Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Home alone

I had all sorts of grand plans today. Dig through the pile of work that awaited me at home, start to clear my impossibly backlogged inbox and generally wrap my head around what I needed to do to catch up and get ahead. As soon as Debbie left for school with the kids, I turned to the dog, heard the deafening silence of the suddenly empty house and realized I was truly alone for the first time in a week. It wasn't a good start to the day.

Thankfully I got help from all sorts of surprising places. I spoke to colleagues by phone. I IMd with my brother-in-law. Friends pinged me in Skype and comments continued to pour into my Twitter and Facebook pages - and here, of course. A friend I've known almost my entire life took me out to lunch and, for a couple of hours, managed to get me to think life was normal. It wasn't, and isn't, of course, but the break was both welcome and treasured.

As the day drew to a close, I had somehow managed to corral the bulk of my out-of-control docket. I spoke to the key folks who had so graciously let me freeze everything for the week, and slowly began the process of moving my outstanding work forward. Tomorrow will be another day. As will Friday, and beyond.

It's hard. No sooner do I start reading through something than my mind drifts back to the sad reality now faced by my entire family. As much as I'd like to seek refuge in the staid, safe world of words, reality seems to intrude anytime it pleases. So I go back, and try it again. And again, until I manage to make it through without interruption or drift or tears. My head, already rattled by days on end of little sleep and endless worry, just doesn't seem as sharp as it once was. I'm told this will pass, that the brain cloud is an understandable byproduct of trauma and stress. But as a writer who's used to ripping through work with a sharp-edged pen as my weapon of choice, reversion to a dull-faced, slow-to-respond instrument is a shock to the system.

But I'll stop whining now, because my lot in life pales in comparison to my mom's. At the end of the workday, Debbie came back home with the kids. The dog, who while I was out got himself stuck on top of the kitchen table and needed to be rescued (third time this month, if you're keeping score), barked madly at the front door as the kids tried, repeatedly, to move his wiggly form aside and get into the front hall. The silent, empty house quickly filled with noise and laughter. I still have my family, my boisterous brood, my routine. I can't get it out of my head that my mother does not, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I suppose my challenge as a son is to change that as best I can. It's another form of discovery I wish none of us had to make.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The journey home. The journey away from home.

We moved away from Montreal almost 13 years ago. After growing up, going to school, getting married and starting our family there, it was time to replant our branch of the family tree in a city 730 kilometres to the west. Since then, we've become all too familiar with the endless stretch of asphalt known as highway 401 - Canada's, and arguably North America's, busiest - and the aggressively incoherent drivers who menace those who simply want to get to their destination in one piece.

Thankfully, tonight we safely completed our journey despite a long day of near-constant torrential rainstorms punctuated by brilliant sun and even more brilliantly painted skies. Along the way, we texted my sister and brother-in-law as we drove through Toronto, and bantered back and forth with their kids, our munchkins' little cousins. We messaged my aunt - my dad's sister - and uncle as they winged back to Florida. We twittered a huge and hugely supportive community of family and friends, and smiled as responses flowed back to my BlackBerry. We opened the sunroof to watch an Air Canada 777 on final approach to Pearson International Airport pass so closely overhead that it felt like we could reach out and touch its landing gear. We called my mom to make sure she didn't feel alone. We called my mother-in-law to let her know we're praying she comes home from the hospital, healthy and soon. We said a little prayer that we had access to such technology that connected us so richly despite the fact that we were speeding away from them all.

After the trauma of the past few days, our subdued little family pulled into a rain-soaked driveway and opened the door on a suddenly-changed home. The kids helped unpack the van as we tucked cordless phones onto our shoulders and called everyone that mattered to let them know we were here, and that we couldn't stop thinking of them. I walked the dog for the first time in what seemed like ages, relishing the simple pleasure of watching an innocently happy animal romp through the damp grass. We changed into jammies and lingered over tuck-in.

And as the dog curled up in a tiny, impossibly cute ball on my side of the bed, I tiptoed through the darkened house, stopping in each munchkin's room to kiss their heads and tell them that I loved them. Dahlia and Noah were fast asleep, but Zach was still awake. We chatted for a couple of minutes before I held him one last time and headed back to bed. My dad used to tuck us in the same way, and as I trundled back into our room and carefully moved the dog over, I felt a tiny twinge of connectedness to a man who may no longer be alive, but whose spirit clearly lives on in those of us who carry his name and his legacy.

I hope to find more twinges like this one in the days and weeks to come.

Forget the past. Embrace the future.

We've been living in quite the bubble for the past week. It's almost unfathomable to me that at the very moment I write this, we mark exactly one week since my father died. As unreal as the whole thing still seems, I suppose there will be many such milestones ahead of us, where we simply stop and think it's been X days, weeks, months, years since it happened.

And as my incapable brain has absorbed countless words of comfort from countless friends and family members, the one that continues to resonate in my mind revolves around the past and the future. A dear friend of our family since long before I can remember pulled me aside in shul (synagogue) tonight and said the last thing I want to do is dwell on the past. Nothing I can do will ever change it, and focusing on it will only bring me pain. The future's the thing. And we must do everything in our power to build a strong one, no matter what may have happened to us up until now.

