Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rest stop trees

Beauty in a forgotten place
Along the 401, somewhere in Ontario, October 2009

The scene: On a long, somber drive home from Montreal, we've pulled over at a rest stop to, well, rest. The province, in its infinite wisdom, planned the upgrade program for its network of roadside rest stops so well that virtually all of them along this stretch are now closed. Renovations on the smaller number of venues that will reopen eventually virtually guarantee stretches of many hundreds of kilometers where the only option is to get off the highway and drive aimlessly through one small burg after another in search of semi-edible food and semi-clean washrooms.

The one stop that was open about two hours back had a lineup for gas that stretched onto the on-ramp from the highway. So who doesn't get my vote next time?

Yes, about this rest stop. It's a double-wide trailer on the site of a now-demolished complex that may or may not be rebuilt. The cold, grey weather matches my mood as I stand outside and wait for Debbie to return with the kids. This is the last place anyone would ever want to be. Or could expect to see something worth remembering.

But the trees seem to merit a little attention. So out comes the camera and furrowed go the eyebrows of the passing motorists as I set, focus and shoot. I feel a small smile at the edges of my mouth, the first one I've had in a while. I guess I'll take tiny bits of comfort and happiness wherever I can get them.

Your turn: Stupidity on a monumental scale. Please discuss.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Color, reflected

Where water meets earth meets sky
Laval, QC, October 2009

It's been a gloomy week of nasty surprises around here, and as I look at my writing, I realize my words have been reflective of my mood. Not good, but it is what it is.

To counter the murk, I thought I'd grab some of the more colorful scenes I've viewed through the lens in recent weeks. A mere photo can't change anything that's happened, or the scenario that's left in its wake, but it can at least provide a quick moment of light to slash through the darkness. For now, that'll have to be enough.

Your turn: Seen any good fall colors this week? Do tell.

One more thing: This photo supports this week's Thematic theme, leaves. I realize I'm stretching it a bit - these are but reflections. But when you think about it, all photos are reflections to begin with. Head over here to share your own.

A haunted man's lesson

There's something to be said for the sliver of time before the day begins, when the sky is still dark, the house is still quiet, and you've woken up before you wanted to and are consequently stuck with only your thoughts as company.

It's where I find myself now, solving the little problems of the day - timelines for getting everyone up and on their way to school, planning the day, trying not to drop anything from the must-do list - as well as the not-so-little ones, like what I want to be when I grow up and how I'm going to get there so I can make it happen for my wife and kids.

It's not always easy, this life thing, and I admit to the occasional moment (okay, maybe two) of feeling overwhelmed to the point that I just don't seem to have the answers or the solutions, and I can't see forward as clearly as I'd like. But yesterday, I was served up a stark reminder of why I shouldn't worry as much as I do, and why despite my own concerns about the future, I really should trust - both in myself and in the world around me - that I lead a charmed life compared to so many others.

The scene: I was cycling home from a television studio, where I had just taped a guest segment for a show that airs next week. Evening had descended, and I rode carefully, deliberately through the new darkness. As I silently cruised up downtown's main drag, I caught a sad scene out of the corner of my eye: a man stood on the sidewalk wearing no shirt, garbage bags scattered around his feet, doubtless containing whatever he owned in the world. Greasy long hair spilled out of both sides of a tattered ball cap. His face spoke volumes about his life: empty, addicted, hopeless. People walked by him as if he wasn't even there, averting their eyes and picking up the pace to put him behind them that much more quickly.

He faded out of my own view just as soon as he appeared, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. It was a cool night - maybe 10 degrees C (50-ish F) - and I had pulled my jacket in a bit tighter to ward off the chill as I rode. And here was a man, shirtless and alone.

I had no answers then, nor do I now. But as I wake up to a slowly brightening sky in a quiet house surrounded by all that matters to me, I find myself still haunted by the sight. I realize my worries pale next to his. I have a home, a family, a life, a future. I have a day to plan, and the tools I need to productively make it through the day. Like anyone else, I'll face roadblocks and loss. But at least I have. This stranger, whose ghostlike image refuses to leave me, did not.

Life. No manual. Not always easy. But so damn precious all the same. I hope this lonely soul realizes it, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thematic Photographic 73 - Leaves

Life's a blur
Belleville, ON, October 2009

Not a day goes by that I don't wonder about how out of control things seem these days. Between a schedule with more things on it than there are hours in the day, an endlessly sick household and the added fun of loss and illness, there are days when even falling asleep at night doesn't seem to slow things down.

So when I saw this picture on my camera's screen, I knew it spoke to me somehow. And I stopped (imagine that) and cut myself a bit of slack. It's perfectly fine to feel out of control every once in a while, at least if you listen to car racing legend Mario Andretti, who once said this:
"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."
I get that.

Your turn: Ths week's Thematic Photographic theme is "leaves". Joining in is simple: post a pic on your blog, then come back here and leave a link to it in a comment. For more on how TP works, click here. Have a good time channeling the leaves around us!

The pigs among us

London, ON, September 2009

I often wonder what's going through the head of someone who knowingly leaves stuff like this behind. When I see this and begin to feel my blood boil, I often like to entertain myself with urban-cleanliness-vigilante scenarios where I swoop in, wearing a Guardian Angels red beret, t-shirt and camo pants tucked into my oh so perfectly tied boots, and proceed to berate said litterer until he/she repents.

The rules of modern society, however, dictate a far more passive approach. Namely, stay away from strangers, no matter how much their behavior ticks you off, lest they turn you into a hood ornament and tomorrow's headline. Vigilante justice is so '70s, anyway.

Your turn: Throwaway society. Please discuss.

About this photo: We've been exploring junk-themed photos all week as part of Thematic Photographic (click here if you're new to TP.) Tonight at 7:00 EDT, I'll be launching the new theme, leaves. I figured now was as good a time as any to have some fun with the seasonal change.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Take the long way home

Blackfriars, shadowed
London, ON, October 2009

I took this photo tonight, as I slowly cycled my way home from an appearance on Rogers Television's Newsmakers Live. I was part of a panel of unbelievably cool people - a London Police Sergeant, a noted driving instructor, a Rogers product expert and, of course, host Bob Smith - discussing the new handsfree law (aka Bill 118) that went into effect in Ontario yesterday and essentially bans the use of conventional cell phone handsets while driving. It was an hour of live television that mattered, and I know it left viewers with something to ponder - which is why I love media as much as I do.

