Baby and me

Laurie Penny gets me

This explains so well why I am still — after a fucking eternity of Steven Moffat — am still watching Doctor Who. (Though I must say, the new regime gives me hope for the future and I am even able to enjoy the present to some extent. Jody Whittaker is just fine; I'm still not sold that Chibnall knows what he's doing.)

Also, my baby girl learned to roll from her stomach (on which she would rather not lie) to her back last Thursday. She even deigned to do it a second time for the camera.

And no, that's not someone smoking stage-right! It's a vaporiser, spreading moisture into our bedroom's aether.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

Baby and me

Why I post here so seldom - answered?

December 21, 2019 - me, spending time with my fantastic daughter, a couple of days past her fourth month on Earth.

The photo has nothing to do with the post; if anything, I've posted more in the year or so since I found out Asta was going to enter my world, than I had in the previous several years!

No, at least in part, I blame Facebook.

Right. Nothing new there. But maybe I get why others have also blamed Facebook.

It's not so much (or at least, not just) that Facebook is a big time-suck, but how it is. It's not just the eternal scroll, as it is the Endless Options.

You can do anything with a Facebook post. You can read part of it, or click to read some more of it, or click again to read all of it.

You can respond by: ignoring it or Liking (or using one of the other half-dozen emojis) it. You can further (with or without a Like) reply to it. Through typing; through the re-posting of a meme; through a shared video; with a gif.

If you choose words, you can actually start a conversation - but the result, more often than not - is confusing and hard to follow, because Facebook's system has been designed not to thread conversations. Unless the conversation includes only two people, it can very quickly become almost impossible to know who is speaking to who or about what at any given time.

Why bother?

All of which is to say, while I was busily trying to catch-up on my LJ and DW friends' pages, I found myself pausing, wishing I could click a Like button so that I could acknowledge my appreciation of, or support for, their posts, but the idea of replying with words, seemed ... well, hard.

Sometimes, because a post is of a kind that demands and deserves a considered reply - and I don't know the poster well enough to offer it - you just don't anything germane to say.

Sometimes, I worried that what I had to say would just be trite, a cliche.

Almost every time I wanted to, but didn't, offer a response, was because it would take time. More time than the same, or an analogous, action on Facebook would take.

And Facebook has not only trained me to read fast, and carelessly, it has trained me to be lazy in interacting with others. Through both the carrot of endless things to read and look at, and the stick of labour, of craft and of thought.

So. Y'know. I'm gonna try and spend more time here. Post more. Comment more. Work more.

Hi there! Here's to the changing of the year!

If all this is as inane as I fear it might, I still absolutely deny indulging in a Perfectly Legal psychotropic substance purchased at a licensed facility mere blocks from my abode. Absolutely deny!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

Baby and me

Letter to my daughter, on her one hundredth day anniversary of your birth

Wednesday, November 28th, 2019

My darling daughter, on the morning of her 100th day on this good earth. Photo and costuming by Raven.

My darling Asta,

It will, of course, be quite a few years before you are able to read this letter and, probably, quite a few more than that before you are able to appreciate it. It will even be five or six years before you are able to simply read these words at all.

Nevertheless, I write them, for you and also for your mother and I.

Today marks the one hundredth day since you came into this world, since I saw you emerge from between your mother's akimbo thighs, all damp and slimy and gelled with blood and mucus, howling outrage at the shock and indignity of being pushed from the comfort of the womb, the only home you'd known for the nine long months of your brief life.

You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and it was all I could do not to begrudge your mother the joy of holding you against her bare chest — skin to skin, they call it, a far cry from the old days of my childhood, when babies were immediately taken from their mothers, weighed and measured before being taken out to show to their waiting fathers, then placed in a plastic [cradle???] for more examinations before, finally, being introduced to their mothers — before, nearly two hours later, I had my own chance to hold you close to myself.

How can I express to you just how tiny, how helpless, how absolutely precious you were during those first, exhausting anxiety-riddled days? How can I explain that you have, with each passing day, become that much more precious to me, and to your mother, even as you have taken up more space, grown stronger, more (dare I say it?) human?