Of course, I'm not explaining it right. I can't formulate words all that well right about now, and I'm praying my writer's voice returns, in force, later this week when I return home to a growing pile of deadlined work. Somehow, I know it'll get done. And I'll reach into a reserve I hardly knew I had before last week to find new ways of being there for my mom and reaching out to my sister and my brother. I'll also need to be an even better husband and dad as I figure out how to help my wife and kids adapt to this new, sadly changed reality.

How this will all happen, I have no idea. But it'll happen somehow. It has to. I told my wife earlier tonight that I feel broken. Although I have no prior experience, I suppose every loss like this leaves us all changed in some way. I know none of us will be the same, but I still find myself looking for the good, and knowing that he'd want us all to figure out a path that takes the lessons he taught us and helps us build a more vibrant future.

As I figure out the how, I'll do my best to share it here. I hope you'll do the same, because I can use all the advice I can get.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Waiting. Haunted.

This is one of the waiting rooms at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. It's where I found myself earlier this afternoon, after we completed shiva in honor of my late father (still coming to grips with seeing these two words in stark black and white.) My mother-in-law had just come out of surgery and was in recovery...a story for another day, but for now, I hope you'll join me in praying for her health.

As I sat there wondering about life, death and sickness, I realized how this very place had figured so centrally in so much of my father's journey. I thought of how often we had gathered right here as a family for him. And how we were doing the same thing for my wife's mom, who I also call "Mom", now.

It reinforced that life, in whatever form, goes on. And that this place will haunt me for longer than I care to admit.

Quick note: Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement - starts tonight. As we're in Montreal, I'll be marking the holiday, with a heavy heart, with my family at my father's congregation, the Young Israel of Chomedey. It's a place where his impact is felt in almost every nook and cranny. I also practically grew up there. Expect radio silence until later tomorrow eve. Whatever traditions you follow, please know I wish you only good health, happiness, community and peace in the coming year. Gmar chatimah tovah.

Update - Feb. 28, 2013: Apologies for this note from the future, everyone. But I'd be remiss if I didn't somehow connect this moment to the here-and-now. My mother-in-law passed away on Feb. 22, and I keep thinking back to this day over three years ago in the hospital, and the conversation we had when we first saw her after my dad's funeral. It was brutal then, and it's brutal now. Loss is never easy, and I'd be lying if I said I had any idea how to navigate any of this. Updated link here. Entry 2 here.

Symbiosis on hold

It's no coincidence that the first word in social media is "social". As a new-millenium communications medium, it raises the art of two- and multi-way communication to a new level. People who missed that memo and use the tools for one-way messaging without somehow finding a way to leverage the value of everything that flows in the opposite direction are missing a golden opportunity.

So it's with great difficulty that I see, fleetingly, the wave of incredible support that friends and family have been providing all week, and I barely have the time, cycles or emotional capability to acknowledge any of it. Detailed, supportive emails, Facebook comments and instant messages pour in from everywhere - around the corner, Georgia, Israel, name it - and all I can do is read them on my BlackBerry when I have a free moment and pray that the sender knows how grateful I am.

So if I haven't gotten back to you yet, please know that I got the message, it touched me in ways I could never have imagined, and I'll close the loop at some point in time when I feel ready to get back to the keyboard. For now, please accept my deepest thanks and appreciation. Knowing how blessed we are by the community that surrounds us has given us immense strength these last few days.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Random observations from an unreal journey

I had a few free moments between waking up from non-sleep and letting the fog of a massive headache settle back into its now-near-permanent place in my head, so I thought I'd start jotting down some things I've noticed over the past couple of days.

With apologies for bad formatting - I'm doing this on my BlackBerry, tapping it out intermittently through the morning, in between visits from friends and family - here goes:

- I find myself staring at people I've known my entire life as I try to remember their names. Inevitably, after a few uncomfortable seconds me me flailing around in confusion, I fail and have to ask them who they are. The response, usually in a "I can't BELIEVE you don't remember me" tone, sets me straight and reminds me just how compromised my head is these days.

- I sometimes jokingly blame my memory issues on my sudden-onset "brain cloud" - a reference to an old movie that nobody remembers (bonus points if you guess it right.) The attempted humor doesn't seem to bring smiles to their faces. I find myself wishing I knew how to recapture the funny.

- It's impossible to put into words how blessed we are with friends who dropped everything and ran cross-country to be here for us. I don't know what I ever did to deserve friends so remarkable that I see them as family, but whatever it is I'm glad I did.

- People don't change. Those who have always been mean-spirited, petty, self-centred and/or vindictive are renewing my belief in the inability of leopards to change their spots. Whatev...I've got other things, and people, to worry about.

- It's easy to feel that you're ok when you're surrounded by a room of people. Conversations about anything and everything - catching up on kids, careers and lives and arguing about the Canadiens-Maple Leafs - keep the dark, sad thoughts that hang over you temporarily at bay. But once it gets quiet, you're left alone with your thoughts. Or someone close to you starts to cry and you rush to be there. Or you catch sight of a picture and realize what you've lost.

Either way, not my best day.

More soon...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

As the sky lightened...

...this morning, I stared at our kids as they slept. They tossed and turned restlessly, largely due to the fact that in a period of barely 24 hours, their entire world had been turned upside-down and they now found themselves sleeping on floors and couches hundreds of miles away from home.