As I often do following a TV hit, I decompressed the experience in my mind, trying to learn and file away said learnings for next time. And for reasons that still make little sense so me, I felt a compelling need to stop my bike and take grainy, lousy pictures with my BlackBerry as I cycled through some of the dodgier streets in our burg. And because misery loves company, I felt similarly compelled to upload the results to Facebook (find me here) as I slowly moved across the map toward home.

It had been a particularly trying day - two of our kids were home sick, and Debbie ended up taking Zach to the hospital for a closer look at what may or may not have been pneumonia* - and I was feeling more than a bit pensive. So a bit of quiet time on a silent bike on a dark night was probably just what I needed.

Or so I convinced myself. My final picture was of a disturbing scene on a street barely five minutes from my house. An ambulance had stopped, lights flashing, in front of a 15-year-old Ford Crown Victoria. A black late-model Nissan Sentra was parked, hazards on, behind the stricken vehicle. As I passed this surreal scene, ambulance attendants were carefully removing the driver, an elderly man, from the driver's seat.

In the darkness, I heard a sob that will haunt me. It was guttural, almost animal-like in its tone and intensity. His wife, perhaps? I'll likely never know. I stood a respectful distance away, on the other side of the relatively busy four-lane road, and still that sound carried. I shuddered to think about what I was witnessing, whether another family was now going through what we had just experienced, whether the wave of loss would affect them as profoundly as it had affected us.

Suddenly my difficult day seemed so very trivial relative to what was unfolding in front of me. I felt I had no right to whine given whatever it was that had just befallen these complete strangers who I had randomly encountered on this night. My rather lame little pity party was over. I got back on the bike and finished the last two kilometres as quickly as my legs could manage. Prayers for this man and his family seemed so inadequate as I silently sliced through the night, but it was all I could manage.

Your turn: Cherishing what we have and not what we don't. Please discuss.

*He's home. On meds to clean up what the docs thought may have been a suspect streak on his lungs. Still his sweet self, thank G-d. The adventure continues...

Monday, October 26, 2009

A decade and a half

Laval, QC, August 2009

It's been 15 years since Debbie and I became parents, 15 years since we walked into a hospital in Montreal, too young, too frightened and seemingly too unprepared for the responsibility of caring for a brand new life. It's been 15 years since a battered little man with a conehead - rough labor will do that to a kid...he was fine after a day, but we still have pictures - emerged into the world and imprinted himself on our souls.

It's hard to remember what life was like before Zach came along, before everything we did revolved not around us, but around the next generation of little people. Not that we often try to remember what it must have been like: We're too busy in the here and now to spend much time trying to reminisce about the relatively carefree existence of those early married years. And we wouldn't change a thing.

The little man is now not so little. He's almost as tall as I am, and I suspect he'll be looking down at me before too long. He already has to bend down to hug Debbie. His grandmothers, too. He's got a wicked sense of humor, a growing gift of seeing the world through a viewfinder - namely my viewfinder - and a limitless desire to put others' needs before his own and question why injustice and mean-spiritedness are so pervasive. Good question, and I know these are the kinds of traits that'll help him make a difference as he continues to spread his wings and follow his own path.

His journey, of course, roughly parallels and informs our own, and reminds us that every moment we have with him is precious. And tonight was filled with plenty of moments I hope he holds on to: We went to his chosen restaurant, took closeup pictures of the fireplace beside our table, discussed the relative merits of wood stoves vs. natural gas installations, had ice cream cake at home, tried to keep the dog from eating the dropped chocolate bits off of the floor, chatted with extended family all over the continent, installed the new wireless adapter on his XBox and worked together to get an account set up and the hardware working.

And through it all, I kept staring at him when I thought he wasn't looking, thinking about the little being he used to be, and how no matter how tall he gets, how much he accomplishes or where he goes, he'll always be our baby, and we'll always feel blessed to have had him.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When the day ends

[I'm sitting in a brilliantly sunny parking lot - Loblaws grocery. And, no, I'm not sure why that matters - and am waiting for my lovely wife to e-mail me the grocery list so I can pretend to hunt and forage in this most convoluted interpretation of the urban ideal. I've got a BlackBerry, some lovely tunes - Thirteen Senses...again not sure why that matters - an open sunroof and a riotously red maple tree swaying in the warm afternoon wind overhead. So I thought I'd write a bit with my thumbs and see what develops.]

Bedtime has always held a certain significance for me. As a child, it was an important moment of transition from busy day to quiet night, when I got to spend some much welcome alone time with my parents.

Of course, by the time I was able to dress and brush myself, they didn't actually need to tuck me in. But they did, anyway, because this represented the kind of parents they were. And it never got old for me. Knowing they were there was plenty enough for me, and it's one of those indelible memories of childhood that I carry with me to this day.

And so it is with my own kids. Our eldest, Zach, turns 15 tomorrow, yet I still need to kiss his head and hear his voice before he tucks in for the night. I can't miss watching my daughter perform her carefully planned rituals - books, stuffies, blankets, reading light, blindfolds... - and listen to her talk to the dog one last time before he follows me out. I have to watch our youngest son arrange one layer after another on his bed before he burrows himself inside, reaches his arms out from his cocoon and squeezes me around my neck for all I'm worth.

His tuck-ins are different in a subtle way, as he is our baby, just like I was to my parents. And I know that he'll likely be the last tuck-in I ever get to do. I hold onto this ritual because a part of me wants to believe that our kids will always need their omniscient, inviolable, all-powerful parents there for them. Even after the real world strips them - indeed, us - of their overt superhero persona.

Once upon a time, I had thought that my parents lost their superhero persona right around the time I hit my mid-teens and began to brashly take my first steps toward an independent life. it didn't take long for me to start questioning and challenging them. When my father first got sick 12 years ago, I remember looking at him in his hospital bed and wondering what had happened to my superhero, the man who blocked the light coming in from the hallway as he made his way into my room for tuck-in, who always held on to me just a little bit longer because, well, because he knew I needed that.

Illness made him seem smaller, no longer able to fill the doorway, to cast a shadow over me. But hindsight has taught me that the shadows he and my mother cast - then as now - were and are not only literal. Even though he's no longer with us, he's still defining that transition from day to night, helping me make those moments as memorable for my kids as he and my mother made them for me.

I never lost my superhero, after all.

I hope I learned these lessons well, and I hope I'm handing them off to the next generation as well as my parents transitioned them to me.

Your turn: Please share a lesson your parents taught you.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It didn't go quietly

London, ON, March 2008

I discovered this mess one night at London's otherwise pristine Via Rail station (photos). Aside from feeling rather sad that someone had been so callous with a community resource that normally makes us all quite proud, it made me think about the paths junk can often take as it makes its way out of our immediate lives. Normally, two things can happen when junk is in the process of being disposed:
  • It goes quietly.
  • It makes a mess along the way.
I'll leave it to you to guess which fate befell this unloved Tim Hortons cup.

Your turn: Please tell us something about the doofus who left this here. And if you haven't shared your own junk-themed Thematic vision, head over here. I need the happy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving it behind

A month ago today, my father died.

It's still surreal, still raw and still beyond painful. I still don't know what to say around people, still feel awkward when I drop my kids off at school, still don't want to be among large groups (or even small ones), still wonder when I'll start to feel more like myself, still wish I could fix this for everyone around me, still rail against the reality that dictates I can't.

I know there will never be a "normal", of course, so I bristle when well-meaning friends tell me time will heal me. It won't, and it's a scar I suppose I'll wear for the rest of my own life. I also know that this is the way life is supposed to work. But that doesn't make it any easier to internalize. I guess I suck at this whole adaptation thing.

Thankfully for bad-copers like me, there are countless traditions in Judaism that give mourners a sense of structure in the days, months and years following loss. Shiva - Hebrew word for seven - involves sitting on small, hard chairs while friends visit and provide comfort. Shloshim - Hebrew word for thirty - outlines behaviors that are and are not permitted in the first month.*

In our case, both shiva and shloshim were cut short by the Jewish calendar. So seven days became barely three, and thirty days became a smidge over a week. It's easy to feel shortchanged when these abbreviated periods end and you find yourself wondering what to do with yourself. And I'll admit I could have used more time.

One of the dictates of shloshim is you don't shave (others include no entertainment, music, etc.) Since I do televised interviews on occasion, and since I have always done so with a shaven face, I discussed this with my rabbi. He said I could indeed shave if my work dictated it. So, technically, I could have shaved anytime I wanted to over these past few weeks. But I haven't. I couldn't. Because every time I look in the mirror or touch my face, I want to feel it, that something's changed, that something, indeed someone, is missing.

Of course, I don't need to self-flagellate, and I haven't done this to beat myself up in some way. Keeping my razor tucked away has helped extend this period for me, convince me that I've got a bit more time to live in this bubble. Somehow I equated the act of shaving with the act of leaving shloshim behind. And I didn't want to. And I still don't.

So when I got called to do my first interview afterward, I went on-air with a fuzzy face. And I got called to come back, so I guess my old assumption that facial hair would harm me was a bit misplaced. And I guess I'll keep looking into the mirror, and at some point I'll realize that it's what's behind the hair that's truly changed, and someday I'm going to have to come to terms with it.

Just not today.

*I realize I've grossly oversimplified this. Entire books have been written on these traditions. I recognize my limits in trying to explain them in a mere blog post.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It sucks

Blown out
London, ON, October 2009

Once upon a time, it kept our house clean. But nothing lasts forever, and we finally kicked our old Kenmore canister vac to the curb earlier this month. By the time I took this shot, it was clearly junk (link to Thematic), dumping more dirt on the floor than its increasingly lame suction could pick up.

I'm not sure why I do this, but I feel the need to take pictures of significant appliances before they disappear forever. I know it was junk, and probably should have been tossed months ago. But it was junk that we had bought soon after we were married. It followed us from our first apartment across town to our first house, and again into a new province when we moved to London. Perversely, it meant something to me.

So on garbage day, I ventured into the street for one last look. My wife, conditioned by years of this, roller her eyes and went back to making sure our son hadn't slipped the dog into his backpack for show and tell.

Your turn: Turning insignificant objects into objects of significance. Please discuss.

Thematic Photographic 72 - Junk

Another form of junk
London, ON, October 2009 [Click to enlarge]

I've chosen this week's Thematic Photographic theme, junk, because I find myself tossing lots of it these days. Whether it's the stuff you haul to the curb, the stuff between your ears or a strange combination of the two, we all probably carry around more than we'd like, and we'd all do well to lighten our load.

As evidenced by this photo, junk can also be eaten. Are peanut M&Ms necessarily junk food? I don't believe so. But lose the sense of balance - i.e. eat them for breakfast, lunch and supper to the exclusion of everything else - and you'll be well on your way to achieving your own junk definition.

Still, as my wife chatted by phone with my mom and tried to explain to her that her son was at it again with his camera, I realized that we can either treat our junk with disdain or look for the opportunity to have some fun with it. On this day, I chose the latter, and as you choose your own interpretations of junk, I hope you do the same.

Your turn: Please share a junk-themed photo on your blog, web site or photo sharing service, then leave the link here in a comment. Bonus points if you bring a friend along. For more on how TP works, please click here.

As seen on TV

I'm still at it with the media thing. Diving into it has helped get my mind off of the real-life tough stuff, which has been sorta helpful. This morning's media moment was a fascinating one:

I was scheduled to speak with Business News Network's Michael Kane on his show, The Street, about Yahoo's earning's and Microsoft's prospects in the leadup to its big Windows 7 launch (tomorrow!) The live hit was set for 8:15, so I made sure I was up early. I don't like rushing before an interview, as it can throw me a bit off.

The timing dictated that I couldn't take the car (wife, kids, know, the stuff that really matters) so I planned to cycle the easy 10 km route to the TV station. So imagine my chagrin when I got to the front door and heard the telltale sound of rain. Uh oh. A quick check of my laptop confirmed my worst fear: a nice, chunky rain shower was moving into the region Right Now. I've always had such timing.

I pulled on another waterproof layer and hit the road. I got to the station on time and dried off, amazed that my jacket, shirt and tie hadn't been soaked along the way. Oh, there was the small matter of my slightly wet cuffs, so I had to tone down my usual speak-with-my-hands habit.

The video can be seen here (alternate link here.) Hope you enjoy it (we can talk about the facial hair another time, if you wish.) Other media stuff I've had my nose into recently includes:
Also had a bunch of chats with the good folks from the Globe & Mail, resulting in the following:
If you're near a radio, I'll be speaking with AM 770 CHQR (Calgary) Radio's Whitney Deane this evening (8:45 p.m. EDT) on the CRTC's decision to allow Canadian ISPs to engage in traffic shaping (live feed here.) This Friday, I should be back on-air with 640 Toronto's John Downs with some homegrown tech ranting. Tune in here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Open line

Montreal, QC
October 2009
Click to enlarge

You may think it's strange that a mere hunk of metal, glass, thermoplastic and code can be therapeutic, but I'm hoping you'll suspend disbelief for a moment, because that's exactly what I've learned over these past few weeks.

Whenever I've felt an overwhelming need to feel normal, I've reached for my camera. Whenever I've wanted to separate from people around me and retreat into my bizarre little world of creativity, I've reached for it. Whenever I've needed to stop thinking, I've reached for it.

And something strangely transformational has come over me each time I've hefted it into my right hand and just felt it there. Of course, it didn't make me forget the overwhelming sense of sadness that's clouded my life since we first got the call. And it didn't suddenly make me happy. Because despite the happy face I force myself to take on when I leave the house, I'm not. But I know in time I'll find the happy again. And I'll find the funny. Somehow, and with a lot of help from my wife, kids, extended mishpacha (family) and friends.

And until then, I need to find comfortable places to hide out and regroup. And it's easier to accomplish that when I've got my beloved Nikon in my hand. Yes, it's a mere piece of technology that can just as easily be dropped, sold, replaced. But what it represents - my freedom to shape images and turn them from imagination to something I can share - has held me together more times in recent weeks than I dare admit.

So as I carefully and quietly stepped around my mother-in-law's hospital room and looked for ways to break away from the combined pressures that were turning my head into a Tylenol commercial, I found a certain sense of self in the miraculous machine in my hand, the miraculous piece of medical equipment in my viewfinder that was keeping her healthy, and the belief that I could still tell the stories that mattered to the people who mattered.

Your turn: Where do you find comfort during trying moments?

About this photo: We're still supporting our most recent theme, open. Click here if you'd like to participate. I'll launch a new theme - still mulling it over, suggestions welcome - tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. EDT.

One more thing: I'm scheduled to appear on Business News Network tomorrow morning. I'll be speaking with Michael Kane about Yahoo's prospects, Microsoft's Windows 7 launch and what it all means to the broader world. Go time is 8:15 a.m. EDT, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel incredibly good to be able to get back in front of a camera and go deep on a topic I love, all with a great journalist to guide me. For anyone privileged enough to experience live television, it's a wonderfully affirming thing to do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The open road - redux

Who's gonna drive you home?
Somewhere on the 401 Eastbound, October 2009

I've been focusing on the road a lot lately (link), likely because it's a place that circumstance dictates we'll be quite familiar with in the months and years to come. Unless we move back to Montreal (not likely...roots don't unroot easily) we'll be covering the 401 and related highways to keep close to family and friends. There are some things, after all, that webcams and headsets just can't do. Like give hugs. Or receive them.

When we hit the road, my retentive-driver ethos compels me to be behind the wheel. But when my wife drives, I often take the camera out and play with it until one of the following things happens:
  1. I get nauseous beyond belief (reading or focusing on small objects in a moving car + Carmi = one bad combo)
  2. She gets annoyed beyond belief (I do that to her. And to everyone else around me, apparently.)
But in the smidgen of time that I have, I sometimes take something that isn't blurred, washed out or otherwise so technically maligned that not even my own mother would lie and say she likes it.

This picture, unspectacular as it is, puts me in a place I don't want to be, a place we'll have to occupy for some time, a place - if you can call something so transient a place - that for some can be an adventure, but for others is merely lonely and sad.

I like to look at pictures I've taken because they often bring me right back to what I was feeling when I took them. It doesn't matter whether that feeling is sunny or grey - it's a journey all the same. And I'm always happy to take it as long as I've got my family around me. On this day, as much as I didn't want to be on this road, I was comforted that I wasn't alone.

Your turn: The (open) road too often traveled. Please discuss.

One more thing: Those leaves appeared on the dashboard just before we left for Montreal, a gift for my wife from the kids. I kept them there for the entire journey, a reminder that life is precious.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Let's kill all the drunk drivers

Hope you liked the hyperbolic headline. I'm only half-kidding.

Please read this story, from today's Toronto Star, then return. I'll wait. In case you're busy, here's a quick synopsis: A 21-year-old at the wheel of a BMW plowed into a minivan, killing three and sending two others to hospital. Police suspect the driver was drinking. Reports have the BMW doing 200 km/h (120 miles/hour) in the moments leading up to the crash. Note: this wasn't on a highway. It was on a city street, at the corner of Finch and Tobermory.

Said driver had been investigated for earlier drinking and driving-related offenses, but police have not released his name, or the details of those earlier cases. As happens so often in cases like this, the suspected drunk driver suffered minor injuries.

Something in my head snapped when I read this. If this moron is convicted - which any justice system worth its salt will hopefully manage to accomplish - then I pray he spends the rest of his life behind bars. It isn't justice, of course, but it's high time we got serious about drinking-related crimes. Where to start: Zero tolerance, punishment that means something, no remorse.


Your turn: Thoughts?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Productivity suite

Open office
Laval, QC, August 2009

Call me antisocial, but I don't write well in the company of others. It gets even worse when we're away from home and I don't have my usual quiet places to go. When you're sleeping on a futon and pulling jammies out of a suitcase on the floor, the environment just isn't conducive to heads-down creativity.

So when we were visiting the mishpacha (family) a couple of months back - a lifetime, in retrospect - I found myself with stuff that needed to get done. So I headed down to the little marina nearby and became at one with nature. I was out of WiFi range, so I had no Internet. Working off of battery meant I had a finite amount of time to get it done before the laptop ran out of juice.

This strange little strategy of mine seemed to do the trick. Although the occasional early morning dogwalker meandered on by, the headphones in my ears convinced them that today wasn't a good day to play 20 Questions. Similarly, while on any other day the sight of ducks paddling back and forth in between the boats would draw me in, this time out I simply kept my head down and wrote. The ducks would be there later. For now, I had a deadline.

In the end, I wrote some lovely articles, which I saved to my BlackBerry and e-mailed to their respective faraway places before bundling everything under my arm and heading back inside for breakfast.

On this particular morning, I learned that sometimes you can indeed have your cake and eat it, too. The ducks would doubtless agree.

Your turn: The appeal of being beside bodies of water. Please discuss.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The open road

Laval, QC, August 2009 [Click photo to enlarge]

My son and I had come to this spot in the middle of a small bridge over a small tributary of the mighty Riviere-des-prairies, in the shadow of my parents' and in-laws' building. It was the peak night of the Perseids meteor shower. Zach had never seen a meteor shower before, so we figured we had nothing to lose as we headed outside and looked for the widest visible swath of sky.

That was easier said than done, of course, thanks to the thick canopy of trees that smothered the night sky. So as we wandered from one spot to another and finally settled on the bridge as a workable compromise, neither one of us had any great expectations that we'd see anything.

So we were very pleasantly surprised - nay, make that somewhat freaked out - when a bright flash streaked across the sky barely a minute after we settled in on the sidewalk. We looked at each other, stunned, before coming to our senses and doing a high five followed by a happy dance. I'm sure passing motorists and pedestrians thought we were out of our minds, but we didn't care: this was cool stuff.

We sat back and waited for more meteors to appear. The rusted steel railing dug into our backs as we craned our necks skyward and hoped for a repeat celestial performance. I lay down virtually prone on the crumbling sidewalk to reduce the kink in my neck. No dice: the only bright things in the skies from then on came from the never-ending stream of planes on final approach.

We didn't much mind, though. We had seen what we came to see, and we couldn't stop talking about the show, why this stuff happens in the first place, and the physics of it all. Eventually I pulled out my camera and started to fiddle with the controls as we quietly mulled over potential photographic targets. Now, an inconspicuous and old deck bridge in the middle of suburbia may not seem like a worthwhile subject, but we wanted to challenge ourselves to come up with something, anything, to remember what it was like to be there. So we eventually settled on long exposures of passing cars. Their head and tail lights, I surmised, might be neat.

Why am I sharing this? Because I've never been so totally focused on the big moments that I've forgotten about the small ones. When it comes to our kids, I don't think any of this has anything to do with headlines, big bangs or major milestones. I grew up in a house where the small stuff mattered, and as I've been reflecting on how my father related to me at that age - and indeed at all of my ages - I've also been reflecting on how I've been relating to my kids.

Sadly, my father wasn't able to join us on our quest. Toward the end, it hurt him to walk, and his legs were especially troublesome that night. We thought of him as we sat on the sidewalk, wishing quietly that he could have seen it - the meteor, the ghostlike cars, his son and his grandson just being - for himself.

Either way, I see more hanging out on sidewalks in our future.

About this photo: 6 second exposure, f/10, 18mm. No word on what the two motorists who passed in the night were thinking as they watched a couple of strange-looking guys point a tripod-mounted camera at them as they cruised on past. This photo supports our most recent TP theme, open. Click here for more.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A closed window

The view from here
Montreal, QC, October 2009

I know this view well. Virtually every time I stayed in this place* as a child, I'd wander the floors and explore a place many of us would call alien and frightening. It was, of course, and still is in many respects. But between the ages of 4 and 6, it was home to me. So instead of cowering in my bed, I'd often climb down, grab a wheelchair and hit the waxed-floor road. Eventually, I'd run into the solariums at the corner of each floor. And I'd stare out at the big world through windows that would not open.

We spent some time in the 4th floor solarium with my mother-in-law over the weekend. It was a good day for her. She was able to walk the short distance from her room to this bright, happy spot in a place that is rarely bright or happy. The kids looked out the window at the city below. They counted the planes on approach to the airport and saw the giant Orange Julep in the distance. My mother-in-law drank in their energy as they absorbed the kind of vista few patients or visitors here ever get the opportunity to enjoy. I watched all this unfold and realized history was repeating itself.

I'm sorry that my family has so many ties to this institution, that so many milestones for so many generations have been marked right here. I'm sorry that the mere mention of it brings to mind memories of illness and endings. I'm sorry I walked down the corridor beside the OR where we said goodbye to my father before his first surgery 12 years ago, then spoke to the doctor after she was done saving his life. For the first time. And the second. I'm sorry we can't seem to put this place behind us.

* Montreal's Jewish General Hospital (link, wiki)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thematic Photographic 71 - Open

Talk to the hand
London, ON, August 2009
Quick note: Before I begin, I'd like to share my deepest thanks to Mojo for stepping in and running Thematic Photographic at a time when I was patently unable to do much of anything from my end. I'm still not sure I'm anywhere near capable (see here if you don't know what I'm talking about, and here for the full run of entries), but his wise counsel throughout the last three weeks has helped me realize that now is as proper a time as any to dip my toes back in the waters and see what happens. Friends like him are rare indeed.
This week's theme, open, comes to us courtesy of Mojo. It's a great theme for me to return to, as it represents what lies ahead, what's possible, what awaits us and how we intend to make it ours. It's a lovely little metaphor for life, and I think it'll be good for the soul - mine and, hopefully, yours - to explore it and ponder the bigger meaning.

Our youngest son, Noah, contributed the appropriate body parts for this particular photo. He was having some alone time with me and my wife, as his brother and sister were in Montreal for their summer adventure with my in-laws. At that moment, everything was possible as we sat at our table in a neighborhood restaurant and bantered with him. No one knew how close we were to such profound change - definitely a "before" day.

Yet as I look at this photo of my son's hand with the full benefit of hindsight, I feel it represents a future for him that he simply needs to reach out and grab. He's that kind of kid, and if anything can change my world view and snap me back into something resembling a functional life, it'll look - and feel - something like this.

Your turn: Please share an open-themed photo on your blog, then post a link in a comment here. Repeat as often as you wish: This is supposed to be fun, and G-d knows we all need it. For more details on how TP works, please click here.

Seeking the light

Hello darkness
London, ON, May 2009

I opened my laptop last night and stared into the screen, the cursor blinking at me as if it were mocking me to finally write something. After what seemed like an eternity, I closed it and put my head down for the night. The words just didn't want to come.

It's the first time this has happened since we got the call about my dad, and as I drifted off to sleep I wondered if and when it would happen again. Beyond losing the people closest to me, this may rank as my biggest fear. My writer's voice represents who I am. It's also my primary means of keeping this insane carnival ride - otherwise known as my life - spinning. It's how I provide for my family, and how I keep myself whole when the world around me is anything but.

So I was thankful when I woke up this morning, grabbed the laptop's lid and dove into a document, any document. I could still write, still create, still live. I just needed to learn that my new normal may include the occasional moment when my voice will go silent. And that's perfectly fine.

About this photo: I often capture mournful moments not because I want to bring anyone down, but because I need to understand the full range of life to better appreciate what I've got. To wit, a picture of a homeless woman shooting drugs in broad daylight makes me appreciate my family that much more, while a perspective of a crumbling piece of urban infrastructure teaches me to treasure the home my wife and I have built.

Light-piercing-the-night photos have also figured in my past, including this one taken immediately below my parents' home. Scenes like this challenge me to seek the light even when I'd rather curl up in silence in the shadows for a bit until I'm ready to once again find my voice and carry on.

Monday, October 12, 2009

His #1 fan

Pull my chain
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to enlarge]

Our eldest son, Zach, took this pic. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I've been handing the DSLR over to him and letting him wander with it. I have to admit a certain, profound level of parental pride as I watch him slowly ponder the merit of a given scene, then decide how he wishes to record it. Like me, he's a deliberate shooter, often hovering over a subject for an inordinately long time before raising the camera and composing.

Often as not, he shakes his head - another trait of mine - and decides the picture simply isn't worth it. In many respects, it's somewhat uncanny to sit off to the side and watch him work. If ever I feel like my footsteps are being followed, it's during moments like this.

My wife and I have always believed in allowing our children to choose what artistic direction they wish to pursue. So when Zach began getting curious about photography, we bought him a point-and-shoot and turned him loose. Now that he's gotten a good feel for this more serious tool, he's becoming more vocal about asking for the camera whenever he sees a story that needs telling.

The game plan is for my current camera to become his when I eventually upgrade. For a teenager, it's a pretty hefty goal. But I wasn't much older than he is now when I walked into a store and bought my first SLR. The difference then was I had no one in my immediate family to guide me. Thankfully, Zach will.

Your turn: Instilling vision in the next generation. Please discuss.

One more thing: Thematic Photographic returns this Wednesday. Theme? Feel free to suggest one. I am profoundly grateful to Mojo for so generously and ably taking over the reins these last few weeks. He didn't just keep it running: He helped guide me toward taking my first tentative steps back into once again capturing, sharing, and doing the things that make me, well, me. I don't know how we'd have fared without such incredible support from such incredible friends.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The circle of life

I'm at the hospital today. I was here yesterday, too. I was here less than a couple of weeks ago, and I fear I'll be back again soon.

My mother-in-law has been here for three weeks. Surgery #3 is scheduled for Tuesday, but you'd be forgiven for writing it on your calendar in pencil, as these things tend to be delayed about as often as Iranian presidents claim their nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes.

We've been spending time with my mom this weekend, our first visit without my dad. It isn't only weird: It's surreal. And running back and forth to the hospital adds another unreal dimension to the proceedings. Not fun, and it won't change anytime soon.

I know that this strange juxtaposition of death, illness and ongoing life holds a number of life-continuity lessons for me. Problem is, I suspect I'm not in the right frame of mind to appreciate them. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps soon.

Which, in the end, is the most important lesson of all: Take the time. I'm slowly starting to get it.

What dreams may come

Laval, QC, September 2009

I'm not sure what they were dreaming of here. I hoped it was of something soothing and comforting, but I'm almost certain it was anything but.

This was the first of four photos I took on this day, the morning of my father's funeral, barely a day after he died, barely a few hours after we pulled in to my in-laws' house after the saddest, most traumatizing day they had ever experienced. I wasn't sure I should even be taking any pictures, but as I stood in the doorway and watched their sleeping forms, I didn't want to forget what it felt like to still have...them.

We so often say the words, "Life is precious." But I'm not sure we always mean them as deeply within the depths of our respective souls as we really should. So I picked up my camera - the very act of which brought me a small sense of physical comfort - and took their picture. Because they truly are precious. And I never wanted to forget how powerful that felt as I watched them sleep.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A "before" day

A day at the beach
Grand Bend, ON, September 2009 [Click all images to enlarge]

My wife and I believe in simple traditions, one of which revolves around going to the beach on the last day of summer vacation. It's a tangible way for us to transition from the relatively unstructured to the completely structured. More importantly, it's something we think - hope? - our munchkins will carry with them until long after they're munchkins. Simple moments, after all, seem to stick with us far longer than any others.

So we loaded the wondervan with our most treasured things - the kids - and headed north to the shores of Lake Huron. The weather wasn't promising, with low clouds dimming the Tim Horton's parking lot - another tradition - as we topped the little people off with breakfast. Predictions of rain only added to the "Why are we doing this?" mantra that hung over the day. But still, we went. Because traditions are traditions.

The beach, as predicted, was virtually empty. As we unloaded the boogie boards, towels and chairs van in the near-empty parking lot, my wife and I fretted quietly about the weather. The kids? Didn't care at all. They shrieked happily that they had the whole beach to themselves.

In the end, it didn't rain. But weather-fearing wannabe-beachgoers stayed away in droves, anyway. As ever, the kids frolicked in the chilly water. As ever, I took pictures of them. As ever, I took pictures of random birds and waves, as well. It was a typical Levy day at the beach, and as we carted our tired crew home through the achingly beautiful agricultural hinterlands of southestern Ontario, we knew we had succeeded in creating another memory for them.

As I look back at this day, Monday, September 7, 2009, Labour Day, I can't help but think of it as a so-called "before day". A day when we knew no better, when we had no idea that our world would soon change, when we simply enjoyed without worry. A few days later, my parents came to visit, and reviewing pictures of this day, and of the similarly sweet and simple time they spent with us at home, I wish I could go back to the moment these were all taken and freeze time.

In so many ways, the before days are infinitely preferable to the afters.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Way station

Ingersoll, ON, September 2009

On the last stop before arriving home, I stood outside the wondervan while Debbie picked up some snacks inside with the kids. It was unseasonably, shockingly cold and windy, and I suddenly seemed underdressed in my sandals, cargo shorts and hoodie. But still, I stood there, because it nevertheless felt good to have the cold air on my face. It reinforced that I was still alive and that I could still feel.

As I waited in this transient place, I found myself staring at the fuel pumps across the parking lot. This little island of light in the middle of a forgettable night seemed so mournful, so uninviting to anyone who had some extra time and was looking for a place to hang. But still, I stared.

And I took out my camera. Because that's one of the things I do when I need to feel normal, myself. And I leaned carefully against the car, relaxed every fibre of my being to compensate for the fact that I was about to shoot handheld in the dark (can we say blur? I knew we could.) As I carefully adjusted the controls, composed the shot and squeezed the shutter, I felt a sense of, if not normalcy, then at least a sense of partial control.

Before long, my brood returned, ready for final leg of a long and difficult journey. As I accelerated onto the onramp, the limitless loneliness of this fluorescent-bathed place in the middle of an endlessly dark road was gradually replaced by the near-musical chatter of three sweet kids, an amazing wife and a feeling deep in my soul that somehow, together, we'd all figure out the next step on our journey as a family.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Paintings in the sky

Faces in the fading light...
London, ON, October 2009

A friend of mine has been e-mailing me from far, far away with perspectives on what it's like to move through loss. His family suffered an unimaginable tragedy a few years back, and his hard won experience has been instrumental in helping me lay down some roots from which I can begin to grow into whatever it is that I'll be afterward.

One of the things he suggested was to focus on a hobby or other familiar activity as a way of giving my mind a break from the otherwise constant context of sadness. Thankfully I've got a few. I had brought my camera with me to Montreal because not having it on my shoulder would have made me feel lost - well, more lost than I already was. I didn't take a lot of pictures while we were there, and the times that I did open up the lens were marked by intense internal debate over whether it was or was not appropriate for me to be doing so at that moment.

Even after we returned, albeit temporarily, home, I just didn't feel the urge to capture. I was seeing the world in blacks, whites and greys, and I just couldn't will myself to take in my surroundings in my usual three-dimensional color as I thought through each composition. I grabbed the occasional snap from my BlackBerry, but I'm sure when I work up the desire to look at them they'll be as pallid as my mood.

This past Thursday night, though, my friend's words bounced around my head. I was walking the dog and noticed the sky setting up for a spectacular post-sunset. After bringing him back home (wiggly puppy + camera = lousy photos), I picked up the camera bag and told the kids I was talking a walk alone. I wandered a few blocks away from the house, toward a large park that offered somewhat decent sky views. The shadows were already deepening, but the sky offered enough varied light to make it worth my while.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of what I captured on my memory card that night, but it marked a brief moment where I could once again see in color, however muted.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Critics take different forms

My mom called today to tell me she had seen me on television in Montreal (don't have the link yet. Will add it once I find it.) She enjoyed watching me, and spoke endlessly about how in control I seemed. I guess I hide it well.

While she loved what I had to say about Nortel and all the related fun geek stuff, she focused her feedback on one thing: She said I had circles under my eyes, and I looked tired.

I had to laugh. It was comforting to hear a small smile in her voice, even if it was only for a small sliver of time. I guess I'll just have to keep making excuses for her to tune in or otherwise be proud of everything we're up to. I know she is, and that's yet another small thing to hold on to as we try to figure out how we go on from here.

One more thing: Canwest filed for bankruptcy protection and Bell and Telus both announced they'll start selling the iPhone in Canada next month. So my phone was busy, and I did a ton of media, including:
  • A bunch of CBC Radio, including Home Run with Meegan Read, Radio Winnipeg, Radio Regina and Radio Montreal, the last of which I did live and in French (stop laughing.)
  • CTV News Channel with Sandie Rinaldo (first time I've been interviewed by her...she's a legend around these parts.)
  • Business News Network with Michael Hainsworth (no one does tech-business interviews as precisely.)
  • CBC Business News with Fred Langan (which because they couldn't confirm a studio, I did via Skype from home.)
  • CJAD News in Montreal (my hometown's main newstalk radio station...)
  • Reuters, Canadian Press and the Globe & Mail
I didn't have a whole lot of time to dwell, which in retrospect was a good thing. As I got into the car following my last interview, a bee flew in the open sunroof and refused to leave. I opened every window and door and tried to shoo him (her?) away, but the more I shooed, the more stubborn he/she became.

Eventually, the interloper got tired of my antics and flew into the nearby bushes. As I drove home, exhausted and thankfully unstung, I thought about the lessons I learned from childhood that were helping me get through this day - on the phone, in front of a camera, doing live radio from the parking lot or simply flinging e-mailed answers back to reporters before the tea was ready. I couldn't help but think about how well prepared I was. Someone clearly did a good job, and I was sorry he wasn't around to take a bow.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Missing my critic

Today I took a trip I've taken so many times before, to the television studio a few kilometers from our house. It was a nice day, so I biked the route, leaving early enough that I could cruise along and feel the wind on my face.

I was scheduled to chat with CTV Montreal, my hometown station (also known as CFCF and Channel 12) about Canada's tech landscape in the wake of the Nortel asset selloff. It was my first television interview since my father passed away, and I was scared that I wouldn't make it through the 4-ish minute chat without freezing up or otherwise losing it.

We were taping it, so I knew there was a bit of a safety net. But I've never liked safety nets, and every time the red light goes on, I chat away as if it's live even if it isn't. So this time, as I settled into the chair, I stared intently at the red light, focused on my voice, reviewed my talking points in my head and prayed I had what it took to make it through.

In the end, the hit went well, and I was happy that we covered the ground we wanted to cover, and I didn't melt down on camera. For a few brief minutes, it felt good to bear down on a topic and explore it in detail with an anchor, Todd van der Hayden, who clearly understood the guts of the story. For a few brief minutes, I was Carmi the analyst.

After we were done, I got back on my bike and slowly headed back home. As I turned the first corner in the quiet suburb, I thought about how this would be the first interview where my father wouldn't be around to critique my performance, or comment on how little time they gave me, or share his thoughts on the shirt/tie combination that I wore that day. I guess I'll have to get used to not having my built-in critic around from now on.

If you're in Montreal, the interview airs tomorrow (Tuesday, October 6) on the noon-hour newscast. It'll probably hit the air sometime around 12:30 p.m. EDT. I'll post the link here when it's uploaded to the station's website.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The view from the balcony

Everything changes
Laval, QC, September 2009

In a prominent spot on the wall of my parents' house, there's a framed picture of a scene I shot from a hotel window in Colorado just about three years ago (click here, I'll wait.) When my father saw the picture, he asked if I'd blow it up for him. It's my first commission, and every time I see it on the wall, it reminds me of him, and of a quiet moment in a faraway place that connected us.

During shiva, I often found myself staring at the image. I tried to understand what it was that he specifically liked about it. Initially, I thought it was the color and texture of the brightening sky. But the more I stared into it, the more I was drawn to the silhouetted community below. And I saw a fully formed, slowly awakening world there that had completely eluded me when I first composed the scene. Between the water tower, the houses, the businesses and surrounding landscape, I had captured the essence of a community: Which, at the end of it all, was what my father lived for.

I took this photo a few days after he passed away, from the same balcony where he used to tend his plants and watch the boats glide by below. My mother had noticed the trees beginning to change and said it was something he always appreciated. So I took my camera out, stood where he once stood, and snagged this image.

We'll be blowing it up and framing it for display right next to the Colorado sunrise one. Because the community and family life that was so important to him thrives on reflections like these.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Looking back in time

Life happened here
London, ON, September 2009

I decided today that flipping through the photo archives might help soothe my soul. I'll let you know how that works out in the days to come. For now, here's one glimpse that I wanted to share.
It was early on a Saturday morning, our daughter's 12th birthday, three weeks ago today. A lifetime, it seems. My parents were visiting us. I had a blood donation scheduled, so as I slipped out of the darkened house as quietly as I could, I couldn't resist the urge to lean over their sleeping forms and kiss their foreheads just as they so often did when I was a kid.

We had a busy day of cake and togetherness planned, so my goal was to show up at the clinic first thing and sheepishly beg for them to take me as early as they could. I suppose I could have cancelled the appointment - and in retrospect, it would have given me more time with them - but since I became serious about donating blood when my father first got sick 12 years earlier, I knew he understood why I felt the need to do this. It was a neat connection, one I know brought him joy.

So as I pulled into the clinic's parking lot on this clear and sunny morning, I realized I had misread the schedule, and had arrived about half an hour before the doors opened. As it's located on the grounds of London's largest hospital complex, I grabbed my camera from the passenger seat and went for a walk.

I didn't get far. The ivy-covered wall stopped me in my tracks. I've shot ivy before. It intrigues me because, depending on its condition, it can signify life in its various stages. And even when it's just bare tendrils on a concrete wall, you can't help but hold out hope that despite it all, it'll find a way to grow again.

I ha no idea how prescient this photo - or that lonely moment on the quiet hospital grounds - would be.

Friday, October 02, 2009


I've been told that grief is like a roller coaster. I believe it, but I'd like to amend the definition somewhat: It's like a roller coaster in the dark.

The ups and downs are the same, of course, but you never know when something's going to hit you and send you reeling in a new and unexpected direction. At least if we had the light of day to work with, we could prepare for whatever comes next. In reality, no such luck.

So today's surprise was a gloom that settled in from the moment I opened my eyes and once again chimed in to the awful truth of the recent past. I'm pretty sure I've moved past the "it's like a nightmare and I hope I wake up soon" phase, but there's still a heartbeat of time every morning when it hits me that I no longer have a dad. While most days up until now that moment of realization has resulted in a wave of teary sadness, today it made my body ache and my spirit turn grey.

So all day long, that was me: quiet and unable - and probably quite unwilling - to smile or otherwise engage in the usual back-and-forth of everyday life in the not-so-big city. While I went through the motions of bringing the kids to school and chatting with parents and staff, I felt a curious mixture of lifelessness and pain that I couldn't fully cover up with a forced smile and happy-sounding voice. I've never been a good actor, and today didn't change that.

Yesterday I did my first interview - a taped chat with CBC Radio's Meegan Read - and today I did my first live radio interview with CJOB Winnipeg's Richard Cloutier. I spoke with CBC Money's Dave Simms and with David Friend from the Canadian Press, and we mused afterward about how good it felt to be back. And as good as it felt to be hearing and actively working with these professional, caring people, and as cathartic for my soul as it was to once again be the analyst and deliver crisply built perspectives on biz-tech issues, as soon as I hung up the phone I once again saw only dull grey.

So here I sit, reflecting on a day when not even a walk through the grocery aisle with my BlackBerry's camera was enough to budge my mood, when it hurts to lift my arms to type on my laptop, when I simply want to curl up and go to sleep.

Maybe it's OK to have days like this. Maybe this is where the rollercoaster was destined to go. I just wish I could see it coming.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Those who know. Those who don't.

Had an interesting epiphany today, courtesy of my ever observant, ever lovely wife. She said we think that we're walking around with signs around our necks announcing what our family has just been through. But the truth of the matter is not everyone knows what's happened.

So when a friend or acquaintance approaches us and congratulates us on a nice quote in a national newspaper, or pulls out copies of their new magazine from the trunk of the car and stuffs them excitedly in our hands - both of which happened to me today - we should resist the urge to look at them funny and wonder why they don't get it. As devastating as loss can be to immediate family members, it's often just a blip, if that, to folks located further toward the periphery of our existence.

From now on, I'll remind myself of this perspective every time I read the obituaries page in the paper. Within the context of each affected family, entire worlds are being irrevocably changed. My distance from them doesn't change any of that. Nor does magazine-trunk-lady's distance from me change anything for me.

One more thing:

Speaking of my ever lovely wife, I can't continue without sharing a thought on her own, additional, burden these days. Her mom's been in the hospital for nearly two weeks. She had surgery earlier this week and is scheduled for another date with the knife tomorrow. Her road back to health is long, challenging and uncertain. Even without my dad's passing, this alone would have been enough to slam lesser folks into uselessness.

Not my wife. While she's been moving heaven and earth to be there for me, to cushion me from the harsh realities of the planet while I try, pathetically, to heal, she's been wrestling with being there for her mom and keeping it together for her marathon man of a dad. She's also been single-handedly parenting our three kids, integrating herself back into her teaching and keeping the increasingly psychotic dog from camping out on the kitchen table (story for another day, I promise.)

I recently wrote about our daughter's backbone, about her strength of character that seems to defy any force that comes up against her. She gets it from Debbie. Who clearly got it from her parents.

If you have a spare moment, I'd like to ask you to please say a prayer for Deb's mom. While we can't get back what's been lost, we remain hopeful that everyone else in our orbit can return to a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.

Related link: Debbie's blog. Feel free to say hi.

Writing in the dark

I often write things in my head long before I get anywhere near a keyboard. I don't think I control the process as much as it controls me: Any time, anywhere, the words simply begin to dance.

And so it was this morning, in the pre-dawn darkness, as I lay in bed with the furnace/dog draped over my legs. A column that I had begun to slash out on my laptop before bed last night decided to complete itself. So I got up, grabbed the laptop and its handy dandy gooseneck USB LED light (best $7 I ever spent, btw) and parked myself on the living room couch to finish it off in earnest and send it halfway across the continent.

It's my first piece of beginning-to-end, actual, professional writing that I've done in what seems like an age. I re-read it countless times to ensure it flowed OK and wasn't rife with evidence of my decidedly less-than-focused state. Confident it didn't read like a Swahili-language breakfast restaurant menu, I sent it on its way.

I can't say I enjoyed the process. I still feel overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings that I can't understand, let alone adapt to. I still feel like I've lost my edge, and worse, I've lost one of the most critical members of my audience. But if the show goes on for the proverbial performer, it has to go on for the proverbial writer as well. Write, invoice, live. It goes on...albeit painfully.

One more thing: I wrote and published this piece for Betanews, My father's laptop: A humble machine's simple lesson, last week. I hope you'll take a moment to give it a read and let me know what you think.