Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blog Out Loud


Yesterday, I talked about Twitter and the things that I like about using the service (I use the term service in the same sense that I think of my phone as a service, in that it's a tool for communication. Only Twitter is free). Twitter is one of the ways that I keep in touch with my community.

Another way that I keep in touch with my community and members in it is through the blogosphere. I follow bloggers from all over the place, but more and more I'm starting to follow the bloggers in my city. Some of the local bloggers that I follow—regularly or occasionally—include the following:


I also take peeks at the blogs of some of my local peeps: notably, the blogs of @bnjmnwood, @hellokaitlin, @MissCharleston, @ALL_CAPS, @sherrilynne, and so many more.

So it's no surprise that when I heard about Blog Out Loud, I wanted to go.


What is Blog Out Loud? Well, as the event's organizer, Lynn "Turtlehead" puts it, it's an opportunity for Ottawa bloggers to get together and share their favourite blog posts of the past year. Photo bloggers share their best pictures. There will be more than 20 bloggers reading their posts over the course of the evening. Lynn says that Blog Out Loud is like the BlogHer conferences, but on a much smaller scale. And Blog Out Loud isn't aimed just at women (although the lineup for this year might indicate a heavy bias).

The event, which will be held next Thursday, July 7, at The Prescott (379 Preston Street at Beech), runs from 7–10 p.m. and is free (a $2 donation is appreciated).

I will be participating at the event. Though I was hoping to read one of my blog posts, I have been given the honour of hosting the event. All my years at Toastmasters have prepared me for the position of MC, and I'm really looking forward to greeting the bloggers and introducing them to the audience.

So if you're interested in getting to know your local bloggers and want to be entertained with some great blog presentations, mark the date on your calendar and we'll see you there.

I predict that the next day, there will be more followers for these bloggers. I also predict lots of posts about the event.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The 5 Things I Like About Twitter


When I joined Twitter, last September, I did so reluctantly. Actually, I was told by the missus to do it, and being the obedient husband that I am, I complied unconditionally.

Or so the story goes. That's my story, your honour, and I'm not changing it!

Last September, Lori went to Taiwan for a couple of weeks, on business, and she figured that if we were connected through Twitter, we could contact each other quickly; faster, she thought, than through e-mail. Cheaper, she thought, than a text message from the other side of the planet.

It was a great idea. Only, Lori never Tweeted, except for when she was at a Starbucks or at the various airports, using the free WiFi wherever she found it, which only happened at the beginning and end of her trip, and only once or twice while she was in Taipei. I was duped, I thought: in the two weeks that Lori was away, I tweeted far more times than she did; being more of a socially networked kind of person, I reached out far more than she did. In the two weeks that Lori was away, she may have tweeted five or six times. Her only connections were her brother, my sister, our neighbour, and a few CBC peeps.


When Lori returned to Canada, she stopped using Twitter. She didn't tweet again until six months later, on her second trip to Taiwan, and even then she only tweeted two or three times. Since September, I can count the number of times that Lori has used Twitter on both hands, and still have a couple of fingers free to tweet.

But that's okay. I don't mind. It's not like I'm going to tweet her. We talk all the time. We use the phone, e-mail, texting, and good ol' facetime. We have no problem communicating.

Meanwhile, I'm addicted to Twitter. I use it all the time. If I have a computer running, Twitter is running in the background. If I'm mobile, I have my iPod and (now) my iPhone (actually, I've passed my iPod on to S, who is happy to run down the battery by playing Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies). With my iPhone, I'm always connected.

Being a social person by nature, it's only natural that I would fall in love with Twitter. I've already stated on several occasions that I suffer from FMS syndrome—the Fear of Missing Something. But here are a couple of reasons why I find it hard to tear myself away from Twitter:

I meet interesting people—Since I began blogging, I've been following other bloggers, and because I was interested in their blogs, be they informative, examples of good writing or photography, or just plain entertaining, it was only natural that I start following these bloggers on Twitter. Reading the blogs has been great, but it's Twitter that makes me feel connected to these fellow writers; especially those who have followed me back.

I get instant news in my community—I follow a lot of Ottawa peeps because I find that there's no faster way to get the news that matters to me. Through Twitter, I first learned that there was an outdoor water ban in my neighbourhood. I learn where traffic is snarled, through accident or otherwise. I know if there's a fire in my neighbourhood or along my route to work. I first heard about the explosion at our neighbourhood high school through Twitter. I get up-to-date weather notices. I know about festivals and other special events. Twitter keeps me informed much more quickly than any other news source. And being such a news hound, this reason alone keeps me on Twitter.

I get entertained—There are lots of people on Twitter that tweet humourous one-liners. Twitter is the cheapest comedy club. There are a handful of such peeps that I follow. They provide a quick laugh that doesn't distract me any more during my work day than, say, a colleague that arrives at my desk, when I'm busy, just to see how I'm doing or to engage in idle chat. I would say that these peeps take far less of my attention, because I read the 140 characters (or less), laugh, and then move on. On a stressful work day, these kinds of peeps are the best because they don't put any demands on me and remind me that life is to enjoy.

I feel like I'm in a room with the world—I've already said that I'm a social person. I like to get out there and meet people, to mingle. And through Twitter, I feel as though I'm at a big party, and virtually everyone is there (true, only those on Twitter are there). But because some of my real friends are there, I feel that I can stand there and listen in on a conversation, overhearing tidbits of dialogue, or join in and give my two cents to whoever wants to listen. Through Twitter, I've had exchanges with people in my community and from around the world. I have spoken to people no more or no less known than I am, and I have also spoken to celebrities and politicians, and they have responded. Among some famous people that I have engaged in Twitter exchanges are Ian Rankin (@beathhigh), Kate Kelton (@katekelton), and John Cleese (@JohnCleese). I have tweeted my city's mayor (@JimWatsonOttawa) and he has always responded. I have asked my local CBC weatherman questions (@BlacksWeather) and he has always answered; I've sent him pictures I've taken and he has used them on television. My sister, who is a huge Twitterbug (@msjconnolly), and I have chatted more frequently in the last 10 months than we have in the last 10 years (she lives in another city, so we don't get together often). It's been great.

I feel free to "speak" my mind—If you know me or have spent any time reading my blog posts, you'll already know that I speak my mind. But what you may not know is that when I write my posts, there are governors. I write, I pause, and then I read. And sometimes I edit, clean things up, take things out. Sometimes, I look at what I've written and say to myself, "Yeah, maybe I shouldn't say that." On Twitter, I tend to tweet exactly what's on my mind at the time. I don't sit on it. Sure, there are some tweets that I type and then schedule for a post at a later time, but those kind of tweets are the announcements of a blog post or a promotion for my book. There may be three to five of these tweets a day that I prepare at once. The rest is just me diving in. No governor. Whether that's good or bad, I have yet to learn. But I love the spontaneity of Twitter. I love tweeting my mind.