I did the same thing early yesterday morning. I stood in our youngest son's room and watched him sleep. Peacefully, with that look of mixed contentment and happiness that he seems to carry with him every moment of every day. I secretly wished that I could slow down time, because I knew when he woke up and we told him what had happened while he slept, that look of contentment and happiness, that bubble of childhood innocence that I've long written about, would evaporate. I knew nothing would ever be the same for him, and I knew there was nothing I could do to change or fix it for him.

So I hovered, and tried to remember every last detail of what he looked like at that, fleeting moment. Of what that bubble looked and felt like before it went away for good. Or at least a long while.

And sure enough, as night turned to day, he stirred. And when he did, my wife and I were there to tell him what had happened just a few hours before. And he cried. Which only made us cry. So we held him close, our tears falling on his neck, and told him it was okay to cry. Because that's how nine-year-old boys, and their parents, learn about incalculable sadness and loss. About how despite a parent's seeming invincibility, there are things they cannot fix.

Today he'll hold onto his older brother and sister, and to us, as he attends his first funeral, his Zaidy's. I know he'll cry, as will we, for a grandfather he'll always love and always miss and always hear and see in his mind's eye. And tonight I'll hover over him again. And watch for signs that the bubble, albeit irrevocably changed and scarred, has returned in some form.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2:23 a.m.

It's never good news when the phone rings in the middle of the night. Tonight was no different.

It was my mom. My dad died suddenly earlier tonight.

I don't quite know what to say or do, except our kids will be up in a few hours, and I can't even begin to imagine how I'm going to find the right words to tell them.

Some days, I wish life could be easier. Or longer. Today is one of them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Relics of an industrial past

Where beer is made
Montreal, QC, August 2009 [Click to embiggen]

The scene: Late afternoon. I'm walking along the eastern edge of Montreal's downtown core with our oldest son. I've just finished the second of two national television interviews and we're making our way back to the car. It's been an adventure for him, as he's gotten to see what I do in a place we moved away from when he was a toddler. We banter about everything and anything as we decompress from the intense couple of hours we've just experienced. It's a day I hope he carries with him for a long time.

We walk past the Molson brewery. The fact that I barely drink anything, let alone beer, doesn't faze me as I admire the multifaceted old building in the golden glow of a lovely evening. We stand on the sidewalk and stare intently at it because it's a perfect example of function dictating form, and a proud icon of a city that's lost so many stalwarts since I was a kid. But not this one. It's also the perfect excuse to stretch our alone-time before we have to head back home.

Your turn: A moment you remember from your childhood. Please discuss.

About this photo: We're (slowly) winding down this week's Thematic Photographic theme, urban (click here to toss yours into the ring.) Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. EDT, I'll post the launch entry for next week's theme. And what will that theme be? Glad you asked:


If it's here today, gone tomorrow - or gone in a blink - then I'm hoping you'll consider sharing it. Check back here tomorrow to see what all the fuss is about.

Mackenzie Phillips, please go away

The headlines began quite ominously earlier this week. Mackenzie Phillips, the star crossed child actress whose ongoing battles with drug addiction have scarred her career and her life for the better part of the last three decades, was scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey's show this Wednesday. She was going to drop a bombshell.

Pause for dramatic-sounding music from your favorite entertainment "journalism" program. There, I'm good. Let's continue.

If my deep and extensive research is on target, her big bombshell revolves around allegations that her late father, John Phillips (aka Papa John) of The Mamas and the Papas, raped her on the eve of her wedding, and later carried on an ongoing sexual relationship with her.

Pause. Ew. There, I'm good. Well, not really, but the initial wave of nausea has passed. So let's continue.

I wasn't there, of course, so I can't validate or dispute her claims. Coincidentally, neither can Papa John, who died in 2001. But I can conclude that this is an integral component of a perfectly orchestrated plan to sell more copies of her book, High on Arrival. Also coincidentally, the book is being released...tomorrow.

It's almost as if the great big daytime media machine needs an endless supply of sad sacks to keep the masses titillated and primed to buy whatever it is that keeps the machine oiled and fed. Wait, not almost. It is.

I find myself wishing Ms. Phillips would fade into an obscurity that allows her to finally heal. But even if she mercifully does just that, there's a never-ending lineup of celebs waiting to take her place.

Your turn:
What compels people to bare all in public? What compels regular folks to lap it all up like bees consume nectar?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Velo at rest

Parked curbside
Toronto, ON, May 2008 [Click to enlarge]

About this photo: We're celebrating urban week as part of the latest Thematic Photographic. If this seems somewhat cryptic, please click here for some background.
The lowly bicycle gets precious little respect in the big city. Motorists honk it off the road. Building owners force riders to lock up outside. Thieves lurk in the shadows, ready to claim your ride as their own.

Years ago, when I commuted to a decidedly bike-unfriendly office, I bought a beater mountain bike to ensure the thieves picked someone else's ride when they came by. And sure enough, every couple of weeks, another newly bikeless colleague would post a forlorn notice by the bike racks at the back the building, asking if anyone saw anything before said set of wheels disappeared forever. (Rule #1: Never have the nicest bike on a shared rack. Rule #2: See Rule #1.)

Security aside, when I see a sturdy old bike locked up outside, I feel a little stab of hope that the city won't be completely swallowed by the almighty car, that the motor-driven chaos that defines life in these green-free zones can slowly be clawed back by silent citizens spinning their pedals. It's idealistic of me to think this way. And probably a whole lot of unrealistic, too. But all revolutions, no matter what form they may take, have to start somewhere. May as well be a sun drenched sidewalk on a gorgeous afternoon.

Your turn: Who rides this bike?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Caption This 137

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
London, ON
March 2008
Click photo to enlarge

About this photo: It's urban week all week long, and this scene supports that vision of our not-quite-natural surroundings. To see where it all began - and hopefully share a Thematic perspective of your own - head over here.
The building that once stood around this forlorn doorway no longer exists. For the record, it was a worn out, utterly forgettable three-storey apartment block at the edge of a neighborhood that most of us would usually avoid at night.

The modern apartment building that is now going up on this site will soon welcome new tenants - and hopefully a new sense of security and community for a part of town that has long had little of either.

Your turn: Got a creative caption for this photo? If so, please click the comment link and share as many suggestions as you wish. Winner gets posted next Sunday. If you're new to Caption This, click here to see where it all began.

About last week's photo of a bird in flight: We're two weeks into the school year here, and I already miss the beach. Nothing stops us from returning, of course, but the day just isn't the same when you're not surrounded by crowds of like-minded city folks, all hoping to escape the heat. Maybe we simply need to reset our expectations as the temperatures continue to fall. Until then, this photo reminds me of what it felt like to have warm sand on my back and the sound of our happy children in my ears.

Mojo's "Mile High Club" takes the cake this week, because it gave this scene a much needed dose of levity. If you've ever wondered whose work I study to try to become a better photographer, please visit his blog, Why? What have you heard? for confirmation. In a word, he's got vision.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ticky tacky boxes

My main drag
London, ON, April 2008 [Click to enlarge]
About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores urban this week. Please click here to participate. In the meantime, Carmi explores the intricacies of the Jewish New Year (5770, if anyone's counting) and is otherwise happily occupied with family, friends, personal reflection and a whole lot of eating. Thank you, Google, for implementing forward-timed entries. Back live Sunday eve.
Dundas Street runs east-west from the river that defines the midpoint of our city right out to, and beyond, the eastern edge of town. While it eventually turns into a bucolic regional highway that rolls through staggeringly beautiful farmland, this stretch of it is known as the spine of London's long-suffering downtown core, a street that used to be a magnet for the region, but is now struggling to overcome decades of suburban flight, botched urban planning and endless political small mindedness.

In so many respects, this road is little different than similar ones in other major - or even minor - cities anywhere on the planet. Except this one's in my town, and the never-ending discussion of what to do about it has colored my life here since the day I moved here. I so wish I could roll up my sleeves and fix it.

Troubled as it is, Dundas Street still possesses the capacity for hidden beauty. Walking along on a bright Sunday morning, it's easy to forget about the difficulties that plague this place. The storied facades that could tell us so many stories stand proud against a streetscape that's waiting for someone to write its next chapter. All we need to do is take the time to look and listen.

On this morning, I'm glad I did just that. I hope you are, too.

Your turn: Urban renewal. Please discuss.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Smoggy morning

Shanghai, China, May 2007

It's 5:14 a.m. local time. I'm sitting in the empty restaurant/bar at the very top of my hotel, hoping that I'm not pushing things too far by being here. On my last foray up here (floor 66, if it matters), I was 'discovered' by an employee who didn't speak English, but seemed perturbed that I was even here. So while he expressed his displeasure in a language I could not understand - and presumably skittered off for reinforcements - I did some skittering of my own and ran, chicken-like, back to my room.

I'm silly that way, risking international incidents in exchange for photo ops.

This photo speaks urban in ways I couldn't even begin to describe in words. Just don't breathe in.

Your turn: If you've got an urban vision, please pop over to the launch entry for this week's Thematic Photographic and go to town. Literally.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thematic Photographic 67 - Urban

90 degrees from nowhere
San Francisco, CA, July 2008

This week's Thematic Photographic theme, urban, reflects my belief that the seemingly endless process of paving and repaving the planet leaves lessons behind that we'd do well to learn. It's not a question of, to quote The Hulk, "Urban/bad, nature/good." Rather, it's a reminder that we should never be in such a rush to get through the day that we don't stop and wonder how the places that surround us came to be.

Because if we lose the ability to ask those "why" questions, we may as well pack up our tents and head home.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic is your opportunity to share your photographic vision with like-minded folks. Here's how it works:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...urban!
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.

Windows on the world

Glassy cubism
Montreal, QC, August 2008 [Click to embiggen]

Say what you want about modern architecture - that it can be boring, repetitive, uninspiring, or completely lacking in imagination - but when you combine large expanses of glass with densely built up neighborhoods, you could spend days simply walking the streets and enjoying the ever changing, kaleidoscopic results.

To wit, this streetscape in the middle of downtown Montreal. I grew up in this city and worked for years mere blocks away. Yet it took a quiet morning's walk with my wife to realize I had never really taken the time to appreciate everything around me.

I need to get out more often.

Your turn: The appeal of windows. Please discuss.

Coming up: New Thematic Photographic theme launches tonight at 7:00 EDT. It will be:


Happy mulling. See ya after 7...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's left of shiny

Expensive leftovers
London, ON, August 2009

What starts life as aesthetic perfection often ends up a forlorn pile, ignored in the shadows by those who pass mere footsteps away.

A sobering thought on so many levels, no?

Your turn: After the shine wears off, what's left?

About this photo: Thematic Photographic's week of shininess ends tomorrow at 7 p.m. when we unveil the new theme for the coming week (new theme suggestions welcome.) Until then - and even beyond, as deadlines apply only in the real world, not in my make-believe blog one - please feel free to click here to share your own shiny vision.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Caption This 136

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Grand Bend, ON, September 2009 [Click to embiggen]
About this photo: The sun is shiny. Coincidentally, this week's Thematic Photographic theme is shiny. Are you shiny, too? Of course you are. Head here to close the loop.
I often point my camera at the sky. It'll always return something different, and it'll always be challenging because cameras don't necessarily like having their sensors bombarded by a gigantic bag of galactic gas. The sun may be 93 million miles away from our planet, but it still does insane things to the exposure meter.

So as I recorded a lone bird flying under the shiny source of all known life on our planet, I smiled at how peaceful the moment felt, and how I'd like to spend more time sitting on the ground wondering about the ever changing world above.

Your turn: Please come up with a smart-sounding caption for this image and share it in a comment. Participate as often as you like, as we encourage serial captioning. For more info on how Caption This works, click here.

About last week's photo of my father in a cemetery: This was a very hard picture for me to shoot, as it forced me to think of a lot of things I'd rather not think about. But life's got a way of evolving in its own way, and we rarely have the chance to fundamentally change the route it ultimately takes. So we accept whatever it is that gets thrown at us. Honorable menschens - and sincere thanks - go to Lissa for "Grave reflections" and Quilly for "I still grieve."

MorahMommy takes it for "Through my father's eyes." As many of you know, she's my wife, and she encouraged me to take this journey on this day with my father. It's through her eyes that I've been able to have the life that I have. If you haven't had a chance to introduce yourself, please drop by her blog, Adventures of Motherhood, and say hi.

No one puts Baby in the corner

Patrick Swayze has died. The star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost succumbed earlier today to the cancer that defined the last 21 months of his life. He was 57, the same age his father was when felled by a heart attack.

I have little interest in the cult of celebrity that worships at the very altar of those who choose to lead their lives in front of the camera. The mere sound of Entertainment Tonight fading in - complete with Mary Hart's voice of faux-concern - is enough to give me hives. But given the pervasiveness of pop culture and the near-universal impact it has on everyone, every day, I find it fascinating to see how the rapid evolution of new media influences how we hear about celebrity milestones.

For example, most people would have heard about the sinking of the Titanic via newspapers, the end of WWII by radio and the fall of Saigon on television. I heard about Diana Spencer's death by the web, and Michael Jackson's passing via Twitter. Same thing with Swayze. I wasn't looking for it: it simply cropped up multiple times as I logged into the service.

I guess we have a new early warning system, and it lives, quite firmly, in new media Be that as it may, I hope this new world of celeb coverage gives his family members the peace and privacy they deserve as they grieve his loss. At some point, you just wish the Twitter feed would simply stop.

Your turn: Where you hear about stuff. Please discuss.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

She grows up

Shiny happy person
Grand Bend, ON, September 2009

She'll give you the last of whatever she has. She'll drop everything she's doing to help. She'll listen to you for as long as you need a friendly ear. She'll find the person in a crowd who needs her most and make sure she's there when the time's right.

Sandwiched in the middle of two brothers, she's grown a spine seemingly made of titanium, but is still so sweet that my wife and I often wonder how we got so lucky to have her. I know parents are supposed to be proud of their kids. But even if that unwritten rule hadn't been written somewhere, we'd feel the same way. She's the kind of daughter any parent would be elated to have.

She turned 12 yesterday, which was a bit jarring given how it was only yesterday that I stood over her newborn form and wondered what had happened to the rest of her. She was a tiny little thing, born early on a dark, rainy morning in a city that was still new and strange to us. As she's grown, we've grown, too, laying down roots in this place and making it our home. In so many ways, she's helped us find our way. She makes friends easily, finds her groove without our help, dives right into whatever she's up to - school, homework, taking care of the dog, whatever - and just gets it done. Of course we worry about what the future brings all of us, but we don't worry about her ability to navigate the world.

She has so many chapters ahead of her, and I have so many words left to write about a delightful life that continues to enrich our family. I'm already looking forward to seeing where she plans on taking us all.

Your turn: It's a weekend of happies around here, as Dahlia was born the day before Debbie's birthday. Which reminds me, I need to get cracking on her cake..bye! While I'm gone, what should they wish for in the year to come?

One more thing: Debbie shared her thoughts on our young lady's big day on her blog.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pierce the darkness

Shine the light on me
Laval, QC, August 2009

About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores the shiny theme this week. If you've got one in mind, head here to share it.
There's something memorable about the way a single light can paint an otherwise pitch black landscape. A scene that looks utterly forgettable by day is somehow infused with drama and texture. All because of a simple bulb.

So as I stood on my in-laws' balcony and (carefully) pointed my camera downward, I reminded myself that I need to spend more time shining light on things that would otherwise remain hidden. Because the results are almost always eye opening.

Your turn: Why do we feel the need to light up the darkness?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I've got gas

You're being watched
Mallorytown, ON, August 2009

Shininess is everywhere. Even tacked on to the already-tacky ceilings of a run down highway service station. You just have to take a moment to look for it.

Your turn: You are taking these moments, right? If so, where? (Click here for more on this week's theme, shiny.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thematic Photographic 66 - Shiny

Hold on
Laval, QC, August 2009 [Click to embiggen]

I've never been on the fabled Route 66, but everything I've ever heard about it - and long-term exposure to Pixar's Cars - has convinced me that I'm destined to someday roll through what remains of this iconic American trail.

So as Thematic Photographic marks #66, I thought "shiny" would give us all an opportunity to ponder not just the automotive history that marked this place (shiny paint, shiny parts, etc.) but also the shiny patina that seemed to paint an entire era, where the future gleamed bright and every reflection was brilliant. Seen from that perspective, I expect you'll be taking some wondrous liberties with this week's theme.

Your turn: Please share a shiny picture or two on your blog, then paste the link in a comment below. Repeat.* If you're new to Thematic Photographic, here's how it works:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...shiny!
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.
* And if you want to guess what kind of car this was, have at it. Hint: It's new, and it's uber-stylish.

Bobbing for Apples, live on TV

It's been an eventful day in the world of Apple. Steve Jobs returned to the stage to present the company's latest line of iPods, as well as updates to iTunes, iPhone OS and a bunch of other tweaks and tucks to the product line. The venerable iPod - it's been around for almost 8 years - may not be as hot as it once was, and it may be forced to live in the iPhone's growing shadow, but it still sells in the tens of millions, and ranks as one of the most iconic brands of the Internet age.

So any change, even a minor one, is enough for those who follow - and occasionally pray at - the Cult of Apple to pause and celebrate the new harvest of fruity-themed slices of technology.

I'm hardly a gadget freak (though I DID figure out this week how to sync my BlackBerry Tour to iTunes...yay me!) but I still enjoy watching this company turn what would otherwise be mundane product announcements into cultural happenings. That Steve Jobs took the opportunity to talk about his liver transplant - the organ was donated by a 20-something car crash victim - made it even more significant. He didn't just announce some new geek tchatchkes today. He likely saved lives well into the future. Good on you, Mr. Jobs.

Your turn: When tech matters. Please discuss.

One more thing: I'm scheduled to speak live with CTV News Channel's Marcia MacMillan this evening - at 9:15 p.m. EDT. Earlier today, I spoke with CBC Radio's Meegan Read, 640Toronto's John Downs, the Toronto Star's Chris Sorensen and the Globe & Mail's Omar El Akkad. Macleans Magazine (!) also published this piece, Too hot for iPhone, by Colin Campbell. I'll post links as additional content is posted online.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

We have missiles, too

Ready for launch
London, ON, June 2008

Whenever student housing takes over a London neighborhood, things seem to go downhill for homeowners whose only mistake was choosing the wrong place to live. Since we're very much a university town, stories of strife surrounding student housing are regular features in our local media.

Sometimes, developers get involved, and while most of them take great pains to do the right thing, some of them seem to be associated with blowups more often than others. Exhibit A is this bizarrely narrow and tall rental property, one of three on a corner lot in the middle of a neighborhood of low-rise, single-family homes. These properties sprouted up following a years-long battle between the developer, city zoning officials and local homeowners upset that the character of their formerly family-oriented neighborhood was being paved over with high density student rentals - ratty couches, empty beer bottles and late-night parties included.

After the developer ultimately won his case, he built these rental properties - with windows turned away from the street, and landscaping that makes 70s-era Soviet bunkers look lush by comparison - that not surprisingly didn't secure him invitations to the annual homeowners' BBQ. They're derisively called MX missiles, and every time I drive by them, I smile ruefully at the nasty spat that drove their creation. On this lovely June day, I decided to get up close and personal, and this is the result.

In the end, I suppose it's a matter of perspective. The homeowners wanted the integrity of an already besieged neighborhood to be preserved. The developer wanted to ensure his livelihood. The city wanted to keep everyone happy. In the end, no one was.

Your turn: Why must the winner sometimes be crowned at the expense of the loser? (And if you'd like to share a perspective-themed photo for Thematic Photographic, follow your mouse here. New theme's on the way, too.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

If birds could talk

Laval, QC, August 2009

Longer lenses have a funny tendency to compress distance. Which makes these birds look a lot closer to these bridges than they actually are.

So I doubt they were actually sitting on their perch and deeply considering the urban planning implications of the ongoing renovations to these well-known pieces of engineering. But it was fun to mull over the possibilities anyway.

Your turn: Do bird brains have a perspective? Do they even deserve to have one? And have you shared yours yet? If not, this link might help.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Caption This 135

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Montreal, QC, July 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores "perspective" this week. I thought this capture had perspective in spades. Head over here if you've got some perspective of your own.
I had taken my father to a couple of cemeteries in Montreal on this grey day, ostensibly to visit the graves of my grandparents and other family members. However, what had started as a simple exercise in locating and cataloging the resting places of people so instrumental in my young life slowly evolved into something quite different.

That's because I initially thought I would see the day through my lens. Instead, I ended up seeing it through the lens of my father. This shift dawned on me as we approached my paternal grandfather's grave. As I watched my father pay his respects, it seemed immaterial for me to take a picture of my grandfather's gravestone when what really mattered was that his son had come for a visit. So from that point forward, I deliberately hung back and watched him step through this very reverential process.

In the end, it was a perspective that opened my eyes on a number of levels - and in some respects, in ways I do not wish to face just yet. I suspect I'll be writing about this experience again sometime soon.

Your turn: As parents age. Please discuss. And if you'd like to suggest a caption for this photo, we're taking those, too. Click on the comment link and go for it: Winner will be announced next week. Please click here for more background on how Caption This works.

About last week's photo of a ship looming over the neighborhood: This was a hard shot to get, as it was late-ish evening and the light was fading fast. Still, I don't get here often, so it was either an iffy shot, or nothing. I'm glad I took the chance. Honorable menschens this week go to the following good folks:
  • Terri: "Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore"
  • Anne: "Promenade deck."
  • Pamela: "Big Berth-a."
Klaatu takes it this week with "If you are trying to tell us that picture has not been photoshopped. You're full of ship." His blog, You Humans Are Silly, is a delightfully different view of the world. He is also one of the nicest-funny people you'll ever meet.

Related entries from this shoot:

Big bridge to nowhere

I was on my way home and didn't have a particular deadline. And since bicycles don't burn the eons-old remnants of dinosaurs and other fossilized life forms, I felt no guilt taking a few detours through our burg's bike path network.

I had been to this particular spot a few months back. The path was clearly still under construction then, with large unpaved stretches broken up only by a bridge with no apparent connection to anything. I figured things would be all finished after a few months. I figured wrong.

This big, lovely, paid-for-by-London-taxpayers bridge is still disconnected from anything remotely approaching asphalt. It sits behind a fence, and leads to nothing more than a strip of gravel that stops for good at the edge of an impenetrable forest. From the looks of things, not a stitch of work has been done here all summer.

Still, this big piece of engineering with a big price tag seemed worthy of a picture.

Your turn: When the road suddenly ends. Please discuss.

One more thing: To participate in this week's Thematic Photographic theme, perspective, just click here. Thanks!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dog tired

Down low
Laval, QC, August 2009

About this photo: It's perspective week. If you haven't yet shared your own perspective with Thematic Photographic, follow your mouse's nose. And if you captioned yet, I hope you'll try that, too.
I've been noticing how our dog, despite his being the literal center of our family, often lives in his own little world. His size - he's about 25 pounds and barely taller than my knee - means he spends most of his time well below our line of sight. We look down, and he looks up. And only when someone gets down on the floor with him does he get to be eye to eye with us.

Sometimes, when the house is full of people and he's been played with as much as his little self can bear, he stretches out on the floor and lets the ongoing hubbub simply float on by. It must be pretty relaxing down there, as more often than not he's completely asleep by the time everyone else up top is tucking into their tea and dessert.

I like his perspective on life.

Your turn: Finding refuge from the chaos. Please discuss.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Sign of the times
London, ON, June 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores perspective all week long. Click here if you'd like to share your own. You know you do!
Perspective often requires us to look ahead or back as a means of understanding where we currently are, and why. When looking ahead, about the only certainty any of us has is that we'll eventually - if we're lucky - get old.

And from the looks of the sign, time clearly has no intention of being our friend.

Your turn: What lies ahead?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Thematic Photographic 65 - Perspective

Where I ride
Laval, QC, August 2009

About this photo: Every week, Thematic Photographic, our recurring photo participation challenge/activity, gets a new theme. I thought I'd launch this week's theme, perspective, with a bit of a backstory. Here goes...
Perspective is a funny thing. Some of us choose to be somewhat empathetic in our dealings with others, doing our best to at least try to see things from an opposing position. Some of us, unfortunately, do not. We instead content ourselves by intensely focusing on our own two cents, convincing ourselves after relentless self-repetition that we're absolutely right, they're absolutely wrong, and it's ridiculous that they fail to appreciate the brilliance of our position.

The barbs have been flying fast and furious since Ontario's former Attorney General, Michael Bryant, got involved in a violent downtown Toronto exchange with Darcy Allan Sheppard, a 33-year-old bike courier. When it was all over, Mr. Sheppard was dead - apparently after being dragged beside Mr. Bryant's convertible - and Mr. Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death. As I alternately use motorized four-wheeled and pedal-powered two-wheeled vehicles to get around town, I find it interesting to see how polarizing the debate has become in the wake of this avoidable tragedy.*

In a nutshell, cyclists blame motorists, motorists blame cyclists and neither side seems willing to appreciate the perspective of the other. So the anarchy - along with the occasional senseless injury and death - continues. Here's where I sit:
  • Everyone's capable of being an idiot. There are just as many stupid motorists as there are stupid cyclists, and there's no shortage of stupidity no matter how many wheels you're riding. For every cyclist who ignores stop signs and red lights, rides on the sidewalk, speeds down the wrong side of the road and dodges suicidally between stopped traffic, there's a motorist madly texting while driving, squeezing cyclists off the road just because, or throwing something at a two-wheeler, also just because. Many cyclists think they're above the law, while many motorists think cyclists don't belong on the road.
  • Stereotypes aren't universal. I cringe every time someone says "all motorists are insane" and "every cyclist is a scofflaw." In reality, the roads are filled with all types of folks, and painting any one group with a broad brush does us no favors. Were motorists or cyclists definable ethnic groups, they'd call that racism. Either way, I've had the pleasure of encountering delightfully cyclist-friendly, attentive motorists as well as rule-following, hyper-responsible cyclists.
  • Cars always win at the physics game. In the event of a close encounter, the consequences to cyclists are almost inevitably much worse than those for a motorist. Two tons of glass and steel vs. a 175-pound rider on a 30-pound bike pretty much guarantees the motorist will win every time. I've been on the receiving end of a car's grille, and miraculously walked away from the experience. Not fun. So even if the motorist is completely wrong and the cyclist is absolutely right, the right thing to do when you're on a bike is to let it go. If you're dead and right, you're still dead.
  • The rules need to apply to everyone. Those cyclists who cruise sidewalks or blow red lights? Charge them. They're vehicles, after all. So why cops don't routinely haul these morons over and hand out big and fat tickets is beyond me. The additional revenue in city coffers would be a nice side benefit.
  • Some people need to learn to share. Motorists need to accept the right of responsible cyclists to use the road. Unprompted honking, cutting off, yelling and harassment should result in tickets and charges. No exceptions.
  • Urban design needs a re-think. Cities are built around cars, which makes the layout necessarily hostile to anyone not driving such a vehicle. Cyclists, pedestrians and everyone in between are all forced to dodge the almighty car. Motorists, even if they're inclined to look out for cyclists, often have difficulty doing because of the way roads are laid out. As an experiment, try this: Walk from your house to the nearest Wal-Mart or similar big box store. Try to remember the experience in detail, including what the roads were like, what it was like to traverse the massive pedestrian-unfriendly parking lot, the whole nine yards. I'll bet you won't try it again soon.
They may not like each other all that much, but motorists and cyclists need to learn to get along. The alternative - namely more senseless deaths like Mr. Sheppard's - isn't acceptable. Neither is the status quo on our roads. By adopting a somewhat more evolved perspective toward the needs of others, we may yet manage to improve matters. Needless to say, I won't be holding my breath that either side will learn from this experience. So the stupidity continues.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic is fairly simple and fun, and I hope you'll take part. All you have to do it take a picture reflective of this week's theme, then share it. In this case, perspective can be optically tangible, or it can be a little more topically abstract. The fun lies in how you choose to interpret it. Once you've got your pic, post it to your blog, then come back here and leave the link in a comment. If you're new to TP, read on...
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...perspective!
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.
*We'll debate the specifics of the Bryant-Sheppard case another time. There's enough lionizing and demonizing of both parties happening in both conventional and social media circles now that I'd rather just stay out of it entirely. The courts will figure it out eventually, but in the interim we'll all still have to get along on the roads. Hence my attempt to share some perspective here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Big buildings

Towering. Not inferno.
Toronto, ON
August 2008
Click to embiggen

I get dizzy not from looking up at these monstrosities of the sky, but from thinking how many people are working behind each of the windows in these two buildings.

The CN Tower - for non-Canucks, it's the one on the left - is so iconic that I often wonder if I should be shooting it at all. Why bother, the logic goes, when everyone else has already captured it every which way? And the answer comes back, simply: Because no one would shoot it like I can.

Indeed, if you had been in my shoes on this hot late summer's day, you, too, would have found some unique way to capture this most obvious of subjects. Because no one would shoot it like you, either.

Pretty big thought, come to think of it.

Your turn: We're finishing off our big-themed week, but you can still share a pic by clicking here. Otherwise, please pick a window and tell me the story of whoever's behind it.

Coming up next: Thematic Photographic's next theme - launching tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. EDT - will be...


Why perspective? As non-summer segues into the back-to-school-and-work season to come, I figure now is as worthwhile a time as any to ponder the concept of perspective. No?

Skype gets sold. Gmail goes down. Time for tea.

The big news out of Techland today is eBay's success in finally pawning off Skype - which it bought for some $3.2 billion four years ago - on suckers...oops, a group of private equity investors including Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and Canada's pension board (!) It's a significant story in that this acquisition has long been considered the most notable failure of any tech deal in recent years to achieve so-called synergies. Well, at least that's where I sit.

I spoke with BNN's Michael Hainsworth and Jacquie McNish on their show, Market Morning, earlier today. If you've got the stomach to see me in living color, the video is here. Tummy or not, I enjoyed this hit immensely. Talking about cool topics with really smart people is always a highlight of my day, and I never forget how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do this.

I also chatted with CBC Radio's Meegan Read at the business desk in Calgary, as well as the Toronto Star's Chris Sorensen for his piece, Canada Pension Plan buys Skype stake. More links to follow as I find 'em. (And since I missed mentioning my chat with BNN's Pat Bolland last Friday, here's the link. We assessed Intel's prospects on his show, Market Morning.)

Your turn: Do you use Skype? Would you pay for the privilege or do you expect this kind of thing for free?

(FWIW, my Skype address is "carmilevy". Imaginative, eh?)

One more thing: The other big news out of Techland today? Google Mail (Or Gmail, because short forms always seem to sound cooler, for some bizarre reason) is down. As I write this, squillions of Tweets, Facebook updates and unincorporated IMs are flying back and forth across the Internet tubes, raising the blood pressure of countless messaging addicts and forcing the economies of emerging African nations into temporary default to their Nigerian royalty overlords.

Last I checked, the planet was still spinning on its axis and the sun was still hovering in the sky, roughly where I'd expect it to be at this time of day. Life goes on, apparently. So I'm going to pick up the little folks from day camp. I suspect they'll have other worries, like which ear the dog should nibble on when they get home.