rituals as a means of making sense of something that'll never make any sense at all.

Admin note: Thematic returns tonight

Hi gang. Wanted to let you know that Thematic will be back, a bit late, tonight (Tuesday) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thank you for your patience these past few weeks while we put this regular feature on hold. It's been a tough grind, and I'm guessing you're never really "done" mourning, but it's nice to know we're surrounded by so many good souls. Which is my way of saying that now seems like the right time to reach for the camera once again and start seeing the world through its lens.

I hope you'll all reach for your cameras, too, and share your own visions of the world, as that's kinda what life is all about. And it's one of the ways we get more out of the days we've been given.

Happy shooting, and thank you again.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On laughing in the face of the cold

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."
Victor Hugo
Strangely appropriate tonight given the last blast of Old Man Winter rolling across the province tonight. Wherever you are and wherever you're going, be safe. And feel free to do so with laughter in your soul.

Thematic Photographic returns tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. Eastern. Thank you all for your email messages asking about it. I'm touched.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Please don't shake

I grew up in a place where so-called "pop" beverages weren't called that at all. In Quebec, they're boissons gazeuses. Or, simply, Coke.

Not that I'd notice, since carbonated anything has never really been my thing. It just doesn't go down well with me, and I fail to see how a fizzing concoction with more dissolved sugar than anything else can be remotely refreshing. I'll take water or juice, please and thank you.

Still, the aesthetic of pop, or carbonated drinks, or whatever you call them where you live (discussion for another day, perhaps) is strangely appealing to me. Those little cans, built just so to hold in the pressure, are like low-cost consumer sculpture. The rows and rows of these things, backlit in vending machines that hum forlornly at the backs of convenience stores everywhere, are almost iconic, perfect storytellers for our early-millenium consumption-based culture.

Either that or they're just cans. I've got to stop overthinking this stuff.

Your turn: Thirsty? What do you reach for first? Why?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Still waters run deep

Feeling reflective
Thamesford, ON
October 2012
The world can be an ugly place sometimes, with ugly people doing ugly things for reasons that don't follow any of the rules we learned as kids.

As easy as it might be to let the ugliness win, I'm mindful of the fact that we're all a blink removed from moments like this, where the ugliness fades into a distant, irrelevant place. Where an ever changing kind of perfection awaits anyone with a few minutes to spare and just enough of a wanderlust to get off the road for a couple minutes of reflection.

On this day, I'm glad I did. Because I smiled the rest of the way home. I figured the ugliness could stay in the shadows for a little while longer.

Your turn: Do you stop and smell the roses? Or, in this case, stare at the water? When you do, what do you see?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

On being kind. Just because.

"Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your modus operandi and change your world."
Annie Lennox

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Windswept into oblivion

London, ON
February 2013
If you're just joining us, click here to catch up on recent entries
Funny things happen when you point your camera at a seemingly featureless expanse of snow. At first, it hardly seems worth the effort, as there certainly can't be anything worthwhile down there.

But patience can be a virtue. After staring through the viewfinder for a while, the formerly flat landscape starts to reveal itself, suggesting with increasing levels of detail that it's anything but featureless.

But you don't get to that point if you neglect to take the time, if you don't skip a beat, if you fail to appreciate that first glances are almost never enough.

There are hidden textures like this everywhere, all lurking within easy reach or view. Sadly, most of us never take the time to appreciate them. Our loss.

Please note: Thematic will return with a new theme, white, next Monday. With apologies to our blessedly dedicated group of weekly participants, I needed the break. Thank you for your understanding.

On the gift of today

“Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbon.”Ruth Ann Schabacker
Your turn: What gift does today bring to you? More importantly, how are you going to use that gift?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tree of life

Two kinds of engineering
London, ON
February 2013
Click here for a recent-post roundup
You don't always need a reason to share a moment that resonates in your head. Sometimes it's enough to simply get it out there and see what people think.

So...what do you think of this one?

Monday, March 11, 2013

You've been carted

I went grocery shopping with my wife yesterday. Not an earth-shattering milestone by any means, nor one worthy of headlines in even the smallest of publications. In the pantheon of our family, it probably won't rank among the major life events like weddings or birthdays.

But still, an important step. A first step toward, if not normalcy, then something approaching it. A cherished moment of quiet togetherness during a time that has allowed both of us precious little of it.

So when I pulled out the smartphone and gave her my little I'm-about-to-have-a-little-fun smile, and she returned her little smile of understanding permission, it was a sign that we were somehow still ourselves, still the finish-each-other's-thoughts pair we've always been. Changed, of course. But

More on this soon. But for now, I wanted to start the week off with hope and a flash of brightness in the distance.

Sound good?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why so silent

It's been an uncharacteristically quiet week at the keyboard for me. Not a lot of blogging here. Inbound personal emails piling up in the inbox. Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook gathering dust.