So there you have it: my top five reasons why I love Twitter. If you're on Twitter and don't yet follow me, please do. I tend to follow back (as long as you're not a spammer or lurker, or you don't try to sell anything). If you aren't using Twitter, give it a try. But be warned: you may become hooked, like me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Never Beyond Hope & Something To Say

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On the final day that I was planning to reveal the seventh and final clue for my Where In Ottawa contest, I am happy to announce that I have a winner. It seems that I have something to say, after all!
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The location is the Hope Chambers building, also known as Bible House, at 61 Sparks Street—right next to the post office, the site of my second contest location (not planned, it just happened that way). Congratulations to Steph Piche, a.k.a. Voiceless Wonder.
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Here is a breakdown of the clues:</ br>

  1. Above all Hope—as the name of the building suggests, it is the original location of booksellers and stationers, James Hope & Sons. The carving in the photo stands atop (above) the building.
  2. 4 lions below—on either end of the building are doors, which are covered with flat awnings that are adorned with lion heads.
  3. The home of a good book?—Bible House. Need I say more?
  4. Seen by a Queen—the queen, in this case, is Queen Street, one block south. I first spotted the Hope Chambers building by accident. My girls and I were wandering downtown on the weekend of Doors Open Ottawa. When we were walking back to our vehicle, I stopped to change lenses on my camera at a gap between two buildings. I just happened to look north and saw, for the first time, the statue atop the Hope Chambers building, and the Bible House engraving. I started shooting.
  5. An old time highrise—built in 1910, Hope Chambers is Ottawa's earliest highrise building.
  6. Holy reading room!—Hope Chambers used to house the Christian Science Reading Room, which apparently gave its name.
I hope that you're up for more challenges. For my next contest, I'm branching out. Look for Where In The World, coming soon.

Nothing To Say


It had to happen eventually. I have nothing to say.

And so, I'll leave you with a photo instead of words. This is one of the pictures that I took on the night that I lost my cell phone. I have to admit: if I was going to lose my phone somewhere, this was a great place to lose it.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Green Cake Day


Monica wasn't my mom. We weren't even blood relatives. But to say that she had a big influence on me is a gross understatement.

No, Monica wasn't my mom. She could never replace my own mother. But I always thought of Monica as mom away from mom; her house was my home away from home. When I was at her house, hanging out with my best friend, Stu, Monica always made me feel like I was part of the family. Always made me feel welcome.

I was invited to family dinners, whether eating in or going out. I was welcomed into the house for family movie night, eating cherry ice cream and laughing at bad films.

When Stuart's birthday came around, I was always invited over for cake. It was always the same cake: Angel food cake with a light-green frosting and tiny, multi-coloured sprinkles on top. That cake came to Stu every year that I knew him, growing up in his Parkwood Hills home. I came to expect it. I think that if any other cake showed up on the dining room table, I would have sworn I was in the wrong house.

That cake wasn't reserved for Stuart alone. His sister, Susan (Susie, or Suze, as I know her), also received a green-frosted Angel food cake; and because Suze and I shared the same birthday, I would often be invited to partake in the celebration and cake.

I loved that cake. And because I always associated Angel food cake with Monica, to this date I cannot think of eating one without thinking of Monica.

Three years ago today, July 25, after a sudden and brief illness, Monica passed away. I was with Stu and Suze when they said their goodbyes, honoured to be with the family in their most personal moment.

I still think of Monica, remember her down-to-earthness, her practical sense, her care for those in her life, and what a wonderful lady she was. She was a great mother to her kids—loved them unconditionally. And She was a wonderful mom away from my mom.

Today, on the third anniversary of her death, my wife and I stopped to remember Monica. We wanted to pay tribute to her in some small way. And so I thought: cake. Green cake.


Lori shared in the green Angel food cake only once, but she thought that baking one would be a nice gesture. And so she pulled out her baking pan. Made frosting. I offered her advice, telling her to add more blue and yellow food colouring until the shade was just right. Until the amount of coloured sprinkles was just right.

I have only ever eaten this cake at times of celebration, so we celebrated the memory of Monica. My girls remember Monica, of course, but I told them stories of the times I spent with Stu and his family. Of how I was made welcome. And of the warmth I felt when I shared in the cake.

Tonight's cake was for you, Monica. It was just how I remembered it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Write, Then Write Some More


You know, I really shouldn't complain. I'm a lucky guy.

As some of you know, I sent my book to a publisher earlier this month, and I'm crossing my fingers that it will be in the bookstores later this fall. I'm over the moon about this. Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary has been on my plate for almost 10 years (my full-time job and two kids took precedence) and it's nice to know that it's finally getting out there. Soon.

When I sent the book to my publisher, I sort of forgot that they would be reading the book and providing me with an editorial assessment. A comprehensive review of how they feel the flow, pace, structure, plot, grammar, and other elements of the book work: what they feel is good and how they think areas can be improved. The publishers want to help me reach the book's full potential, and I really appreciate a professional opinion of my work.

Last week, I received my assessment, but because I was so busy at work I didn't have a chance to look at it until the weekend, and wasn't even able to start addressing the recommendations until Tuesday.

I found the feedback quite eye-opening. Most of the feedback was positive. The editor particularly liked the characterization and dialogue. For the most part, the editor liked the structure, plot, and pace of the story. I was happy to receive this news. I had worked very hard on the main characters—heck, some of them are based on actual people that I knew when I lived in South Korea.

The editor did, however, suggest that I change a few things, such as the initial introduction of some characters, some clarification of certain descriptions, and some of my choices in punctuation and italics. All good points. The editor also suggested that I consider revising the ending, and I agree. One of my friends, who read the rough drafts diligently when I posted them online, also felt the ending wrapped up a little quickly. And so I'll rewrite the end.

I'm also going to make some changes that weren't included in my story's evaluation, but that in light of a recent development in my personal life I feel I must do. I don't want to get into specifics, but I'm going to write a character out of the book. It's an extremely minor character who adds no value to the story, and so he's gone. Erased.

And so I write some more. Songsaengnim is not done. I thought I was done, was looking forward to moving forward, towards the sequel, Gyeosunim. But no, not yet.

But I'm not complaining. Not really. I'm lucky to have fresh eyes evaluate my work, eyes that want to help me make my novel the best it can be. And so I welcome these changes and look forward to the work ahead of me.

For those of you who have already purchased and read my e-Pub version from Amazon or received your copy directly from my blog site, I thank you. All I can say is for you to keep that version. It could become a collector's edition (it won't be worth anything, but it might be nice to say that you own the first printing, should it become successful). When the new version is completed and becomes available, and if you would like to read it, contact me and I'll send you the new version, free. We'll work out those details when the time comes.

Because I'm going to want to devote as much of my writing time to making revisions, I may not blog as often. I may post more pictures than text. But I won't abandon my loyal readers. I've been working on a book review of my own: three authors that I follow on Twitter, whose books I have read and on which I have performed my own evaluation. Look for these reviews to be posted sometime next week.

And so, I write. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eating BVR


It's called the Barrhaven Vietnamese Restaurant. It's not exactly what you would call a creative name, not like the Cam Kong, or Nu Pho, or any of the other Vietnamese names. The sign outside simply states what the establishment is: a Vietnamese restaurant, in Barrhaven.

What the restaurant lacks in an elegant name, it makes up for in the quality of the food. It is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in the city. The vegetables are always fresh; the grilled beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp, always scrumptious. Among the favourite dishes are the shrimp summer rolls, the vermacelli bowls, and the wrap-n-roll platter—grilled meats, chopped and shredded veggies, and rice paper, ready to assemble and pop into your watering mouth.

The service is friendly and fast. The ambience is warm and inviting. The washrooms, immaculate.

The Barrhaven Vietnamese Restaurant is, by far, the best restaurant in the community. More formal than a family restaurant (though it is kid-friendly) but not quite fine dining. Just perfect.

Except for that name.