Well, it's true. When you first emerged, you were a tiny, squalling thing — during those rare moments when you were awake and (of course) eating.

To a large extent, that is still a pretty good description of what you are and what you do. You sleep, you wake up to eat, you pee and you poo. But as time goes on, you spend a little more time awake, a little more time noticing the world around you.

I would like to say that I'll never forget the first time I saw you smile, but the truth is, I'm not entirely sure when that was. As with so much else, there is a slow transition to your actions. "Is that a smile?" we would ask each other, "or just gas?"

By the time we were certain that you were smiling at us, you had probably been doing it for a while.

And so it is, and so I think you will find it in your own life: those moments of certain phase changes, when one thing becomes another, will be few and far between, and sometimes you won't even notice when they do occur.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, you are even now only 100 days old, and if you smile when I make a funny face, if it seems you appreciate when I rock you in my arms and sing you to your surprisingly dream-filled sleep, you are still a creature that spends most of her time in that sleep, still mostly helpless (if ever so much stronger!), still an eating and peeing and pooing machine ...

Yet here it is. I don't think I can begin to tell you just how much joy you have brought to my life.

It doesn't hurt that you have been an easy baby (so far! *Daddy Zesser crosses his fingers and knocks the proverbial wood*). You seldom cry but when you are hungry. You sleep when we travel (except — of course! — when you get hungry again!) and you are not bothered when meeting new people, your cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. Not to mention how brave you were when you received those first two, shocking, needles in your tiny thighs; it was almost as if you understood we were having you vaccinated "for your own good", as parents have been excusing their cruelties since time immemorial.

But that cruelty was for your benefit, and though it pained me to pain you, I have no regrets, nor will I when we do it again in less than a month's time.

But I digress.

I am at work as I type this, Asta, time away from you of which I begrudge every minute of every hour.

But even if you cried more than you do, if you fought your diaper changes instead of cooperating, if you struggled in the bath instead of smiling and letting us wash you up and down, even if you made everything harder than you do, I have no doubt that I would still love you more than I had ever thought possible.

The ancient Greeks had the right idea when they decided that more than one word was needed where English has but one, love.

The love of a parent for a child — of your father, for you, is a reality on an animal level. I fell in love with you the moment you came into the world. (Do I repeat myself? Well, I repeat myself; I am full up, I overflow.)

That love has only grown with the passage of these 100 days I am celebrating now.

That decade of days has been the richest I can recall, and quietly every bit as intense as the halcyon days of my teenage years, when I believed I was metamorphosing from boy to man. (Little did I know that maturation is a project that lasts — at least it did for me; perhaps it will be different for you — many years beyond adolescence! At 54, I don't know that I am even now done growing up.)

And I look forward with awe (and a little dread, too, but that is a tale for another letter, or maybe, many letters, to come) to watching you grow and learn and blossom. I yearn to be there for your first tentative foot-steps, your first words, even your first No!.

But all that is the future.

Happy 100th day, my darling girl! I hope (and believe) that your mother and I have done a pretty good job in making your first three months and a bit just about as happy and healthy as possible. If your smile doesn't lie, you think so, too. Or at least, you have no complaints.

I love you desperately, daughter mine. May you live to enjoy one thousand times one hundred days, and may I see you through at least a tithe of those!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

edifice rex

Catching Up on Death, Death, and Life, Part III

Hello to Asta Djun-Rei!

Photo of Asta Djun-Rei as Mao Tse-Tung meeting Henry Kissinger, as portrayed by my adopted Panda son, Carl the Second
My infant daughter and my adopted son, Carl the Second, play Mao meeting Kissinger. Just because.

How time flies. Jesus god, but time fucking flies, it's unbelievable. And yet, it is true. I am a father, a papa, a daddy, and have been now for six weeks as of Monday at 19:59.

We had been told to expect her to arrive on August 29th, but the impatient girl had other ideas, popping into the world on the 19th, instead. Possibly the video below explains why; it was shot on the 15th by her mother and certainly suggests a child more than ready to explore the outside world.