On the one hand, I haven't had the time. We got home late Monday and immediately dove into work and school. Not easy when your head isn't in the game, and every conversation you have with folks back home threatens to plunge you right back into the darkness from which you still haven't fully emerged and likely won't for months.

On the other hand, I haven't had the will. As cathartic as writing has always been to me, this time has proven somewhat different. I just haven't been able to push past the gloom to get myself to my laptop and flip it open. Or I'd reach that point, then stare at the blinking cursor, unsure of what I wanted to say. The words weren't flowing in my head as they usually do.

I've felt that my energy was needed elsewhere. Unlike three-ish years ago when we lost my dad, this wasn't my loss. She was my wife's mom, not mine. And I somehow thought that this would be a mitigating factor of sorts, a means of allowing me to stand slightly on the outside and freely help in any way I could. Instead, I felt weak, unable to be the rooted pillar I intended to be, unsure if anything I was doing was the "right" thing to do for those around me.

So I've been wrestling with the seemingly divergent perspective that I shouldn't be mourning as I am because she wasn't my mom, yet feeling like I've been hit by the grieving equivalent of a freight train because I called her mom, because she was so close to my wife, because in her own way she managed to weave her way around my life from the first moment I wandered into her home as a naïve 17-year-old, because she was a towering figure to our kids, because I don't know if I've been a good enough guide to our kids through this all, because I needed to do what I could for my father-in-law, because none of this should be about me, because...well, I could probably write reasons like this indefinitely.

Or maybe it was because I couldn't - and still can't - find the right words to make my wife smile. And after years of mentally preparing myself for this - sorry, but I think we all somehow churn future-thoughts like this even if we subsequently bury them deeply out of morbid guilt - I ended up rocked by my inability to simply write a script and follow it.

Because life has no script, and none of this was ever meant to be simple.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Temporarily dormant

Waiting for spring
London, ON
February 2013
If you're just joining us, please click here
The scene: a bitterly cold, snow-covered playground on a windswept plain beside London's Thames River. We had come to Gibbons Park because our original plan, bowling, had been scotched by a lineup that stretched out the door.

The kids had been asking to come here for ages. Never mind how ridiculous it might have seemed to clamber over frozen play structures that had no business being here in the middle of winter. Never mind my need to stand by the sidelines and slowly freeze my extremities while the munchkins played their hearts out. Just listening to them warmed my soul.

I took as many pictures of them as I dared before a) they told me to quit it and b) my fingers turned blue and required a hasty return to the warm insides of my cushy mittens. And when my fingers warmed up and I was ready to shoot again, I found a stand of youngish trees nestled into the bottom of the nearby hillside that had, up until now, failed to cut the winds down to size. But as I took in the geometry of the branches, I knew the scene deserved to be captured. You don't always need a reason, of course. You just know.

This was a "before" picture. On this afternoon, my wife was in Montreal, spending her days in a hospital waiting room with her dad and sister, helping her mom in any way she could. I was home trying to keep life as normal as possible for our family. And spending a lot of quiet time wondering why life sometimes has to play out as it does.

As soon as I shot this picture, I realized why. It was the background colors that did it for me, muted as they were against the seemingly barren tree branches. On the surface, it looked dead, empty, beyond redemption. But deeper down, those colors suggested a brighter future, when the winds would stop, the sun would return and the temperatures would once again rise. When leaves would grow, seemingly from nothing, and the muted colors in the background would explode with life.

The realization couldn't change the forces that were already reshaping my family's future. But it made me look at the context of things a little bit differently. And if this otherwise unremarkable stand of trees didn't give me hope, it at least made me feel a little warmer on an otherwise bitterly cold afternoon.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

This time, I stopped for the train

Woodstock, ON
March 2013
Please click here for more
On the way home from Montreal yesterday, I decided to get off the highway and drive through Woodstock, Ontario. We had been on the 401 for much of the day, and I needed a red light or two to shake out the growing knots in my back. Fat chance, I know, but we needed the change of scenery and pace.

We've made this sad journey home previously (link), and then as now, the darkness seemed all-encompassing. Then as now, nothing I could say would change anything. There was no way to make anyone smile. So I drove.

Until we came across this railroad crossing. The same one that stopped me on the way to work a couple of months ago (link). And the lights were once again blinking. And we were the only car around. So I pulled up to the barrier as the train approached in the deepening evening sky. And I shot this lousy, blurry, badly exposed and composed shot through our dirty windshield. Then, for good measure, I grabbed an even blurrier, more badly exposed and composed video clip by hanging my arm out the window:

I can't tell you why I did any of this.  But at the time, sitting in a stopped car with hundreds of tons of steel whizzing past mere feet from the front bumper, it seemed like the right thing to do. Because if I got any of my brood to smile or focus on something else even for a few seconds, it was worth it. In the end, I doubt I succeeded, but I'll keep trying.