The father had a problem with that name. When he spoke it, he felt not so much like he was calling it by its name but as though he were discribing the type of restaurant it was. It's a Vietnamese restaurant, in Barrhaven. The lighted sign atop the front of the restaurant blended in with the rest of the signs in the strip mall. Simple colours, blue, red, and yellow. Its name, Barrhaven Vietnamese Restaurant, was prominent. To the far-left of the sign, the initials BVR seemed to suggest that the name could also be shortened, much like KFC. Yet the BVR was miles above any KFC.

The father looked at the initials. He spoke them aloud. "B-V-R." And then he blended them: "B-vr." It sounded like beaver. He wasn't crazy about the name. It made the restaurant sound Canadian, and the name B-vr didn't fit with a Vietnamese restaurant. Not even one in Barrhaven.

But, for lack of a better name, B-vr stuck with the father. When the family was hungry and they wanted to eat out, the father would say, "Let's go to the B-vr." And everyone in the family knew what he meant. Eventually, the whole family started using the name.

The best thing about going to the B-vr was that the whole family loved it. The kids were young, and being typical young children, they were fussy eaters. It was often difficult to find a restaurant that pleased everyone and didn't involve rotisserie chicken, or burgers and hot dogs. The kids loved fresh vegetables, especially shredded carrots and cucumbers. They loved the vermicelli, the grilled meats, the rice paper. If they would be allowed to drink the hoisin sauce, they'd guzzle the bottle.

And so there was never any problem bringing the family to the B-vr.

And so, on a cold, winter's day a few years ago, after the family had been running errands and were running behind in lunch, they passed the B-vr and the mother suggested that they go. It would be faster than getting home, deciding what to eat, and cleaning up afterwards. And there were more errands to run.

Everyone agreed, and so the father pulled into the parking lot.

Being winter, the youngest child was moving slowly in her snow suit, and so the mother and older child dashed into the restaurant to stay warm and to secure a table. Not that there was any risk of finding a seat. It was a late lunch, and it was the dinner hours when the B-vr filled up.

Once outside the vehicle, the father and youngest child made their way across the parking lot, hand in hand. The child was only three, and so the going was slow, but that was okay. The father loved walking with his children, feeling them grip his hand.

The child spoke up: "Daddy, have you ever eaten beaver?" Being too young to read, the child heard "B-vr" and, natually, associated it with "beaver." And because of the young age of the child, grammar wasn't perfect.

But the father heard "have you ever eaten beaver" and his mind, forever joking and playing with words, sunk to a level unbefitting a father. He smiled, and after a pause answered, "Every chance I get."

The child paused, processing the information, weighing the father's response. "Good," the child said, "because when I grow up, I'm going to eat beaver too."

"As long as you're happy and safe, that's all I care about," replied the father.

The conversation was over, both satisfied with the outcome. No matter how different the understanding of that conversation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Only A Product


All right, just calm down. Don't get excited.

This post is sort of addressed to all my friends who I told I would never switch over to Mac. I'm a PC guy, have been for decades. Not because I feel that it's a superior product. Not because I like giving money to Microsoft. It's just what I started with, what I had been exposed to more, and what I'm comfortable with.

And it's not like I've never used a Mac. Back in the late 80s, when I worked for The Low Down to Hull and Back News, in Wakefield, Québec, I wrote my stories on a Macintosh. It got the job done. To me, a computer is a tool: as long as it gets the job done, I'm happy. I don't want to have to figure anything out. I don't care about code. I don't care to configure.

Sometime, in the early 90s, my friends seemed to split into two camps: Mac lovers and PC users. There was a clear distinction: those who owned a Mac loved their Mac; they were hooked on the brand. They sang its praises. It wasn't a computer; it was the answer to all of their problems.

Give me a fucking break. It's just a machine.

Those who owned a PC were content with a PC. Sure, sometimes the software would screw up, but by and large it did its job. No one that I know ever got excited about their computer, were never hooked on a brand. I don't know anyone tattooing the Dell or HP logo on his or her arm.

Because I was more familiar with my PC apps, I stayed with a PC. At work, we use PCs. I'm in familiar territory. I have never fallen in love with my computers. Sure, I love the portability of my netbook. I love the big screen and the fingerprint recognition of my home laptop. One's a Dell; the other, an HP. I'm not tied to a brand.

Last year, for Father's Day, I received an iPod Touch. It has been very handy. It has some shortcomings—I can't slap in an SD card and share files with other devices; there's no Flash capabilities. But for what I wanted, it fit the bill. It's fine.

When I received the device, some of my Mac friends joked that I would be hooked and would want more Apple products. My iPod was a stepping stone to an iPad, perhaps even a Mac.

Get real, I would say. It's only a product. It's a glorified MP3 player. Sure, I can check e-mail and use Twitter. I can surf the Net, but I rarely do because the screen is just too small to make reading enjoyable, even if you zoom in on the text.

This weekend, exactly one year after I had my iPod, I lost my cell phone. I liked my phone: it would slide open and I had a full qwerty keyboard for texting. It wasn't a smart phone; though it had Internet access, I had no data plan and never checked my e-mail on it. For me, it was a phone with good texting capabilities and a camera. It was a good complement to my iPod—or should I say vice-versa. I had the phone first.

I was two months shy of completing my contract on my phone, so I was planning on upgrading my phone anyway. And for the past couple of months, I've been looking at smart phones. And, dare I say, I was leaning towards the iPhone.

Not because I'm an Apple convert. My iPod crashes more than my PC—so take that, all of you who have said that Apples are stable. They're not. No, I was considering an iPhone because my iPod was okay, and I was used to how it works. And also, I would be able to easily move my apps from one device to the other. As I said, I hate frigging around with technology, trying to figure it out. It's a tool, and I just want to use the bloody thing.

And so, yes, I bought an iPhone 4. It's fine. I know what to expect.

But, my Mac-loving friends, this is not a sign that I'm moving over to Apple. I will never own an iPad. I will never purchase a Mac. Because I still like my netbook. I'm content with my laptop.

A friend recently told me: Bill Gates only wants your money, but Steve Jobs wants your soul. Whatever. They're only businessmen, trying to sell their products.

And, after all, these are only products. Don't get so excited.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where In Ottawa, Round Three

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It's been a while, but it's back. The third installment of Where In Ottawa starts today.
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The first person who correctly identifies the Ottawa landmark in this post will win one of the following prizes:</ br>


The contest will close as soon as the location is sent to me as a comment to this post. Sorry, no tweets.
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Here's the photo:
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Good luck!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Signs Of Life


It's a beautiful, sunny day in my neighbourhood. As we say goodbye to spring and hello to summer, I thought I'd share what's growing in our garden, despite the outdoor water ban.







Of course, flowers aren't the only signs of life in our neighbourhood...


Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 17, 2011

What's In A Name?


This was harder than I thought!

I spent a good deal of time last night, trying to come up with a new title for my blog. One suggestion that was sent to me, Mostly Harmless, came very close but, as much as I love Douglas Adams, I didn't feel right stealing his discription of Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's bad enough that I use it in my bio for Twitter.

I wanted something to sound official, so that if I ever found myself at an event and needed a media pass, I could say "I write for... (insert official-sounding news title here)." I almost used the name for my original blog, but Lori put her foot down on that one. And so we brainstormed.

The Brown Knowser it is. I love the play on words. It makes me glad that my name is Brown.

What do you think?