Raven's pregnancy was an easy one. Basically no morning sickness — if I remember correctly, she told me she threw up twice during the first trimester — or other painful or inconvenient symptoms. The worst, for me, was that her already-keen sense of smell went haywire during the second and third months and, for her, that her feet swelled up quite a bit during the final month or so. I found myself giving her a lot of foot rubs but the tragedy is, she doesn't enjoy foot rubs; so she endured them as a medical necessity.

Anyway, her actual labour carried on the tradition. She started feeling the first hints of contractions on Sunday night, reporting them to me after I returned from my evening soccer game. We made sure we had our her overnight packed up and ready to go, just in case, then called it a night.

And in the morning, she told me she wanted to go to the hospital. But not before we shared a typical Cantonese style breakfast.

Labour or no labour, Raven needs her sustenance. Pictured is her breakfast, before we called a cab to take us to the hospital.

We arrived at Ottawa's Civic around 13:00 hours and were triaged pretty quick. Raven was deemed too far along to be sent home, not far enough to be admitted. Why not walk around for a while, come back in a couple of hours, or if your water breaks?

An hour and a half later, her water did break, Raven was declared 3 centimetres dilated and we were soon settling in for ... however long it would take.

That was at 15:00 hours. At 18:59, the baby surprised everyone but Raven — shortly before, a nurse was advising her to Breathe! but Raven said, "No! It feels like the baby is coming out!" And she was right.

So. Yeah. No epidural, no tylenol, the only pain-killer she took — then or after — was too dig her fingers into my belly's flesh and that on the back of my neck.

I have never been so happy to take such abuse (well, okay: I kinda liked it. It was a lot like a massage for me.)

Photo of my daughter, taken on 2019-08-19, moments after she was born

I'm not going to even try to recount the subsequent six weeks! Suffice it to say that that first was an entirely new category of exhaustion. No amount of partying, studying or anything else prepared me for the reality of those first few days trying to care for that utterly helpless, tiny, person becoming.

Since then, we have mostly managed pretty well, I think. Raven has had one really bad week (which meant I had one, too; I found myself force to write her a long letter, doing my best to offer understanding and support and love, while also saying in effect, You can't treat me this way!. She didn't respond with words, but it seemed to have an effect. At least, she seems happier.

Breastfeeding hasn't gone well, so Raven has resorted to a pump, which is typically providing about 70% of our daughter's food. The other 30%, obviously, is formula. I can live with that, and so can the child. Which is what matters most.

And nature's hormonal powers sure did their job on me! I fell in love with that tiny creature while she was still a slimy, bloody mess in her mother's arms. Then doubly-so when, at last, it was my turn to hold her.

I've now been changing diapers like a champ, singing to her like a fool (see the video, below) and — Raven's misfortune being my good luck — I get to feed her a lot, too.

DW's (and — wow! — especially LJ's) photo systems being the primitive beasts they are, even in the best of circumstances, you won't be seeing an enourmous amount of picspam here. For those who are interested, I now have an Instagram for shallow spontenaity. If you've got one two, let's follow each other!

I've also started a baby/parent-centric blog called The Adventures of Daddy Zesser, which I've been updating (sigh) a lot more regularly than I have been here (to put it mildly. When I get the chance, I'll see if I can figure out how to syndicate to these venerable platforms.

Anyway, that's about it for now. I am, once again, exhausted. But still very happy.

Say good night, baby ...

My darling daughter poses with her first work of art. Medium: faeces

Post-scriptum: If you wondered about the title way back at the top, "Asta Djun-Rei" is our baby's first name. The first part comes from Finland, while the second part is a transliteration of her Chinese name. We did a lot of thinking and talking about it and decided we wanted her to have the choice of embracing her white heritage or her Chinese (or both, preferably). She also has three middle names and her last belongs to my paternal grandfather — Drozdowicz. Raven insisted that my child carries my name. But she hates my actual last name (Dow, which you might notice comes from the middle of Drozdowicz; my dad got sick of having to spell out his birthname) and so my grandfather's legacy lives on after all.

And no, I won't be remotely surprised if Asta changes it back some ways down the line.

