Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why I Think Ghost Bikes Should Be Exorcised

I would never tell anyone how to grieve.

I know that we all grieve in our own way and we all do what we feel is right, to try and come to terms with our loss, to remember and honour our loved ones, and to move forward.

In Ottawa, we have recently been debating the idea of implementing a limit on the roadside memorials that are left in the place of a victim who has died in that location. The memorials can include ghost bikes, crosses, and other markers. In one spot, on Woodroffe Avenue, between Carling Avenue and Richmond Road, an outline of a pedestrian stands on a life-sized board.

I'm against such roadside reminders, and I'd like to share my thoughts on why we don't need such reminders of personal tragedies. I am, however, mindful of the many people who do favour these sad landmarks, and I'm not about to tell those people how to grieve.

It's hard to drive by one of these markers and not turn your head to work, and this is one of my main reasons for opposing them: they are a distraction. In some cases, a person met his or her end at this spot because it is a tricky part of the road. It may be a curve on a remote stretch of road, where there is poor lighting at night. Someone, who may have been driving on a rainy night, did not anticipate the bend, may have had to swerve to stay on the road, and lost control. As sad as that accident is, I feel that placing a marker at that spot may cause another driver to take his or her eyes off the road. Maybe, on another rainy evening; maybe, causing another such tragedy.

I don't think adding a visual distraction is a good idea. And for that reason, I don't think that these makeshift memorials should be allowed.

What if a collision results in multiple fatalities, from multiple vehicles? Is a memorial erected for each victim? What if there is more than one form of memorial? A couple of crosses and a ghost bike? For me, that type of distraction is truly unsafe. Also, if the accident occurs at a busy, urban intersection, wouldn't the use of that space encroach on a sidewalk or pathway? Who gets to decide the type of memorials that are put in place?

When Meg Dussault was killed on her bicycle by a truck that was making a tight turn at the corner of Bank Street and Riverside Drive, in July, 2013, it was a true tragedy. It raised our awareness of the dangers of that intersection and how large vehicles tend to roll over the sidewalk in an attempt to negotiate that turn.

Personally, I felt a heightened awareness of that corner and a connection with Ms. Dussault. I have found myself on my bike, stopped on that very spot, waiting for the light to turn green so that I could continue my commute. On a couple of occasions, I have had to move for an oversized vehicle, that was turning from Bank onto Riverside, and the driver who could not negotiate that turn without putting a couple of wheels on the sidewalk.

When the ghost bike was first placed on that corner, I couldn't stop without thinking of poor Ms. Dussault.

But the site evolved, turned into more than a reminder of a tragedy, marked by a bicycle, painted a ghostly white. Ms. Dussault's husband, Paddy, placed flowers. On Christmas, he added holiday decorations. On St. Patrick's Day, green streamers and Irish bowler hat. On Hallowe'en, pumpkins. On what I assume was her birthday, balloons. A plaque, with a photograph of his wife, has been mounted onto the concrete portion of the retaining wall and bridge that spans the Rideau River.

One of three Hallowe'ens that have expired since tragedy struck this corner. Photo courtesy of CBC, accessed through Google images.
The Dussault memorial is starting to take up real estate on this corner. For me, what is one person's memorial is another person's eyesore. Now, when I see this ghost bike and all of the paraphernalia, I am no longer reminded of the tragedy that befell this intersection, almost two-and-a-half years ago: I merely wonder when it's going to go away.

For me, I wonder what gives a person the right to claim a part of public space for his or her own?

I'm not trying to tell someone how to grieve.

I'm not trying to say that Mr. Dussault is wrong for maintaining a memorial to his late wife, for decorating the bike for the third Hallowe'en since his wife's tragic end.

I do think that 29 months is excessive to maintain a ghost bike. I even think that the 90-day proposal by the city is a bit much, as I don't think these roadside memorials should be allowed at all. But that's just me.

For me, I don't know how I'll meet my end. I don't know if I'll live to a ripe, old age, whether I will suffer some health failure, or whether I will be killed in some accident, meet my demise on some roadside.

And if I should be taken out on my bicycle, in a car accident, or while crossing the road, I don't want a memorial. If someone wants to lay flowers on the spot where I die, that would be sweet, but I would want those flowers removed with the next street cleaning.

For me, I don't want to be remembered for where I died: I want to be remembered for how I lived.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Photo Friday: Goodnight, Moon

I wonder if those clever folks who erected the statue of Samuel de Champlain, holding his astrolabe to the sky, purposely positioned the statue on Nepean Point so that the famous explorer would hold his instrument toward the moon, as it rose in the sky?