Thanks to those who sent in suggestions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On The Edge Of The Abyss

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I don't know how to start this post.
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And that's not often a problem for me. Usually, when I set out to write a blog post, I have an idea how I want to start it and basically what I want to say. I just start typing and as I go the words tend to come so quickly that most of them are gone by the time my fingers catch up. More often than not, what I plan to write doesn't actually make it in my post because my thoughts are fleeting.
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An express train of thought, with no stops along the way. And often, as I'm sure you're aware, it's more like a train-wreck. My express-train-wreck of thoughts. Hence the subtitle.
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And now a side line: I want to change the title of this blog. The Other Blog was cute for maybe the first day—and maybe only cute to me. But now that this is my primary blog, I need something more substantial. Two weeks is long enough to be content at leaving the title where it is.
</ br>
So let's continue with this particular train of thought, shall we? I really did have a different idea for this post, but bear with me a little longer, would you? Maybe two more paragraphs.

</ br>
Let's have a little contest. I'm considering renaming this blog My Train-Wreck of Thoughts. If you like that title, let me know. If you have a better title, let me know. If I prefer your suggestion, I'll choose it and you'll win. If you like my title, I'll enter you in a draw and will randomly pick a name for you to win either A) a copy of Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary (your choice of PDF or e-Pub format) or B) a random pick of one of the books in my library (by another author—I'm clearing out books*).
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You have until Friday, June 17, 2011 (this Friday) to provide either your support for my proposed title or one of your own. Let the best title win!
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And now back to my main train of thought.
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I'm pretty sure that you've noticed this year that I've written a lot of posts. A lot. And in the month of May, I wrote a post every day, whether I had something to say or not. I'm sorry if that annoyed you, but I've found the more I write, the more I think. And when I write something that I think is worthwhile, I hope you've enjoyed it (I can see that I'm going to end up apologizing for this post).
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And ever since I handed my manuscript for my book off to the publisher, I've felt a tremendous weight lifted from me and I feel that I can move on to other things: namely, the next book. I have been working on it and I hope to have the rough draft of the first chapter finished by the end of this month. As some of you know, part of Chapter 1 has been posted online for a year.
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I've been writing so much, lately, that I'm starting to get into trouble. From Monday through Friday, I work at my day job. As some of you know, I'm a technical writer (translation: technically, I write). I enjoy my job, for the most part. I always try to give it my best, and I almost never miss a deadline. I have a good rapport with my co-workers, with the developers, testers, trainers, and customer-support people. And not only do I admire and respect my manager, I like him too. When he's not my boss, I think of him as a friend.
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So work is good. Sure, I get frustrated sometimes, but that's par for the course. Show me someone who is content with his or her job every single moment and I'll show you a substance abuser. Or someone who never interacts with another person.
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While I like my job, I no longer love it. I look forward to putting in a day's work and then getting the hell out. When I leave the office, I don't give it another thought until I wake up the next morning and remind myself why the alarm went off at such an inhumane hour.
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When I leave the office, I start thinking about my blog and what I'm going to write about. I've started getting panic attacks, afraid that if I don't post something for you to read, you'll move on. You'll stop following me. And though my following is small, I value each and every one of you.
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And so, after work, I start thinking about tomorrow's post. I get home, greet my family, have dinner, clean up, spend some time with my girls, and put them to bed. Once they're in bed, I fire up my computer and start my next post.
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Lori's not pleased, and rightly so. I mean, on Mondays and Tuesdays she works late, is busy on a conference call to Taiwan. We don't spend a lot of time together—and anyway, Tuesday is supposed to be my Toastmaster night, though I tend to blow it off more and more in favour of finding a place to sit and write (just like I'm doing right now, writing this post). On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I take the kids to soccer, and write my post while Lori either watches TV, without me. Missing my company. And so it goes for the other nights of the week
</ br>
In May, I wrote a post every day. That was a record.
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Rightly so, Lori resents the fact that I spend more time blogging than I spend with her. Even on weekends, I end up at the computer in the evening, hammering out my next post.
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I know that I can't continue like this. Either my marriage will fall in jeopardy, my job will start to suffer, or I'll never sleep (lately, more than five or six hours is considered luxury).
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I feel as though I'm standing on the edge of an abyss. I feel I'm on the edge of a dramatic change. And I ask myself: do I step back from the edge, turn to safety and write less, or do I leap off and see what happens?
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Will my family support me if I leap? Will my employer support me if I jump?
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And will you follow me, no matter what?
</ br>
</ br>
* I'll give the winner a choice from the books I'm clearing out. The book will be in excelllent—but not new—condition and will be a book that has been written in the last couple of years. I have pretty good taste in literature, so don't think I'm scamming you!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Can't Touch This... Oh Wait, You Can


Every year, it seems that we get closer to realizing the visions of Gene Roddenberry. The technology of Star Trek is the technology of today. Mobile phones from communicators (don't tell me the flip phone doesn't bear a striking resemblance); transporters (at the sub-atomic level, for now); antimatter (I know, it's not technology, but it's something that we only talked about until recently); touch-screens (more Next Generation than Roddenberry's original vision, but he was still ahead of the times)*.

And now we have touchable holograms. Observe...


Mark my words: within 10 years, there will be holodecks opening up in Tokyo.


* Yeah, I know. This post reveals the geeky side of me. I apologize for nothing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Way To Lose A Shopper, Drug Mart!

WTF, Shoppers Drug Mart??

This weekend, I went to my mailbox and retrieved my latest assortment of bills and junk mail, when I came upon the following advertising that had my name and address on it.


What makes them think I'm the kind of guy who A) colours his hair, and/or B) needs to colour his hair? That's one mighty big assumption that this company is making.


Granted, I'm 46. But I'm a pretty young-looking 46. I've been told that I could pass for someone in his early to mid thirties. That's probably because, most of the time, I act like I'm 12.

I rarely shop at SDM. The only reason that the company has my name and address is because several years ago—either before my oldest kid was born or shortly afterwards—I went to our neighbourhood drug store to purchase passes for the Ottawa Tulip Festival, and I was told by the cashier that if I signed up for their rewards card, I could earn an immediate, substantial discount on the festival passes. And so I filled out an application (I don't remmeber providing a birth date, but whatever), received my rewards card, and got my discount. I then went home and cut up the card. I never used the card to earn any rewards points.

I find that for most of the things I need from a drug store, Shoppers is much more expensive than my grocery store. In the decade or so since I received my rewards card, I've maybe shopped in the store a dozen times. And ever since SDM joined the other moronic companies who have no business selling groceries, like Wallmart and Canadian Tire, I take my business elsewhere.

Shoppers Drug Mart doesn't know me. But they seem to think I'm a greying man who is self-conscious of his appearance and desperately wants to hide underneath artificial colouring. And they seem to think that I will use the coupons they just sent me with this mail to buy the product from them. Well, SDM, I don't have many grey hairs, but I earned every one of them. Even if the grey covers my entire head, I'm staying natural.

Thanks for the coupons, but no thanks.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Undercover, Among The Uncovered

It's nice to see that what I learned in journalism school still holds true: act as though you belong and no one will bother you.


I can be cheeky too, but not like this.

I first heard about the Underwear Affair a few months ago. I had seen posters for it in Westboro. It's a worthwhile cause: a 10-kilometre and 5-kilometre run to raise money for all cancers that strike below the belt, such as ovarian, prostate, and testicular. Runners hit the courses dressed in their underwear to raise more awareness for the cause.

When I learned that one of my Twitter peeps was running in the event, I was more than happy to make a donation. I also started looking into the event, and learned that there was a pre-race party and costume contest. Curious, I grabbed my camera and headed to Carleton University.