Related links in case you're just joining us:

Sunday, March 03, 2013

On losing the light

"It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone."
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
Steinbeck always had a knack for phrasings that somehow captured my mood. Looks like nothing's changed, as this is pretty much how I feel tonight: thankful for having had light in the first place, yet sad that it has now gone dark.

There are days when I wish this life thing made more sense than it does. Today is one of them.

Looking for some color

Sweetness behind the glass
Laval, QC
February 2013
Lillie's Bakery stands almost in the shadows of the house where my wife grew up, in a nondescript strip mall in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable stretch of suburbia just north of Montreal.

We came here to pick up a few things for shiva* and I ended up gravitating toward the pastry counter for the same reasons I've gravitated here since I was a child. Like a moth to a flame, the fluorescent-lit, brightly-colored confections have always pulled me in. Not that I particularly ever want to eat this stuff - too sweet, too much - but the idea of something colorful and sweet never seems to lose its appeal.

And on this grey morning amid an endless week of grey mornings, this was just the shot of color that my soul needed. If only for a brief minute before we headed out the doors and returned to the grey, sad world from which we had come.

* Shiva: Jewish house of mourning, where immediate relatives are greeted by visiting friends and family for a period of one week. (Wiki,,

Related links:

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The illusion of control

I've been using Microsoft Word practically forever. And until this week, I hadn't given much thought as to why.

In its simplest terms, Word represents my writer's playground, the one place on the planet where I have absolute control over whatever happens next. Whenever I load it up, it presents me with an empty screen, a blank slate, a place where I'm free to do whatever I want within its borders. I can create prose from nothing, dropping letters on the white background, honing and shaping them into words, sentences and paragraphs that tell the stories I want to tell. Just so.

I can tweak the bits for as long as I wish - well, until deadline, that is - until they're practically dancing, jumping out at me from their seemingly plain-ish roots. By the time I'm done with the last of my final reads, it's got a flow and a spirit to it that never ceases to feel like magic. All I did was close my eyes and allow the words to flow through my fingers. And this happened. From nothing. Incredible how it all works.

As I mull over the writing process - my writing process, because I imagine others may follow a different, unique-to-them path - one thing stands clear: it's all about me. I don't say that to sound arrogant or elitist. Rather, the only inputs and outputs are driven by me. There is no external influence, no one standing over my shoulder telling me what to do, what to say, how to say it. It's entirely up to me whether I want to rebuild that particularly challenging chunk of phrasing or simply leave it in its raw form as my own form of literary irony. I have absolute control over this little world of mine, the initially-white space on a backlit screen that eventually becomes decidedly less white, decidedly more reflective of what I've been thinking and feeling, and what my head's churned over the preceding few hours or days.

Flip to the real world and it's an entirely different story. I have no control. Not even a semblance of it. Over the past number of months, the phone continued to ring, bringing us ever worsening news about my mother-in-law's health. Back in the hospital. More tests. Infections that never went away. Complications that relentlessly piled on like waves on an incoming tide.

And through it all the phone would continue to ring. We'd answer it. And listen. And talk. My wife, quite possibly the most devoted daughter anyone could ever meet, offered her parents whatever she could. And when words weren't enough, she'd drop everything and fly or train in to help. Or we'd make the drive through endless nights on an all too familiar highway. We'd nurse our own fears while trying to calm everyone else's. We'd try to explain it all to the kids, knowing full well that they had in all likelihood shaped their own responses and perspectives long before we sat them down at the kitchen table. We'd resign ourselves to the fact that whatever we did it was going to play out on the universe's own agenda, anyway.

This morning, I once again had control over this particular backlit square of Microsoft Word. My little writer's playground started empty in a pre-dawn room my my in-laws' house, far from home. And by the time my head and fingers were finished their thing, the grey sky was as fully lit as a mirthful Mother Nature would allow, and this entry was the result.

But outside of this both never- and ever-changing writer's space, I had no control. I couldn't stop the phone calls from coming. Couldn't fix this. Couldn't say or do anything - beyond a limitless number of hugs and spoken words that ultimately changed nothing - to stop this darkness from descending over my family. Couldn't keep myself from sitting alone in a shadowy room writing about a past now lost to time. Couldn't keep my kids from losing their bubby, my wife from losing her mom, my father-in-law from losing his best friend.

There's a massive disconnect between a world I control and a world that controls me. And the fact that letters on a screen have no ability to change whatever goes on outside reinforces just how powerless I ultimately am.

Yet I'll continue to go back to this world of words of mine. Because in a perverse sense it makes me feel at least somewhat better for those few moments when I'm in it. For those few moments when the phone isn't ringing, and I'm not being challenged to fix the unfixable. Because words just aren't that powerful despite my wish otherwise.

Note: If you're just joining us, please refer to the following: