Sunday, June 30, 2019

Looking for solace amid a long journey

Halsteads Bay, ON
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Along the highway that stretches to the Quebec-Ontario border and forms the ground transportation spine of Canada's largest province, there's a slight detour that took us years too long to discover.

The Thousand Islands Parkway runs parallel to Highway 401 for about 40 km just east of Kingston, a slower, more genteel stretch that trades the superhighway for something decidedly lovelier. The road rolls through impossibly beautiful hills and bays, with each curve opening up more stunning views than the last. I wish it could be longer, even if it adds a few minutes to the overall trip.

But time isn't everything, and there's no rule that says it should dictate how every day needs to play out. It can just as easily be ignored.

Our battered souls needed this diversion as we made our way back home. So we pointed Stella off the 401, and when a tree-shaded rest area presented itself past a curve, we decided to stop for a bit. The St. Lawrence River that runs between Canada and the U.S. was just a short walk through the woods, and when we got there an obviously happy black lab was fetching sticks from far into the bay.

This tree has probably been around since long before we were born, and it felt somewhat appropriate to stop beneath it and drink it in, a veritable icon of life and time, a perfect metaphor for where we had been, and where we now found ourselves.

I stood there for a few minutes as my wife walked ahead. It was as if in the middle of one long trip amid so many long trips, this was the one I was meant to stand beside and shoot on this day. Odd how that works, but I'm not one to question the why.

We'll return here. Not because we need to stick to a schedule, but because sometimes we shouldn't. Because sometimes we need to slow it down. Because sometimes the universe doesn't give us much choice.

#thousand #islands #parkway #stlawrence #river #ontario #canada #random #country #photography #highway #road #trip #travel #forest #trees #texture #stella #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A perfectly imperfect sunset

Power on the horizon
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I thought I'd share another sunset view from my late father-in-law's place, as I'm not sure how many more times I'll be able to shoot from this vantage point.

The electrical towers at the base have always vexed me. Virtually the entire horizon is dotted with them - plus a motley mixture of cell towers, big box stores, and lamp standards from the highway that splits through the middle of this once-but-no-longer-sleepy town.

They mess up the scene, pollute an otherwise idyllic landscape with the messy artifacts of modern, urban life. I know there's always PhotoShop, but that would be dishonest. Digital removal of annoyances like these might make for a cleaner shot. But it isn't what I originally saw, and it isn't the story that should be told.

I've spent way too much time over a dozen or so years standing in this very spot pondering the perils of photographic imperfection. But only now does it dawn on me that the story need not be perfect. Those towers are there for a reason. And their presence in virtually every scene I've captured from here is part of the story of this sliver of the planet, of how during our time growing up here it evolved from bucolic agricultural paradise to a bustling city of 400,000 people.

We were part of the reason why those towers - and cell antennae, and big box stores, and highway lamps, and... - were needed in the first place. And like the lives we once led here, they aren't anywhere near perfect. Which, in the end, is as it should be.

#laval #chomedey #montreal #yul #quebec #canada #photography #sunset #orange #sky #cloud #weather #wx #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #Nikon #nikonphotography #nikon_photography #dslr #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Friday, June 28, 2019

The hated fountain

Frozen in time and space
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
A couple of years ago, we pulled up to the visitors' parking lot of my father-in-law's condo building and noticed a new addition: A fountain. At the time I saw it as a wasteful extravagance, an unnecessary expense incurred by an administration that had long ignored the basic upkeep needs of a 40-plus-year-old building.

I still feel that way, because no one wakes up and says, "Gee, let's spend five figures on a new fountain," when the parking structure has been sprouting sinkholes large enough to devour a Jeep. Priorities, people. Clearly, these folks have none.

But on this morning, I needed to block the real world out of my head for a few minutes. Sitting in an apartment for shivah, listening to the sometimes-inane comments of usually well-meaning people, had made me a little jumpy. I needed to get outside.

I've played with dancing waters before*, largely because there's no plan, no expectation. You immerse yourself in the mechanics of the thing - camera settings, composition, lighting, not getting smacked by passing cars, whatever - and then cross your fingers that the forces of physics decide to cooperate. Sometimes you come back with something decent. Sometimes you don't.

Today was a decent day. The light cooperated. So did the gardeners who decided to mow somewhere else when they saw me approach, and the ducks who quacked at me loudly before skittering into the adjacent river. I spent six minutes shooting, managed to smile for the first time in a while.

The fountain still sucks, as do the idiots who put it there. The orange traffic cone filling the gigantic pothole beside my parking spot is a constant reminder that the people running this place have no clue.

But I'm good with setting practicality aside every once in a while if it means you get to feel somewhat normal before the real world intrudes once more. Not everything needs to be perfectly rational. Sometimes you just need to get outside and wing it.

#laval #chomedey #montreal #yul #quebec #canada #water #fountain #high #speed #photography #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #Nikon #nikonphotography #nikon_photography #dslr #zoom #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

* Here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Linen, lace, and one family's story

Fabric memories
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I tend to use photography as a bit of a crutch, an escape from the overwhelming. I've leaned heavily on the craft of late - two weeks tomorrow, God - and I imagine this reliance won't end anytime soon.

I've been pondering our sense of place, and how the places that matter most tend to shift over time. For example, with no one left to live in my in-laws' condo, the clock now ticks down to the day when we remove the last things that matter to us, finish our final cleanup, sign the deed over to someone else, and leave it behind us forever.

So I've been hovering more than usual over the small things. Like walking up to the door and remembering the boisterous greetings my in-laws would give our kids when we arrived. Or sitting at the breakfast nook and imagining my father-in-law reading his paper there. Or staring out the window at the leafy neighborhood far below and wondering if Deb's dad enjoyed the view as much as I do. I walk slowly, linger a bit longer, stare a little more closely, run my fingers over the surfaces that I soon will no longer be able to touch.

This tablecloth got a lot of attention this week. During shivah, it covered the dining room table (I'll save the I-visited-a-house-of-mourning-and-they-fed-me thing for another day - long story short, it's weird.) Over the course of decades, we had countless meals on it. It's been spilled on, washed, put back out more times than I can count.

I'm sure if it could talk, it would tell stories of our kids' lives from birth to near-adulthood, and of the moments they spent with grandparents - eating, talking, playing, whatever - who loved them unconditionally. Looking at its delicate folds, I can almost hear the chaotic sounds of family, the background din that makes every home unique.

I can't imagine it being tossed into the sale or donation pile. Still too many memories to be made, too many spills to absorb, in another house, in another place, but still indelibly tied to the very core of what made - and makes - us a family.

#laval #montreal #quebec #canada #judaism #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Breaking bread

Freshly baked
Dollard-des-Ormeaux, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
The other morning, we stopped at the bakery near our old house in the Dollard-des-Ormeaux suburb on Montreal's West Island before getting back on the highway and pointing Stella home. Tough times call for comfort food, so we loaded up on bagels, knishes, danishes and a few other things that might bring a temporary light to our little family. The car smelled like home the entire way to London.

The woman who served us had kindness etched into her face, and gently asked about my wife when she asked where we were from and why we were making such a large order. That's the great thing about places like this: It's never an anonymous transaction. They chat. They learn a little about you. They care.

I've written about this special place, Yagel Bagel, before, as it was a beacon of the neighborhood when we lived here. When our eldest was a baby and our other two kids were mere dreams for the future, this was where I walked him in the stroller on Sunday mornings, after which we'd stroll back home and have brunch. When you're a new parent, small luxuries matter, and even something as simple as Sunday brunch became a critical moment amid weeks that often seemed endless and restless.

That tiny munchkin gets married in a couple of months. The table around which we so often gathered for brunch sadly has some empty spots around it now. Time only moves forward, and life is fleeting. But if our little pit stop amid a hard journey has taught us anything, it is that traditions are constantly being made, and we lead richer lives by choosing to hold onto those traditions - and the people and their surrounding memories - for as long as we can. If you remember what made those moments special in the first place, you never really lose them.

Indeed, the stack of warm bread you see here is probably stale by now. But the feeling I get when I see the photo is timeless. I won't be letting go of that anytime soon.

#montreal #yul #mtl #dollard #dollarddesormeaux #ddo #quebec #canada #bagel #bread #bakery #tradition #food #foodphotography #instafood #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

One last photo on the train

Photo taken in
London, ON
June 2018.
Originally shared
on Instagram
I shot the photo that accompanied my father-in-law's obituary. The story of how it came to be is one that will always make me smile.

He had been visiting us in London, his last trip to our home, as it would ultimately turn out. I was dropping him off at the train in the morning, and given his age at the time - 84 - it felt right to walk him onboard and help settle him into his seat. So when we got to the edge of the platform, I helped him up the stairs, hoisted his suitcase, and carefully packed it in the luggage area before walking him to his seat.

The other travellers kindly gave him a little extra room as he made his way to the middle of the car and sat down. I hovered over him for a bit. He was fiercely independent and eminently capable of getting himself back to Montreal, but I still just couldn't just leave him there, alone. Goodbyes matter in our family, and that day's goodbye was no exception.

I pulled my smartphone out to take a picture. He laughed at yet another example of my photographic weirdness. I had been sticking lenses in his face for as long as I had known him, so why would this morning be any different? He looked happy. He was indeed happy.

Soon enough, it was time to go, so I gave him one last hug and kiss before turning for the door. Except the door was now locked. And no staff were anywhere to be seen. Suddenly, it looked like I was going to Montreal with him. I pounded on the door - no go - then finally figured out how to open the door to the next car. After sprinting through three cars, I found a staff member who radioed to have me let off - but not without first dressing me down for breaking the rules by entering the train in the first place.

I was out of breath, and not about to explain why I needed to climb up beside him. It gave us one more together-moment, one more laugh. One more, period.

I'm glad I broke the rules. I'm glad I took the shot. So was he. You can see it in his face.

#ldnont #london #ontario #canada #trip #via #viarail #train #trains #trainspotting #trainstagram #rail #travel #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #photography #google #pixel2 #teampixel #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Safely home

Stella at rest
London, ON
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Stella brought us home safely last night, crossing two provinces and what seemed like a lifetime of memories as we put Montreal's darkness firmly into her rear-view mirror.

Stella is the name we assigned to Debbie’s car. I realize it may sound strange to personify a vehicle, but add it to the list of small, inoffensive quirks that set our little family apart. We got her just as her dad got sick, so in a way the story of this otherwise unremarkable red crossover is the story of this entire, difficult journey.

The countless trips back to Montreal, early mornings in ice storms, slow crawls through hospital parking structures, quiet moments just staring out the window in dusty highway rest stop parking lots, trying to catch our breath before the next frightening thing happened.

When the universe around us seemed so unpredictable, it was strangely comforting to be able to rely on something as mundane as a car. I’m not a “stuff” person, and you’ll never hear me brag about the things I own. Experiences and character matter so much more than mere things. But it still felt good to know Stella was always parked outside, always ready to take us anywhere, no matter the weather.

We take spontaneous mobility for granted, but perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps we owe it to ourselves to be thankful for the ability to be where we need to be, when we need to be there, in a way that doesn’t freak us out along the way. We needed mobility this year. Stella delivered.

Sometime before every long journey, I place my hand on the taillight and reflect on the road ahead. When we arrive, I do the same thing, a quiet thanks for a safe trip. I know Stella is inanimate, but that doesn’t make me any less appreciative we had her to guide us through the better part of a year we wish had never happened.

#ldnont #london #ontario #canada #road #trip #highway #travel #car #auto #automotive #carporn #stella #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #photography #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Monday, June 24, 2019

Where I speak at a funeral

Before last week, I had never written a eulogy. In the family I was born into, it simply wasn't done. While planning the funeral, you'd meet with the Rabbi and tell him a bunch of stuff. Then at the funeral, you'd sit in the front row and listen to him speak. And hopefully he'd hit all the right markers.

Easy, I suppose. But somehow incomplete. As if we allowed someone else to tell the story. Granted, a professional someone. But, still, if it wasn't this person's job, they wouldn't be up there.

So I wanted to speak at my father-in-law's funeral. I felt that after four decades of being first his paperboy, then the big-haired teen who dated his youngest daughter, then the somewhat more responsible young man who married his youngest daughter, and finally the slightly pudgier, slightly more grey-haired guy who helped make him a grandfather, silence on this day felt like I was letting him down.

I also felt in my family, not the one I was born into, but the one I had joined, the one I had helped create, the one that defines the very centre of my universe, this was the way we honour those who have imprinted themselves on us. And in every respect, my father-in-law imprinted himself on me for much of my life.

So I wrote a eulogy, and although I delivered it at his funeral last Monday, the reality is the words began percolating in my head months ago. I hope I did enough before he left us to let him know this was how I felt. In any case, here it is:
I knew Irving for longer than I’ve known my wife, Debbie. I was 11 years old. And my first job was one that no longer exists for 11-year-olds: Paperboy. Every morning I’d drag my wagon filled with piles of Montreal Gazettes through the quiet streets of Chomedey. And at least one evening a week I’d wander those same streets to collect the week’s subscriptions.
You get to know your customers pretty well when you drop in on them on a regular basis. Most of them paid the weekly rate of one dollar with barely a second thought. Some said thank you. Others scurried behind the curtains as I approached, hoping I wouldn’t see them.
And in a friendly-looking house on a friendly-looking street, there lived a friendly-looking man who stood out from my other customers. He always had a smile and a kind word. Always took the time to step out onto the front porch and chat with me for a few minutes. He never scurried.
So you can easily understand why I always looked forward to collecting from him. And why I remembered him long after my other scurrying customers had faded, forgotten, into history.
Fast-forward 6 years and 17-year-old Carmi met a pretty girl named Debbie. Coincidentally, his daughter. 
The friendly man in the friendly-looking house on the friendly-looking street was still as kind as he ever was. Still chatty, too. And he welcomed me into the family as Debbie and I figured out the universe had plans for us.
He tolerated me well. Even when I accidentally shot video of his widening bald spot at a family gathering, he found it more amusing than upsetting - a story that stuck with us for decades. To be clear, he didn’t know he was THAT bald beforehand. Thanks to my video, he did.
As we moved toward marriage, and we had to figure out what to call him, he asked if I would call him dad.
So I said, no, I’m cool with Irving. Or Mr. Zwirek. Or Sir. Or Sir Mr. Zwirek.
No...I’m kidding. Dad it was. In a heartbeat. And from the moment I first realized he was the same guy who years earlier had tipped me so well for not soaking his Gazette in a muddy puddle, I loved him for a lot of reasons.
He enjoyed my stupid sense of humor. He always let me pick from the serving plate before him whenever I came over for dinner - which was often. He always had time to sit down and chat. Once he realized I wasn’t disappearing anytime soon, we moved the chats inside. I had earned my place.
Over the 40-plus years that I knew Irving, he taught me much, usually with a subtle word or a quiet nod. He always had the time. Always made the time.
I called him dad because he made me feel like mishpacha, like family. I was never an in-law, or a son-in-law, or the guy who took his daughter away. I was part of his family, as if it had always been so. 
Three things stand out in my mind when I think of him:
First, when we lived in Montreal, we regularly shared Shabbat dinner. The food was, of course, ridiculously good because Zelda had been in the kitchen all day. Irving didn’t say much, but it was always obvious he was the quiet centre of the Zwirek family Friday night experience.
After we were done stuffing ourselves silly, he’d produce a paper bag and unceremoniously shove it into my hand. “Here”, he’d say.
See, he regularly met his cronies from the Chabanel garment district for lunch. One of his buddies was a tie guy. And that unassuming paper bag always had a silk tie or two. Always unbelievably beautiful. Always quietly shared. This continued for years. And to this day, virtually every tie I own comes from him. And his tie guy. And before every early-morning interview in some darkened TV studio, before I went on-air, I’d pick another one from my collection and slowly put it on, silently reflecting on my father-in-law’s lifetime of gifts.
Second, he lived for our kids. Becoming a grandfather was the joy of his life. One look at his face when the kids showed up was all we needed to know. His schedule - ritualized, methodical, clockwork, like the career comptroller he was - got set aside whenever we came to town. He used to tell Debbie he could play bridge with his friends anytime. But he couldn’t play with the kids all the time.
So when they were over, his time - all of it - became theirs. And he used that time so well - leaving them with countless moments they will forever cherish. Imprinting on them, in his quiet, monolithic manner, the importance of family, of knowing who the centres of your universe were. And he was, and is, the centre of theirs.
Third, he lived for his wife. It was obvious to me when I first came into the family that he and Zelda were, in a word, bashert. Fated. Meant to be together. But like so many facets of Irving’s life, it wasn’t overt, or obvious. It was subtle, in the margins, in the way he said her name. Zel. Deferred to her when questions had to be asked and answered. Looked at her when he thought no one was looking. But we were looking.
When Zelda got sick, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. This was way more than chauffeuring her to every appointment, dialysis treatment, or procedure – which he did ceaselessly. Or running errands for her while she was in treatment. He ran the entire show, shouldering the burden quietly, doing whatever it took. Day, night, whenever. We worried about him. Endlessly. But he shook it off. Because it just had to get done.
And that’s the Irving we knew, loved, and will always remember. The one who was there. Who always stepped up. Who cared for, looked out for, provided for, everyone around him - his brothers, his wife, his daughters, me, his grandchildren, his shul, his community. Who never complained. Who just got it done. Quietly. Subtly. Thoroughly. With kindness. Like the unassuming paper bag, filled with insanely lovely silk ties that told you everything you needed to know about the man who had chosen them.
Needless to say, I hit the father-in-law jackpot. As I look around the room today, I know there isn’t a person among you who wasn’t touched by him in some seemingly small - yet fundamentally profound and lifelong – way. May we all lead our own lives with such passion, grace and dignity. Thanks, Dad.

Another sunset, albeit someone's missing

Heavenly performance
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I’ve been shooting sunsets from my late father-in-law's 12th-floor condo all week.

It still feels surreal to be using “late” to describe him, still feels surreal to be staying in his home without him, still feels surreal to not have him around to review the results of each shoot when I rejoin the rest of the fam.

Oddly enough, it almost seems as if the sky has been putting on a bit of a show for us this week, with random cloud formations floating into view each evening just before the lights go out for good.

While sunset-shooting newbies might fret at the prospect of the sun being blocked, anyone who’s stared at the horizon enough times knows a messy sky can make for some unpredictably spectacular results. The reflections, colors, and patterns can be, in a word, awesome. Assuming we take the time to be there to observe them.

And so it was this evening. In a house overflowing with visitors, I slipped quietly away just before sunset. Because I had no idea what was going on in the skies to the west, but I suspected it would be worthwhile, and I knew this was one family tradition among so many that I just wasn’t ready to let slip away.

Thankfully the skies this time were indeed cooperative, and the multicolored scene that played out on the other side of my lens – I call it “Solar Power” – made me glad my in-laws were so supportive of my photography almost from the moment Debbie first started bringing me home for dinner all those years ago. Little did any of us know where the journey would take us, and what we would all see along the way.

#laval #montreal #yul #quebec #canada #photography #sunset #orange #sky #cloud #weather #wx #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #Nikon #nikonphotography #nikon_photography #dslr #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The last before photo

Angled to the sky
London, ON
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
When someone dies, the world for everyone who mattered to them is forever divided into befores and afters. Moments, conversations, trips, photos, you name it, they all become permanently categorized based on whether they occurred or were experienced before or after the phone rang and the terrible news was shared.

This is a before photo, taken on a lunchtime walk through a faded-at-the-edges neighborhood near my office. I had never been here before, so I was paying particular attention to the tiny details that made this corner of the city memorable. It had been a good day so far, and I recall feeling somewhat relaxed for the first time in months.

I obviously spoke too soon, because the phone rang not too long after I took this shot.

It is both comforting and frustrating to look at it now. Comforting because I'm pleased with how it came out, all cool geometry and texture and color and all that. Frustrating because it's now a moment frozen in time, and I feel powerless that I can't simply jump inside it and redirect what happens next. Doesn't work that way, I know, but when the very pixels are inches in front of you, you still wish.

My father-in-law enjoyed my photography, and we often spoke of the craft, my experiences within it, what I shot, why, and what I might tackle next. I never got to show him this specific shot, yet but by virtue of its timing, it will forever be indelibly stamped with his memory. Something tells me he'd have smiled at both the photo, as well as its significance.

#ldnont #london #ontario #canada #random #urban #downtown #horton #street #photography #building #architecture #architecturephotography #design #buildingporn #architectureporn #blue #sky #lines #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Tracks melting in the sun

Connected steel
Dorval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
The scene: The @viarail train station near Montreal's airport. Travellers swelter on the crumbling asphalt platform under a brilliant late-morning sun as they wait for the Toronto-bound train to pull in. Departing planes cross the brilliant blue sky so closely that we can practically see the pilots' faces through the flight deck windows.

Our two youngest are heading home today. They have their own lives, jobs, responsibilities back in London, and not even one family's grief stops the rest of the world from doing its thing.

Big brother Zach and his fiancee Michaela have come along for the drop-off because that's what the Levy Sibling Squad - the delightfully close group formed by our kids and their significant others - does. They banter endlessly with each other while they wait, the sound of their effortless conversation like music to my exhausted ears. They're wonderful kids. I'm not biased.

Noah watches me closely as I raise my camera, approach the platform's edge and size up the scene way down the track. The yellow safety line is set comfortably back from the track, but he nevertheless warns me to keep my feet well behind it. "I'll text Mom right now," he says with a smile on his voice. He's a sweet, caring boy.

He's also very correct - Debbie has taught him well - so I of course obey before quickly snagging this shot. Almost immediately, the train materializes out the heat-distorted air, and the kids say their final goodbyes.

None of this has been easy for them, but they've navigated the week with a grace that's prompted friends and strangers alike to gush about them to us. They've been our light amid darkness, and watching them share their final words in a tight, spontaneous group hug makes me realize, again, how lucky we are to have them.

This picture? It's just a snapshot to freeze this moment in place. Because moments like this, in the end, are everything.

#montreal #dorval #yul #quebec #canada #via #viarail #train #trains #trainspotting #trainstagram #rail #travel #monochrome #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #canon #canon_photography #canonphotography #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Friday, June 21, 2019

A candle nobody wants

In the flickering light
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
My eyes snap open at 3:30 a.m., my messed-up brain spinning too quickly to allow for sleep. Or even rest.

The memorial candle that's supposed to burn for the full 7 days of shivah - the traditional week of mourning that follows a Jewish death - flickers its cruel red light onto the living room walls, never failing to remind us why we're here, or what we've lost. As if we ever needed a reminder at all.

At 3:34, I reach for my smartphone and decide a spontaneous middle-of-the-night photo shoot is in order. I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine my father-in-law smiling at me, quietly encouraging yet another round of Carmi ridiculousness.

It hurts that I'll now have to use my imagination to see him, because he would have laughed at the irony of me shooting a candle meant for him. But no one said this life thing - or the way it ends - would ever be easy.

I think of what happens after the candle burns out a few days from now. What this room, which for so many years formed the backdrop of so many unforgettable moments with him, will be like when it is no longer being painted by the dancing, red-tinged light. I worry we'll lose the memories when the light eventually flickers out for good.

And then it hits me: This is just a room. This is just a candle. The walls, the light, like my current bout of sleeplessness, are ephemeral, mere placeholders for whatever memories they once spawned. Even after this place goes dark, after we carry out the last box and sell the place to some as yet unknown stranger, how brightly those memories burn in all of us will remain entirely within our control.

I think of our kids, now safely back home, and smile as I realize that light already burns brightly within them. Both he and my late mother-in-law, who embraced grandparenthood in ways you wish every kid could experience, lit quite the fire within all of us.

None of that disappears when a mere candle gets snuffed out. Memories of those who mattered are far more powerful than that.

Now, if only sleep would come.

#laval #montreal #quebec #canada #judaism #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Difficult sunset

End-of-day via smartphone
Laval, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
This is the scene I used to shoot when my mother-in-law was still alive. As the setting sun painted the sky multiple shades of orange, salmon and pink, I'd run out to the 12th floor balcony and grab the moment before returning to the dinner table. She'd quickly scan the raw pics on the camera's screen, nod her approval, and we'd go back to eating. She got me.

We didn't do big family meals here with my father-in-law, at least not in the same way. But I still pointed my lens westward whenever the sky decided to put on a show, and still shared the results with him when I got back inside. It was a bittersweet continuation of one of many strange little traditions that over the years had indelibly fused me into the core of this family. He got me, too.

So it felt normal - amid a period that feels anything but - to wrap my hands around my DSLR and have a little photographic fun while the house was full of visitors. The setting sun was casting colorful patterns through the cloud layers and onto the interior walls, and I thought to myself, "Myself, this is why I shoot."

So I timed out from the chaos, hefted my DSLR and did what Irving and Zelda would have wanted me to do. Although this is merely a test shot from my smartphone, they doubtless both would have wanted to review my screen and nod their approval before we all went back to the routine of being a family. Of being us.

#laval #montreal #yul #quebec #canada #photography #sunset #orange #sky #weather #wx #jewish #judaism #tradition #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Pillar of strength

Hold me up
Montreal, QC
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
This unassuming pillar facing an unassuming parking lot normally wouldn't merit a photo. But this isn't just any place. It's the funeral home, Paperman & Sons, sadly familiar to any Montrealer.

Like anyone with deep enough roots in this city, we've been through here countless times. Sometimes for other families, other times for our own. We all have stories connected to this place, and as much as we never want to be here, it feels strangely comforting to have it in our community.

And as I waited outside with the kids while Debbie finished up the arrangements with the funeral director, it dawned on me that I hadn't ever taken a picture here.

I wrestled with it for a bit. Was it even appropriate to do so? Was I violating some kind of sacred yet unwritten rule? I had no real answer, but I thought back to my father-in-law, who always seemed to enjoy my somewhat irreverent approach to photography.

Over the years, I spent many a visit with him reviewing my latest work on a laptop or a smartphone screen. He always had something to say about every shot, along with recommendations of what I should shoot next.

When he was in the hospital these past months, I kept it up. I knew he was there, deep down, and I didn't want to miss a chance to show him something new and weird. He always enjoyed that, and I knew it brought him some sense of normalcy.

Which largely explains this pic, the kind of unassuming-yet-somehow-meaningful placeholder type of photo that he had always encouraged me to take.

Something tells me he would have liked this one, as well as the story behind it.

#montreal #yul #mtl #quebec #canada #paperman #funeral #home #jewish #judaism #tradition #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photography #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Wishing for canine simplicity

Off to her buddy's house
London, ON
June 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
When the planetary merry go round spins too quickly for me, I often retreat to the simplest of things. And as any dog owner knows, this is as blissfully simple as it gets.

Calli Finnegan Levy is hardly simple, and I'll probably never figure out what's going on between those delightful little ears. She's a sharply smart dog who seems to understand everything around her, even if her stubbornness prevents her from actually listening to us most of the time.

But while the dog may be complex, her life is not. She snuggles. She plays. She hovers over her people when she knows something is up.

This chapter of our family's journey was and is very much on her Schnauzer radar. From the moment the phone first rang with the news about Debbie's dad's passing, she wouldn't let us out of her sight. Somehow, she knew.

She knew we were dropping everything and running. She knew her people were kinda sad. She knew we needed her more than we already did. She knew she needed to step up.

So when a dear friend offered to look after her before we hit the road, she was especially sweet as we loaded her into the car. When we got to her house, she greeted her like the best friend she's been since the day we brought her home. Pure joy from a pup despite the turbulent world around her. It was a necessary and heartening reminder of what we hold onto when things get rough.

Simple, but not really. Because there's a lot going on in the midst of an impossibly kind soul, whether it belongs to the dog you see here, or the friends who have surrounded us with their amazingness ever since this entire journey began.

Good dogs and good friends. Sounds like a great foundation for a well lived life, doesn't it?

#Calli #CalliTheSchnauzer #LittleMissCalli #dog #puppy #schnauzerlife #schnauzermini #schnauzerpuppy #minischnauzersofinstagram #schnauzersofinstagram #minischnauzer #miniatureschnauzer #miniatureschnauzers #minischnauzers #schnauzergram #miniatureschnauzersofinstagram #schnauzers #dogsofinstagram #instapuppy #actofdog #pets #family #everything #ldnont #london #ontario #canada @schnauzer_planet @schnauzerworld

Friday, June 14, 2019


Always there
London, ON
June 2018
This photo originally shared on Instagram
If you've followed me for any amount of time, you likely know my wife's dad has been seriously ill, and she's moved heaven and earth to do everything possible for him.

Earlier today, we got the call that no child ever wants to get: He passed away.

On the one hand, he was 85. His health challenges in recent months have been overwhelming, and it's safe to say the life he was leading wasn't the kind of life anyone would ever wish for.

But still.

He's her dad. I called him dad.

He was larger than life from the moment 11-year-old Carmi first met him on his front porch on an early summer evening. It was years before I would even meet Debbie, and I delivered their paper over the summer while Debbie was away at camp.

He stood out from other customers. Always had a smile and a kind word. Always took the time to talk to me - remember, I was 11, and the sight of the paperboy coming to collect the week's subscription was usually enough to send homeowners scurrying behind their curtains.

He never scurried, and I always looked forward to the friendly man in the friendly house on Harvard Avenue. Years later, he welcomed me into the family with that same kindness as Debbie and I figured out the universe had plans for us. I hit the father-in-law jackpot. I'll miss him tremendously, and I'm far from the only one.

The coming days will be chaotic and hard, but we'll do what we've always done. Because that's what he taught us.

Thanks for the lessons, dad. We are who we are because of you.

#ldnont #montreal #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Tiny mountains of foam

London, ON
May 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
As a kid I played more with the boxes than the toys they held. As an adult, the boxes continue to hold a certain appeal.

We had just finished shooting a series of videos at work and were breaking down the equipment when I noticed this on the inside of one of the equipment cases. Cameras, lenses, lights and the like are both expensive and fragile, so they're surrounded by lots of soft foam.

It didn't take long for me to fixate on the repeating egg crate-like pattern, another trivial moment in a life spent largely trying to elevate the trivial to something more.

Because even the small stuff, like protective foam, matters more than we might initially think. Because zooming into the minutiae makes it easier to set aside, for a few fleeting moments, the overwhelming weight of a life that at times can feel like it's barely under control. Because when you add up all those small moments, pauses, and reflections, you end up with something bigger than the sum of all these seemingly trivial parts. Because wonder is everywhere.

A beloved writing prof of mine once told me to find inspiration in the margins. I'd like to think I'm carrying his lesson forward.

#ldnont #london #ontario #canada #stilllife #macro #closeup #repeat #pattern #texture #monochrome #photography #google #pixel2 #teampixel #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

Saturday, June 01, 2019

London's icon turns blue

Echoing her surroundings
London, ON
March 2019
This photo originally shared on Instagram
I've lost track of how many times I've stood on the sidewalk to take a photo of this particular building*.

One London Place is our city's tallest building, and for years stood dominant atop our deliberately modest skyline. She's being increasingly hemmed in these days by an accelerating tall-building building boom in the surrounding neighborhood, but she'll never lose her spot as this city's central beacon.

As such, she has quite the influence on anyone who cares about this city. She signifies home, as well as what makes us unique. Nothing here sets height records, or rivals the forest of super-tall urbanity of major Canadian centres like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal. And that's the point. We're a bit smaller, quieter, more humble, more likely to reflect what's going on around us rather than draw attention to ourselves.

So on this otherwise unassuming lunchtime walk, I peered into the sky for an unfamiliar look at a familiar old friend, to see what she was up to, and how she chose to reflect the city.

Doubtless the next day she would look different again. Which explains why I keep returning here.

#ldnont #ontario #canada #onelondonplace #519ldn #519london #downtown #office #building #architecture #reflective #mirror #architecturephotography #design #buildingporn #architectureporn #streetphotography #mirror #urban #photography #canon #canon_photography #canonphotography #photooftheday #instagood #nofilter #nofilterneeded #lifeinthemargins #family #everything

* Here, here, and here.