Mind you, he is holding it upside-down, so who knows what he's looking for.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Impact of Words

Is it just me, or have you noticed that the people who speak on CBC have stopped using two words, in favour of another, seemingly all-encompassing one?

It's been ages since I've heard anyone—be it a host of a show or a guest—use either affect or effect. It's as though, for the people on Canada's public broadcaster, that those two words no longer exist.

In the morning, as I listen to Ottawa Morning on CBC Radio One, it's good to know that my commute will be trouble-free as I drive to my secluded office in Gatineau. But when I hear Doug Hempstead report on the traffic, and he mentions an accident or other slowdown on the roads, I get scared.

"A collision at Merivale and Fallowfield is going to impact your drive to work, this morning," he might say.

If anything is going to impact me on my commute, it had better be insured.

The word impact, when used as a verb, can mean "to have an effect upon," but that is not its primary definition. To impact means "to strike against (something)," "to press upon," "to wedge together," or "to pack together." All of these actions are physical, sometimes violent.

That impact's going to leave a mark.
The meteor impacted the surface of the moon.

Just once, I would like to hear CBC's traffic guy say, "There's a collision at Baseline and Woodroffe, which may affect your drive home."

When I listen to Anna Maria Tremonti interview an official about climate change, I wish she would ask, "What are the effects on the polar-bear population?"

But I don't. I hear, "What are the impacts on the polar-bear population?"

And I cringe.

I understand that language is evolving. But I hope that the last bastion of good English lies with our public broadcasters. They are the ones, whose voices are heard across our great country, and they should be the ones who keep the general public educated on the power of words. How they speak will have a great influence on the listeners, and can affect the way English is used.

Public broadcasters can have an impact on what happens to a word's effect. If they turn their backs on good English, we're doomed to use expressions like extra curriculars, rather than extra-curricular activities.

Oh... wait... that's already happening on the CBC.

We're doomed.

Monday, November 16, 2015


I slept a solid nine hours.

That's a lot, considering that a typical night's rest is anywhere from half that amount to six hours. During the week, I get to bed late and rise early. I don't plan that schedule but my body has become accustomed to short periods of rest.

A lot fills my head as I lay in bed. I need to sort things out before my mind can rest and let my body fall asleep.

And so, yesterday, I slept an undisturbed nine hours.

I rose, slowly, got my sore body down to the kitchen. My wife, who was upset with me for not getting up in time to go to the gym, remained in bed while I went downstairs, to check on the kids, to see if they had fed themselves.

They hadn't, but didn't seem to be suffering. Too late for breakfast, and so I prepared a pseudo-lunch of fried spinach, potato, and cheese perogies with salsa and corn. Not the most elaborate of meals, but my head was swimming from the abundance of sleep, and so it would have to do.

We were all in a lazy mood. No energy to clean or go out, and so we sat and watched episodes of Father Brown on Netflix.

And I fell asleep, again. I dozed through the episode, hadn't really felt like following along. So I lifted my energyless body from the sofa and returned to my bed.

Where I slept for another eight hours.

I didn't stir from the bed. Not when my wife asked me to do a chore. Not when she asked me to help prepare for dinner. Not when she asked me to come down to eat. I stayed in bed, and slept.

After eight motionless hours, I got up, to pee, to drink some water, and then I returned to bed, back to sleep.

In a 24-hour period, I slept 18 hours.

I needed it. I needed to recharge, needed to reset. I had been depressed all week, hadn't been myself, but yet, through the week, I carried on as though nothing was wrong. Even as I went to work, saw friends, and even performed sketch comedy in front of a crowd, tried to make people laugh, I was sad inside. Even as I dined with friends, watched Howard Jones perform at a Byward Market club, I wasn't really myself.

I don't know why my friend's death hit me as hard as it did. We weren't really that close: he lived in Toronto. At the height of our friendship, he and his family would come up to Ottawa, and we would have them over for a few drinks and a chat, or even to play a game. Sometimes, we would go out for dinner. On a couple of occasions, John and his wife would be in town for a wedding, and we would get together.

There were times when my wife and I would pay a visit in Toronto. She had known John's wife since high school, had been close, had been a bridesmaid at their wedding. We stayed with them at their home just off the Danforth, in the Greek neighbourhood.

From the moment I first met John, I liked him. He had a sense of humour that was infectious, though sometimes you didn't know if he was pulling your leg or not. But you rolled with him anyway. He always made you laugh, always had a smile, always seemed happy.

It wasn't until one of his visits to our house, in Ottawa, when I offered him a drink and he declined, that I realized that I had never seen John before without a drink. Without a bottle or glass in hand.  We were always gathered in a social setting, and a beer or glass of wine was never unexpected. It was when he made the declaration that he was limiting his consumption that I took any real notice.

Even then, I didn't understand the severity of the problem.

John didn't merely drink socially. He drank all the time. And, over the years, it was becoming a problem with his marriage, with his kids. The marriage ended after it became evident that John was continuing to drink, was refusing any help for his addiction. Over time, he withdrew into himself, pulled away from friends. His personality was changing. He was no longer that happy man.

I reached out to him, once. His birthday was three days after mine, though he was three years younger. On his first birthday after he and his wife separated, I wished him a happy birthday, by e-mail, let him know that we loved him.

He never responded.

Earlier, this year, he did reach out to me. He sent me a Facebook friend request, which I accepted. I wanted to send him a message, but I didn't know what to say. It had been a couple of years since I sent that last birthday wish. I looked at his Facebook page and noticed that there wasn't a lot of activity.

I don't know when he unfriended me, but it was only this past Friday, when I went through the painful task of removing him from my list of contacts on my phone that I also noticed that he was no longer listed with my Facebook friends.

I don't know why John's death hit me as hard as it did. Last year, in the space of one month, I lost two friends, both to illness. Perhaps it was because their illnesses, as bad as they were, were not preventable. The cancer was aggressive with one friend; the other friend had battled health issues all of his life. He could finally battle no longer.

John had an illness: an addiction. And yet, he refused to have it treated. His death was a self destruction. And, perhaps, that is why it is so hard to accept.

Last weekend, in Toronto, we gathered to say goodbye to this once healthy, creative, funny, caring, and happy person. We watched slides of him in happier times, saw some video footage that was the John we all knew and loved. His sister, in her eulogy, admitted that the John we knew has been gone for some time, that he had changed and pushed away the people who once mattered to him. Those who were the closest to him, towards the end, could see it coming, and they couldn't stop it.

In the past week, I had been too sad to write, too sad to socialize, and I think yesterday's long sleep was the culmination of emotions, of sadness and depression, and my body needed to reset itself.

I'll never forget John, will always remember the happy man. But now, it's time to move on.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Photo Friday: Stars

I think that if I lived in Hurricane Alley, I'd be a storm chaser.

We don't often get such dramatic weather in the Ottawa Valley. Sure, we see some dramatic clouds from time to time and we can have some awesome sunsets and sunrises, but nothing that you can really chase.

I look for weather phenomena, and I grab my camera when I can. Twice, this year, I've headed out at night, in search of the Aurora Borealis. One was predicted, this week, and so I got in my car after dark and headed out of town, away from the lights.

I headed to the Québec side of the Ottawa River; this time, pointing my car northwest, where the river bends northward, and the land between the river and the Gatineau Hills is wide open. I was considering going as far as Luskville, or possibly beyond, but as I drove I scanned the skies, and I realized that there would be no Northern Lights for me that evening.

Looking west, I could see the reflection of lights along the water. There was a soft glow of Kanata. And there were countless stars above me.

I pulled onto a side road and worked my way to a small, dimly lit residential area. I parked my car in pitch black, where the road ended and sand came to meet my tires. Another 10 feet and I would have driven straight into the Ottawa River.


In the dark, my eyes began to grow accustomed to my surroundings. I could hear geese and other water fowl in the waters ahead of me, but I couldn't see them. The only other sounds were the insects, not yet dormant for this late-summerlike weather, the wind through the long grass, and the occasional airplane overhead—both the commercial airliners, high above, and some small, private planes, circling low.

The Northern Lights were not on the menu this evening, but there was the glow of Kanata, the reflections off the river, and the stars.

Countless stars.

After some minutes of shooting the waterline and sky, I backed up off this beach and down the narrow road that got me there, and found my way back to the highway. Again, I continued northwest.

Breckenridge was about the farthest that I was prepared to go. One more time, I turned into a darkened neighbourhood and drove as close as I could get to the river. This road ended with a rise of bushes where I could not see the river beyond. In the dark, I wasn't prepared to explore any more. One house stood close by, a lone light over its garage alit.

Perspective for the next series of shots.

I didn't stay long. The neighbourhood was dark, as though folks were already asleep, and this time, the only sound I heard was that of a coyote, howling, not too far away.

Perhaps he was enjoying the starry sky, too?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cancer Sucks

I don't know of a single person who hasn't been affected by cancer. Whether they have had the misfortune of the disease itself or know a friend or loved one who has had it.

I have lost more than my fair share of friends and family to this horrible disease, which manifests in so many heinous ways.

But I have also known those who have fought the disease and won.

It is to these people that this month's Where In Ottawa is dedicated.

Congratulations to the person known simply as Marc, who has once again correctly identified the location for the Where In Ottawa photo challenge; this time, at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park. Built in 2008, this beautiful park is situated at the corner of Alta Vista Drive and Industrial Road.

Because cancer is a serious subject, I didn't want to make light of this place. For clues, I used lines from songs that would lead followers to this place; hopefully, without offending anyone.

Here are the clues, explained:
  1. At first I was afraid, I was petrified... --the lyrics come from the Gloria Gaynor hit, "I Will Survive." Enough said.
  2. There's no cure, there's no answer... --these lyrics come from Joe Jackson's song, "Cancer." While it's a cutesy song, the disease is anything but.
 I hope I have placed some musical earworms upon you.

This month marks the annual Movember fundraiser for men's prostate cancer. If you can, please give. You can also make donations to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Let's beat this disease.

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, December 7.
Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park.
Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What the Future Brings

I don't often look down the road or plan well in the future. It's not my thing. I like to take life as it comes to me.

(I'm not talking about retirement savings: I'm not that foolish. I've planned ahead.)

I love writing in my blog. It's been fun, it keeps me writing, keeps me snapping photos, but it also keeps me away from something that I don't want to put off any longer.

I need to think ahead, to start making plans, and the future of The Brown Knowser is part of those plans.

I published my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, more than three years ago. When I wrote it, I always planned for a sequel (actually, that's not entirely true: when I first started writing it, I intended to write one story that spanned over two years, but when I realized that doing so would make for a very long book, I decided to split it into two parts).

I need to work on the second part.

I did start writing the sequel, Gyeosunim (the Korean word for professor), and have posted about nine chapters of the rough draft since April of 2012.

I haven't posted anything since March of 2014, and since then, I have only written snapshots of the story, nothing that can be tied into cohesive narrative.

This procrastination has to stop. I have actually had people, who have read Songsaengnim, ask me when the sequel will be published. For them, I've had no answer.

And I still have no definitive answer, except to say this: I have plans, and those plans come at a cost.

The Brown Knowser.

Since January 2, of this year, I have tried to publish a post every Monday to Friday. I would spend anywhere from an hour to three hours on a post, not including time to edit photos, from Sunday to Thursday evenings. That works out to an average of 10 hours each week.

When I was writing my novel, I spent an average of two or three hours each week; sometimes, less time.

I really want to continue my blog, but I think it's high time that I finished my novel. And so, I've made plans to do that.

Starting January 1, 2016, I will spend the hours that I took to work on The Brown Knowser to finish Gyeosunim. I will write at least two or three hours a night, from Sunday to Thursday, to get this book written. As I complete each chapter, I will post the rough draft on that blog.

I'm not ending The Brown Knowser. Rather, I'm shelving it. That's not to say that I won't post anything. I may continue Wordless Wednesdays or Photo Fridays. Or something. But I won't devote a lot of time to this blog. Not until the novel is done.

The sooner I finish the novel, the sooner I'll return to The Brown Knowser. If you've ever wanted to write a guest blog post, I would welcome them. That way, you, my dear readers, would be able to keep the blog going.

I already know that the last blog post of 2015 will bring my favourite photos of the year. I've been doing that since I started this blog, and, based on viewership, you like it. But after that, there will be crickets.

And from there, who knows what the future will bring?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Where In Ottawa LIII

The year is coming to an end. Things are winding down.

And while The Brown Knowser is not coming to an end, it is winding down. If you're a regular follower, you'll know that I tend to write daily, from Monday to Friday. From the day after New Years Day, until the Thanksgiving weekend, I haven't missed a day. Over the past couple of days, I've taken a day off here, a couple of days of there.

I'll tell more about the future of this blog tomorrow.

For now, let's get on with the latest Where In Ottawa. Potentially. the penultimate photo challenge for a while. More on that, tomorrow.

Ever play Where In Ottawa before? No? Here are the rules:
  • If you think you know the location of the structure in the image, leave your guess in the Comments section of this post. Answers sent to me by Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or any other method than by writing a guess in the Comments section do not qualify for this challenge. I will not reply to any other form of guess.
  • If you were with me when I took the photo, you may not participate in the challenge.
  • If you have won Where In Ottawa in the past, you may still participate.
  • You may leave as many guesses as you want.
  • Starting tomorrow, I will leave clues to the location in the upper-right column of this post, adding a new clue each day until the challenge is solved.
  • If the challenge has not been solved by 17:00 EST on Friday, November 6, the challenge will end and I will reveal the location on Monday, November 9.
  • There is no prize for winning the challenge. You only come away with a feeling of pride, having proved that you know this city.
  • The winner will be announced at the first available opportunity.
 Are you ready? Here's the photo.

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And, good luck!