At first, I was a little shy and didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I strolled nonchalantly through the crowds of scantily clad people, taking the odd picture from a distance. When I spied more photographers with similar equipment, asking runners to pose for them, I became more confident that I could ask the same.

When I shot one group of women, they asked me where they could see the photos, and I gave them my business card. And so, ladies, here you go:


Outstanding, ladies!

It was only a short time later that a woman carrying a clipboard approached me and asked which media outlet I was affiliated with. I could almost see the security folks escorting me out, confiscating my SD card (actually, it's been so long since I removed the card that I wouldn't be surprised if it's fused into the camera).

I was honest with her. I told her I wrote an Ottawa blog. I gave her my card. I told her I was interested in covering the event for a post. And then, to give myself a little more credibility, I said (and I'm sorry for using you like this, guys), "Have you ever heard of OttawaStart?" She had. "Sometimes, my stuff appears on their site."

So there. I told the truth. My conscience is clear. But I still expected to be thrown out.

Not at all. Instead, she told me that I should have a media pass because, otherwise, someone might try to stop me. She led me to a tent, gave me a pass to wear around my neck, and offered me a press kit, which I took with thanks.

And then I continued to shoot pictures, confidently, knowing that no one would stop me. One photographer asked me who I was with. My answer: "I write an Ottawa blog." Nothing more needed to be said. I had a media pass.

I didn't stay for the whole event. I stayed for the contest for best male costume, best female costume, and best superhero costume. But then the rain started to fall and I had to get to another event anyway: a family dinner. But here are a couple more shots. And I have put the rest on my Picasa Web album.


Hmm... I wonder how they'll place...


Not exactly where I expected to see pole dancers, but I'll take it!


It takes a lot of something to wear this outfit in public.

When I returned to my neighbourhood, I remembered that another race was being held; one that went very close to my street. I pulled over, grabbed my camera, and started shooting.


The Barrhaven run for Rogers House. Proper dress required.

And no media pass required.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sunset In The Capital

I'm taking a short writing break. Here's a picture of the War Memorial, at sunset on Tuesday, with the Chateau Laurier.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Train-wreck Of Thought: Where Did Everybody Go?

Well, my readers have spoken. Scratch that: they haven't spoken, and that was a message that I received, loud and clear.
</ br>
Last week, I called on you to send me questions, to ask me for an opinion, for advice, or for answers on any topic, and I would respond in whatever way I thought best. I'd tell you what I knew. And what I didn't know, I'd make up.
</ br>
I take it, by the lack of responses, that you're not interested. Fair enough.
</ br>
Feel free to send any questions to roland_axam@yahoo.ca whenever you want. I'll add the Ask Ross post whenever. I've got time. I'm not going anywhere.
</ br>
Speaking of going anywhere, on my morning commute I asked myself, "where did everybody go?"
</ br>
On days that I awake early and ride the bus to work, I'm a creature of habit. My alarm goes off at 4:45 and I perform my morning ritual of getting ready and getting out the door by 5:25. I've been performing this routine for years. Only recently, my routine changed slightly when the transitway extension opened and I was able to walk to a station that is closer to my house, but that sets me off in the opposite direction to get to.
</ br>
In the weeks that I've been walking to this bus station, I've come to expect a couple of things:</ br>

  • I will talk past a couple who are out on a morning walk. The husband always says "hello" as we pass; his wife, her face half-shielded with oversized sunglasses, never seems to acknowledge my presence.
  • At the station, there are up to a half-dozen people waiting with me. Two, who are always there: a young woman with long blond hair who almost always wears the same long, white dress; an older gentleman, who always says "hello" and also gets off the bus at my stop, always follows me into the Starbucks.

The walking couple weren't on the path. I can usually see them coming from about a half-kilometre away, but they were nowhere in sight when I finally reached the station. At the station, the woman with the dress wasn't there (she's always there before me); nor did the man show up. I received no "hello" this morning.
</ br>
I recognized only one person at the station. He and I never seem to acknowledge each other. I'm guessing, like me, he's not a morning person.
</ br>
The bus seemed less-filled than usual. Was there a holiday that I didn't know of?
</ br>
As I approach my stop, I anticipate a man standing at the stop, wearing a 24 Hours smock and distributing copies of the morning paper. He wasn't there.
</ br>
I went into the Starbucks this morning. Yes, after five days without coffee, I stopped for a cup. A small one (or should I say "tall"?). After noticing an absence in my morning ritual so far, I needed the comfort of something familiar. Also, I just needed a cup of coffee.
</ br>
At the Starbucks, there are also people I expect to see:

  • A woman, about my age, sitting at the table closest to the front doors, wearing the same white t-shirt, drinking a large (venti) moccha frappaccino, reading a newspaper.
  • A youngish, 30-something man in a dark business suit, chatting up the barristas, his BMW SUV parked outside the front doors, four-way flashers flashing.
  • Another 30-something man, wearing shorts and technical tee, a fair-sized, looped earring in one ear, backpack and bicycle helmet strapped to his back, his ride securely attached to the bike rack, attending his grande cup, dumping excess coffee into the trash bin and replacing the gap with milk.

None of these folks were in Starbucks this morning. Not one of them. Only one of the two barristas that usually greet me was in this morning.
</ br>
Was my schedule off? No, it was 6:11. I was right on time. Where was everybody?
</ br>
I drank my Pike Place, ate my scone, and then continued to my connection in front of the Parliament buildings.
</ br>
As part of my four-minute walk, I expect to encounter certain people:</ br>

  • A homeless man, not far from Starbucks. His grubby backpack leaning against an office building, a hat that is never placed on his head, lying upside-down, one or two coins collected. He often sips from a Starbucks cup, and I wonder if he had to pay for that or if it was generously offered by the barristas. A prestigious choice, considering the Tim Horton's that is kitty-cornered from where he sat.
  • Another 24 Hours paper carrier, offering the latest edition to folks at the bus stop a block up from the coffee shop. He always proffered one; I always declined.
  • Three women, who looked to be in their late 40s to early 50s, their government ID badges hanging from wide-banded lanyards about their necks, passing by me at steady intervals, always with cigarettes between their fingers or between their coloured lips, the smoke and stench of nicotine lingering behind them.
  • The commisionaire, looking tired, either on his way to work or, I assume by the dark circles under his eyes, home, after a long, late-night shift.

Again, not one of them appeared on my short walk. Instead, I passed only one person between Starbucks and Wellington Street: a middle-aged woman, with a government ID card, but not one of the three that I "knew." And she wasn't smoking. I didn't even see the regular joggers pass me as I stood at the bus stop. I felt as though I had stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The infrastructure of my commute was the same. Only the familiar details, the elements that made for milestones along the journey, were gone. It unnerved me.
</ br>
I'm not a morning person. I don't like to interact with people, don't like to speak, don't like to do anything that my body hasn't automated for my commute. But it's when certain details—the people with which I try to avoid interaction—are gone, I know that my routine needs these people.
</ br>
Without them, my morning doesn't feel quite right.
</ br>

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mind Flood, Part Two

For Part One, go here.

Last week, after I left the office, I walked down the block to the corner Esso station, where I bought another sheet of STO bus tickets. I was completely out, and without tickets I couldn't get home. And it had been a long day—I wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

The lineup at the counter in the station was unusually long. An elderly lady was buying lottery tickets and decided that she'd strike up a conversation with the clerk, despite the people lined up behind her. I grew nervous, fearful that I would miss the bus. Depending on when it came, and how quickly I could purchase my tickets, I could either catch the bus when it pulled up in front of the Esso or sprint to where I usually catch it, near my office, while it cut through the subdivision behind us.

While I stood in line, I noticed a man looking at me. He was a couple of years younger than me and was dressed in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts. I felt a little uncomfortable being stared at, but I could easily ignore him. There were magazine and newspaper covers that I could read from where I stood. But then he spoke.

"Excuse me," he said, "is your name Ross?"

"Yes," I said, looking him in the eyes. I had no idea who he was, but his eyes seemed friendly, they looked at me with widening recognition.

"Oh my God, I can't believe it's you. It's me, Rick: Rick..." he gave me his last name. "I dated Sue..." he gave me her last name.

Sue: Laura's sister.

Memories flooded back. Rick dated Sue when I was working at the camera shop. For a brief time, Sue and Laura both worked in the store. Rick's sister, Pia, also worked in the store. It was like a family-run business. I remembered Sue. She was pretty, and knew it. To me, she couldn't hold a candle to Laura, who was drop-dead gorgeous but didn't have a clue about that, wouldn't have believed it if you told her each and every day.

I remembered Rick. "How the Hell are you?" I laughed, the memories coming back. The last time I saw Rick, he was in his teens. He was an adult now, and now that I remembered him he hadn't changed much. A little grey in the hair. More filled out. He looked good.

My bus came and went, but I didn't care. I was being treated to a blast from the past. Rick, when he learned that I missed my bus, offered to drive me wherever I needed to be. Normally, I wouldn't have wanted to impose, but I wanted to know what had become of everyone, so I asked him to drive me to where I could catch my connecting bus to get home. It was only about ten minutes out of his way. Rick, still being a good guy, was happy to oblige.

Rick still kept in touch with Laura and Sue. Both were now living in St. Catherines. Laura had been married, but was now single, with four sons. Sue was doing well, but Rick spoke so quickly and I was remembering Laura that I missed some of the information. I think he said that Sue was now a lesbian, but he mentioned some other names that I didn't recognize that I could be mistaken.

Pia was ill. It didn't sound good. I told him to give her my love. I gave him my business card—the one with my mobile phone number, personal e-mail address, and blog address—and told him to pass my contact info on. That I'd love to hear from Pia and Laura. Especially Laura.

And so the memories of Laura came back in a flood. A mind flood.

DISCLAIMER: this post, in no way, shape, or form, should be interpreted as any expression of regret with the life I live. I love the way that my life has unfolded: I'm happy with my career path, I love my home, I adore my children and am thankful for them every day, and I worship my wife, without whom I would be hopelessly lost. I wouldn't change my life for the world.

This post returns to a time before my life really started. It has nothing to do with the now. Think of it as fiction, even though it's
not.
When I returned to the camera shop as a full-time employee, I learned that Laura was gone, and my heart sunk. She had left the store to focus on her studies. She had moved on. It was time that I did the same.

I threw myself into my job. I gave it 100 percent. I focused on developing my photography skills so that I could not only sell cameras with more confidence, I could pass my knowledge on to customers, when they were examining their prints, so that they could take a better picture next time. Photography surpassed my main passion, writing. I still wrote fiction—Roland Axam started coming to life during this time—but I never left my house without my camera.

I found my confidence waxing. I was losing my shyness—yes, I was shy once. Not with friends and family, nor with customers. My shyness came when I showed interest in women. I would never ask anyone out because I was afraid of being laughed at, afraid of rejection. I was convinced that I wasn't good enough to win the affections of anyone. But with my job at the camera store, working five days a week with the public, talking about a subject I loved, I gained lots of confidence. I wished that Laura was around to see this newly confident young man.

And then, one day, my wish came true.

The store had expanded, had moved into a new location in the mall. The photo lab, which was previously crammed into a corner of the old, drab store, was now in a bright, black-and-white-tiled, climate-controlled room. A large glass barrier separated the lab from the rest of the store, so that customers could see photo technicians working diligently, turning film cannisters into stacks of memories, printed in vibrant colours. Many people would come into the store and would stand at the glass, watching the pictures come out of the printer, viewing a disconnected story, in stills.

I finished up with a customer and noticed someone standing at the photo lab window. Even from behind, I knew who it was. It was Laura. She was looking at the new lab, trying to make eye contact with her former colleagues. She didn't see me step behind her, didn't notice me inching closer to her ear.

"Hello, Gorgeous," I said in a near-whisper, so that only she could hear. Laura turned, looked at me with those laughing eyes. Her face lit up and she did something I never expected, not in a thousand years. She wrapped her arms around me, held me in a tight embrace. I held onto her just as tightly, as though I was never going to let her go. Though it was only for a brief moment, the hug seemed to last an eternity. Everything else came to a standstill.

"You're back," she exclaimed, pulling away, "what happened?"

"The newspaper didn't work out," I told her. "And Cesar took me back."

"I wonder if he'll do the same for me," Laura said, "I'm looking for work."

"I'm sure he will," I said, "he's always looking for experienced help, especially in the lab."

"I'd like to work out on the floor," said Laura. "I could work both, if he needs the help."

Me and Laura, working side by side. The non-existent entity was smiling upon me. This time, I wouldn't shy away. I would find the right moment and ask her out: maybe for a drink at the end of a shift. Baby steps.

Laura, of course, had a boyfriend. Laura's boyfriend, of course, was perfect for her: tall, dark, and handsome. My below-average height, light-skinned, and goofy-looking appearance were no match. No amount of confidence could rival a match like Laura and her boyfriend.

I gave up, resigning myself that Laura and I would be, in the best-case scenario, friends.

And as we worked more and more together, we did become friends. We shared what was going on in our lives outside of the camera store. As things turned out, we did go out for drinks after work. We both joined the company baseball team and would see each other on the weekends and evenings, at the games. Laura would even turn to me, asking me for advice when she and her boyfriend seemed to be on the rocks. And when they eventually broke up, Laura turned to my shoulder to cry on.

But while Laura was now single, I was dating someone who worked in the mall. It wasn't a great relationship, but the young woman from the clothing store and I enjoyed each other's company. Translation: we were having good sex.

When the sex wasn't enough to keep the relationship going, we broke up. I was single again. Laura, however, was not. She was in a new relationship.

And so, over the years, it went that way. Either Laura was dating and I was single, or Laura was single and I was seeing somebody. Laura and I were always in a relationship; just not with each other. We were cater-cousins: no matter who we were with, we always found time for each other, were always there for one another.

Once, while we were sitting in a bar, having drinks, Laura asked me: "We always seem to be dating people. How come you and I never got together?"

Was she frickin' kidding me?? "Timing," I answered, trying to keep my cool. "Bad timing."

"I think that if we ever find ourselves single at the same time, we should give it a try."

"Deal." We shook on it. I casually sipped at my beer, trying to supress my enthusiasm. I was single; she was not. But that could change.

Laura's interest in photography grew, and she and I would often take time together to go out and shoot photos. We'd always have a theme: churches around town; timed exposures (usually at night, with stars moving around stationary backgrounds); flowers; foggy days. We went out countless times. Sometimes, our respective partners accused us of having an affair on the side. We never seemed to care what our boyfriend or girlfriend thought.

Once, when we were thinking up a theme for our next photo "date," I joked that we should do nude photography. "Would you model for me?" I asked Laura. I expected either a punch in the arm or to see those laughing eyes roll back in her head. Instead, she paused, and said, "Maybe. It would have to be tasteful."

My heart skipped a beat. "Of course," I said. "We could drive up to the Gatineaus, hike up into the woods. Have you, au naturel, in nature." Let what happens happen, I thought, but didn't say. I was single at the time; she was not.

Sadly, it never happened. Maybe she was joking when we talked about it. We never locked down a time to do it. On the weekends, when it could have happened, either the weather was bad, we were too busy to go out, or we were playing baseball. We talked about it a couple of times, but when I started seeing someone new, Laura thought it wouldn't be a good idea. She had no problem, despite having a boyfriend, but she didn't think my new girlfriend would be as open to the idea.

And then there was a time when I was dating one woman who I thought could be the one. We talked marriage. We talked children. I told my girlfriend that if we had a little girl, I'd want to name her Laura. At first, my girlfriend seemed uncomfortable with that, but she knew that Laura and I were close friends—my girlfriend even liked Laura herself—and so she agreed to the name: our daughter, if we had one, would be Laura Elizabeth (see how long I've been carrying that name?).

This girlfriend lasted for a whole year. We eventually broke up over differences in fundamental beliefs, which arose when we started seriously talking about getting married. It was a bad breakup, though in time we did and still do remain friends. But when we broke up, I jumped straight to another woman, one with whom I worked.

And no, it wasn't Laura. She was in a serious relationship. No, I started seeing a woman from Hell... that's another story: it's somewhere in my archives, but I can't find it. Perhaps I even deleted it, not really wanting to remember that girl. Laura knew that this girl was bad for me. All my friends knew she was bad for me. She was the rebound chick. But we lasted almost five months. I broke up and had to fire her only a few days later. Again, another story.

A week after that breakup, Lori and I started seeing each other.

Lori and Laura hit it off the first time they met, and Lori wasn't worried, concerned, or jealous of the special relationship that Laura and I shared. But things between Laura and I started changing too. Laura and her boyfriend were getting serious. Lori and I were getting serious. Laura and I didn't see each other as often; when we did, our significant others were usually with us. Not always, but often. And Laura left the camera store again, to start a new career.

Laura was leaving town. I was sad to be losing one of my best friends, but we promised to keep in touch. On her last night, she and I got together, alone. We pretended it was just another outing, that it wasn't the last one. We got teary at times, but we remained cheerful. She told me that she was happy to embrace her future but was sad at what she was leaving behind. I said I was sad to lose her, but was happy for her. And I told her I was happy with Lori, that she might be the one.

At the end of the evening, Laura and I went for a drive. We didn't talk much. We passed my new apartment, where I had just moved in that day, and I invited her in, just to show her where she could find me if she ever returned to Ottawa for a visit. Boxes were stacked everywhere. The bed was not made—I was going to be staying at my folks' place that night. There wasn't much to show: just the view from the balcony, which looked down at Hog's Back. We stayed for a few minutes, still not saying much, and then I drove her home.

I got out of the car with her when we reached her place. This was it. I looked into her eyes; they were glistening, not laughing so much. We embraced, arms tightly around each other. We kissed. "I love you, Laura," I told her. "I love you too, Ross," she said. We held on a few moments more, and then she pulled away, turned, and walked towards her home. I got in my car and pulled away, never looking back.

What was the point of this story? Are you disappointed that the guy didn't get the girl? Don't be. I'm not. You see, Laura and I knew each other longer than any of the people we dated in the years that we worked in the camera store. And while girlfriends and boyfriends came and went, our friendship held fast, endured emotional ups and downs. If Laura and I had started a romantic relationship, I doubt it would have lasted. In those years, we weren't into long-term relationships. Not during that time in our lives. Sure, we didn't get into each other's pants, and believe me, I wanted to. Instead, I think that what we shared was special, beyond sexual gratification. We were getting that from other people. The important stuff, up in the head and the heart, was there.

On that level, I got the girl. Not forever, but for long enough.

Last week's meeting with Rick brought back these memories. My brain was inundated with good times, of the friend I loved, of the laughing eyes.

I hope they're still laughing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mind Flood

DISCLAIMER: this post, in no way, shape, or form, should be interpreted as any expression of regret with the life I live. I love the way that my life has unfolded: I'm happy with my career path, I love my home, I adore my children and am thankful for them every day, and I worship my wife, without whom I would be hopelessly lost. I wouldn't change my life for the world.

This post returns to a time before my life really started. It has nothing to do with the now. Think of it as fiction, even though it's not.

***

I fell in love with Laura the moment I saw her. It was something about her eyes, the way they laughed. She had laughing eyes. They were always happy. When she actually laughed, her joy was infectious. And I will always remember the smile on her face, the electric-red lipstick on olive skin, and the glowing white teeth.

To say that Laura was gorgeous was a gross understatement. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Any woman that would come close to matching Laura's beauty did so by way of airbrushing, the final editing in a glossy fashion magazine. Those women weren't real. Laura was real. Pure and natural beauty.

I watched Laura, in wonder, from the far end of the camera store where I worked. Laura was visiting the shop, not to process a roll of 35mm film or purchase any camera equipment. There was no picture frame on the far shelves that was worthy of holding her image. But Laura was in the shop for a specific purpose: a job interview. I, myself, had only been hired recently by the store's manager, Cesar. Cesar was on a hiring spree. He had stolen me from a paint and wallpaper store in the shopping mall—he had been shopping and stopped to watch me serve another customer, and when I was finished and asked him if there was anything I could help him with, he said that he liked my salesmanship, liked the way I treated customers as though they were special, and he wanted me to come and work for him. And now he needed a lab assistant—someone to process film—and it looked like Laura was his prime candidate.

Laura and I were hired so closely together (the camera store was nation-wide), that our employee numbers were only five numbers apart. I was employee 5513; she was 5518.

Though I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, I never acted on my feelings. I was a dopey, somewhat geeky kid in his early twenties. I was skinny, not athletically built, with pale skin and hair that never cooperated. She was a year or two younger, had a shapely, feminine figure that also looked like she worked out; her shapely Portugese heritage shone through; her long, wavy brown hair hung seductively. You would look at me and look at her, and then think to yourself, these two do not hang out together. I would have to be contented with admiring Laura from afar.

For a couple of years, we worked together: Laura in the photo lab; me, behind the front counter. We would talk when I brought her processing orders. We would share laughs with the rest of the staff. But we never talked to each other as friends, though we did respect one another. It was clear to me that she liked me, but only on a professional level.

I left the camera store in a very unprofessional manner. While I was working there, I was attending journalism school, and upon graduation I started seeking a newspaper job. The camera store was only a part-time position. Cesar knew that I wouldn't stay forever. But when I found a job, working for The Low Down to Hull and Back News in Wakefield, Quebec, the publisher and owner asked if I could start right away. His previous reporter left without notice and he was in a bit of a lurch. It would mean a lot if I could start the next day. I agreed, thinking that when I went into the camera store later that day, I would talk to Cesar, give my notice, and negotiate some hours that didn't conflict with my new job and yet wouldn't leave Cesar in the lurch that the reporter had done with my new employer. I was starting a new career, after all: the camera store offered me a meager income while I attended my studies, which were now over.

Later that day, I arrived at the camera store, only to find that Cesar wasn't in. To make matters worse, he had already posted the new staff schedule, and the hours given to me were in direct conflict with my new job. The assistant manager was working the shift with me, and I explained my situation to him. And this is where I erred: I listened to him. The assistant manager told me to just leave Cesar a note, saying I quit. To not bother working out a schedule; he and Cesar would work it out. And so that's what I did.

Cesar was not happy. In his eyes, I betrayed him and quit without notice. He had been good to me—he really had—and this is how I returned his kindness. For a long time afterwards, Cesar had nothing nice to say about me. I know this because I ran into Laura one day, a few months later. She looked as beautiful as always, and her eyes laughed as she told me that she missed me, but Cesar did not. I missed Laura immensely, but didn't tell her so. I wanted to say that she and I should get together some time, have a drink, but I never did. I didn't have the right, was my thinking.

I lasted about four months at the paper. To me, the paper was more interested in filling ad space, more interested in pleasing readers, more focused on collecting revenue from classified ads, than in reporting news, implementing cost-cutting ideas, and in streamlining production. My boss saw me as undisciplined—I refused to answer the phone with the full name of the paper, followed by "Ross speaking" (I simply said "newsroom"), and it drove him nuts to see me reclining in my seat, with my feet on the desk and the keyboard on my lap, even when I was busily hammering out a story and was at my most productive when I was this comfortable. We met once, trying to meet some concessions, but when it was apparent that my employer wasn't going to change, I walked out (but not before demanding that he pay me in full).

I quit the paper without another job to go to, so my aunt helped me get a job cleaning carpets. For those of you who don't know what that job involves, let me tell you: I drove from location to location in an industrial, mobile shop vac. I cleaned office carpets, household carpets, and restaurant carpets. The worst assignments I had were cleaning the vomit, spilled drinks and trampled gum off of a pub floor and cleaning an abandoned house that had its own dog room, where the carpet was covered in thick hair and feces. I kid you not!

One day, while I was on a lunch break at a McDonalds, lamenting this god-awful job, I was waiting in line when I heard someone next to me call my name. It was Cesar. I remembered Laura's words from several months before, of how Cesar was so mad at me for leaving with a pathetic note taped to the cash register. In the line up, Cesar spoke to me with a soft, friendly voice. He asked me how I was, looking me up and down in my dirty jeans and t-shirt. I told him that the reporter job didn't work out and that I was working as a carpet cleaner until I got back on my feet.

I'll never forget his words. I get a lump in my throat just remembering those kind words that Cesar spoke: "Come back to me." How could he forgive me for leaving him the way I had? He told me he understood, that he knew that writing was my passion. I told him photography came a close second. He said that he was currently looking for a full-time salesperson. He knew that I was a good salesman. He remembered that I was good with customers.

Later that day, when I finished my shift with the cleaning company, I told them that I wouldn't be back. I had no qualms about walking away from that job. By far, it was the worst job I had ever undertaken. The next day, dressed in a suit and tie, I visited the regional manager for the camera company. It was a short interview: Cesar told him that I was wanted. The regional manager knew me. It was a formality.

When I returned the next week, to start my first shift, I learned that Laura had left the company. She had gone to study. She had moved on. My heart sunk. I would never see the world's most beautiful woman again.

I would never gaze into those laughing eyes again.


To be continued...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Taking A Caffeine Break

On Sunday, after my second cup of coffee, I made a silent decision to take a break, to give up caffeine for a couple of days.

drink coffee do stupid things faster energy

I drink a lot of coffee. I find it hard to pass a Starbucks, Bridgehead, or Second Cup without treating myself to a hot, caffeine-infused beverage. I drink so much coffee that I'm beginning to think that it might be a contributing factor to my ever-increasing frequency of migraines. I experience one a couple of times a week; a debilitating one about once a month.

And so, as of 11:00 on Sunday morning, I had my last cup of coffee. Yesterday was a little difficult; I had cravings in the morning, but by lunchtime they passed. By mid-afternoon, I would have given anything for a cup. Those of you who follow me on Twitter heard me whinging throughout the day. After dinner, Lori was preparing dessert and turned on our coffee maker. She asked if I wanted a cup. I did. I really did want a cup. But I paused, took a couple of deep breaths and said, "No thanks. I'm taking a caffeine break, as opposed to a coffee break."

It was the toughest No I have ever spoken.

This morning, on my commute to work, it was all I could do to avoid stepping into the Starbucks that I pass on my way to my connecting bus. But I was strong. I kept walking.

I haven't decided how long I'm going to go without a coffee. I want to take a couple of days to get the caffeine out of my system (I have no idea how long that takes), and then I might limit myself to a cup a day. Or maybe one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and that's it. I'll see. The big test will be tomorrow, when I work from home. I make a wicked cappuccino, and I usually have more than one. I'm going to have to resist.

Have you ever taken a caffeine break? How did it go? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forward Thinking

Those folks at the City of Ottawa Traffic Control Department are brilliant. Not only is their department among only three cities in the world that manufacture their own city signs and traffic lights (the other two are London and Los Angeles), but they also test their reflective signs for all kinds of vehicles.


I just hope the drivers at the bottom aren't the ones I hear screaming down Fallowfield late at night.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Nights Like Tonight

So here we were, Lori and me, without the kids for a couple of hours or so on a beautiful Saturday night. What were we to do with ourselves?

Go out on the town, of course!

We didn't have a lot of time: the kids were gathered for a play date at 6:15 and we had to go and pick them up by 10:00. With no ideas and standing in our gardening clothes, we didn't have much time to plan. It was a gorgeous, late spring evening: temperatures in the low 20s to high teens—great patio weather. The sun was still several hours from setting, but that late afternoon/early evening light is perfect for photos, so after Lori had a quick shower and dressed up, I suggested that we wander to the Hintonburg area. I've always wanted to take pictures in that area, and we could then find a place to eat.

Lori agreed to taking pictures in Hintonburg, but she wanted to go to a nicer part of town for dinner. Somewhere in the Byward Market or thereabouts. She then remembered the restaurant in the National Arts Centre, Le Café.

We looked up the restaurant online, and wouldn't you know it—two can dine for $39. That seemed like an incredible deal, so we phoned and made reservations. The earliest they could take us was 8:00, which was a little tight for picking up the kids in suburban Ottawa, but it meant that we could still do the shots in Hintonburg.

Hintonburg, at this hour, was almost like a ghost town. There was very little traffic. Few people wandered the streets. We parked in front of the deserted KFC and headed east, snapping shots of the sculptures that ran along Wellington. Marble fire hydrants, atop which were items that represented shops in front of them: a computer monitor near an authorized Apple service and reseller store; a camera near a photo studio; a tube of paint near a community centre.

We wandered as far as the church, which was brilliantly lit by the waning sun. I took as many shots as I could before Lori reminded me of the time and we headed downtown.


At Le Café, we were seated at a small table, close to the Rideau Canal and closest to the northernmost end of the patio: we had an unobstructed view of the new conference centre, the government conference centre (the old train station), the Chateau Laurier, and the bridge over Wellington Street, where the canal meets the locks that lead down to the Ottawa River. On the path that separates the restaurant from the water, joggers ran by and couples strolled hand in hand. Sightseers stopped to take pictures. Out on the canal, boaters cruised lazily by. The setting sun painted the buildings in warm tones, and between courses I couldn't help but shoot some spectacular images*.


I'm going to play with the photos some more and will add them to my Picasa Web album in the coming days.

And how was the meal? Good. Excellent value. With two, three-course meals, a glass of wine for Lori and a cocktail for me, the bill came to $57.00, plus tip and tax. We couldn't have taken the kids to Boston Pizza for that price. And we certainly wouldn't have had such a picture-perfect view.

Lori and I are going to have to go out on our own more.


* I realized that until now, I hadn't added any photos to my new blog. I was waiting for something worthwhile; I hope your not displeased.