Baby and me

My tweets

Baby and me

Catching Up on Death, Death, and Life, Part II

Farewell to Steven Smith

Photo of Steven Smith with his wife and daughter
Photo of Steven Smith with his wife and daughter. My guess is it was taken circa 2014 or 2015. Provenance unknown, snagged from Facebook.</a>

Yes, this catching-up day continues with a second death, that of Steven Smith. He was 56 years old.

The notification was both concise, stark, and moving. I'd like to quote it, but his wife posted it under a Facebook friends' lock, so I will not break that confidence. Suffice it to say, that the first person to befriend me after I came to Toronto as a 14 year-old boy died this past July 6, 2019.

I found out on the 9th of July and on the 10th, I posted the following.


My news feed is replete with the word, shock. And shock is very much what I have been feeling since, some time this afternoon while on a down time at work, I learned that my oldest friend, Steven Smith, had died this past Saturday, of a heart attack.

Two or three years my senior, Steve was probably the first person to befriend me when I moved to Toronto to attend SEED Alternative School.

He was loud, he was funny, he wore his insecurity on his sleeve, making his weakness into a strength.

As teenagers, we shared interests in politics, science fiction and chess. We marched for peace, contemplated trips to Africa to search for Mokele-Mbembe, talked literature and music.

Steve welcomed my very insecure 14 year-old self into his (o! they seemed so much older then!) group of friends and, in so doing, changed my life irreparably - for better and for worse (but mostly for the better, I still believe) - opening door after door after door for me.

Somehow, for a while, I became his confidante, listening with wise nods and occasional noises meant to say, "Go on," as he spilled his heart about loves, both requited and un.

In time, we grew apart, as friends almost always do, though never in anger.

The last time I saw him was at his home, the same house he had lived in when we first met. This was shortly after he had married Anna, a year or two (or three) before the birth of their daughter. It was a party, and I was at a low point in my own life. There were a lot of people there and we didn't talk that much before I took my quiet leave.

Since then, I changed cities and our occasional intentions to get together (a canoe trip three years ago; drinks or food last fall) didn't work out. But I wasn't concerned. "Next time" was forever just around the corner, a permanent promise.

But of course, nothing is really permanent. Not a star, not a stone, and certainly not a life.

I mourn his passing, and my heart goes out to his family. Maybe you have to actually reach middle age to understand the depth within the truism, that life really *is* short, all too god damned short.

Rest in peace and power and laughter, old friend.

Photo of Steven Smith, spring 1982
I took this photo of Steven Smith in the basement at 224 McCaul Street, in Toronto, late winter or very early spring 1982.


Steve was a political activist, father to a nine year-old daughter, husband, and tireless Facebook radical, willing to engage (and engage!) with just about any and everyone about politics. I sometimes thought of him as a personal attack dog, the way he would leap to (usually) support something I'd posted when someone would deign to disagree with my wisdom.

He was also a heavy smoker, and he was not the first of my peers to die of a heart attack. A cousin, an ex-girlfriend, an acquaintance from the days when I hung out at open-mikes in Toronto, all perished of the same damned thing — cigarettes. And I'm sure there are others who's deaths either passed me by or elude me just at the moment.

Needless to say, I attended the funeral and wake, taking a train to Toronto.

The service was very well-attended, with some mourners having to find seating in the gallery of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields church on College Street. Unlike my uncle's funeral in May, this was a much more chaotic affair, with an open mike for people to speak until time ran out.

I won't try to reconstruct the service at this late juncture, but will note that Steve was mourned as he live: by an incredibly diverse group of people, ranging from the obviously upper middle-class to people who might have been homeless.

And, he had a very distinctive, phlegmy chuckle (think of Sesame Street's Ernie, if he was a smoker) and at some point about mid-way through the service, when someone on stage mentioned, someone in the pews immidated it. And the entire crowd cracked up; I only wish that we had all been quick enough on the updake.

The wake was something else again ...

Unlike my Uncle Marcel's closed casket funeral, we were told to expect to see Steve's body at his wake.

As usually happens at weddings and funerals, for those on the periphery, the event is as much about renewing old acquaintances and friendships as it is about mourning. After the church service a few of us — which quickly became about 20 — hied ourselves to the corner of College and Bathurst and Sneaky Dee's, where cheap food and beer where consumed, and around 4:00 PM, my old friend Caron and I stopped at the local beer store then grabbed a cab.

The yard of Steve's three-story Annex house was crowded, and so was the hallway that led to the living room, past the first-floor bathroom and into the kitch. I dropped my case of beer among a crowd of bottles and comestibles, too a bottle for myself and then headed back out to the front yard.

Caron asked me if I'd "seen Steve". I shook my head, no. "Where is he?"

"In the living room," she said, "you walked right by him!"

I had to find out, of course. And now, forewarned, I saw him, laid out on a table under the small living rooom's window.

Photo of Steven Smith lying in state on July 26, 2019, the night before his final journey, to be buried outside Killarney Provincial Park.</a>

I've only seen one body before, that of a cousin I barely knew, when I was asked to identify his body (another victim of smoking, he died in his mid-40s, heart attack). I hadn't been sure how I would feel upon actually seeing the corpse of a man who had been my friend.

But in truth, it was remarkably healing. Three or four times over the course of the evening, when the room was quiet, I found myself stopping to simply commune with him. Or with myself, I guess, when you come right down to it. Yet I reached out to touch his cold, waxy hand and found that comforting, too.

There is a lot to be said for having the opportunity to say goodbye, even if the conversation is entirely one-sided.


And yet, life goes on. Next up on catching up: Birth!

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

Baby and me

Catching Up on Death, Death, and Life, Part I

Salut, mon, mon oncle

Marcel Chojnacki being interviewed by Young Geoffrey, January 2019.

The last time I wrote about my Uncle Marcel was way back on October 17, 2018. You might remember that my favourite uncle was, among many other things, a one-time dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, current first-string violinist with a semi-professional symphony orchestra, and Holocaust survivor, whose life I had begun to document on video. He was also, then, an apparent cancer survivor, and Raven and I returned to interview him twice more, the last time coming in mid-January of this year.

We got most of his life down for a total of maybe 10 hours of tape, but we didn't get to sitting down with him to go over the photos he had managed to bring over from Belgium or the other documents relating to his long and frankly illustrious life.

In January he had complained of feeling tired and by March it was official. The pancreatic cancer was back, and he was given no more than three months to live. He died on Friday, May 24, 2019, less than a week after Raven and I had driven to Laval to say goodbye in person. His obituary is here. We had the pleasure of showing him a few minutes of the footage we shot, but he was tired and the visit was a short one.

What follows is the eulegy I wrote for him, and which I read (along with one written by my father, who wasn't up for the drive) at the funeral. If you're interested, the entire service (audio only) is online here. If I remember right, the rabbi stops talking around the 10-minute mark, giving way to his daughters and to myself.</a>

Needless to say, I still miss him.


It isn't often we can say of a man who died in his 88th year, that death came for him too soon, but I can't help but feel that way about the passing of mon, mon oncle Marcel Chojnacki.

Though I in fact Lydia and I visited from Ottawa only two weeks ago to say goodbye, and so I saw how that strong man had been rendered so physically weak he could barely sit up on his own, when Morgan called me one week ago to tell me he was gone, the expected news still came as a shock, one almost as strong as when she had called me more than a year ago with the bad news that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

I am trying to take comfort in the fact that he went into remission for a year, that he was able to play two more concerts, and continue to care for his wife, my aunt Lillian, that he had the chance to put his long and accomplished life on the record in video.

I am trying to take comfort in that delay, from that surprising extra year, but it is hard to face up to the fact that he is gone. As I said, gone too soon.

Marcel Chojnacki, as we all know very well, was a remarkable man. Orphaned by the evil of the Holocaust, he not only built a life in his adopted country, the life he built was a full and a giving life, steeped in the grace of love and generosity of spirit.

Together with his wife Lillian, he made of their home, 5150 Boulevard Sainte Rose, the most welcoming home it has been my pleasure to visit (and to live in, more than once). The door at 5150, literal and proverbial, was forever open — as Marcel would be the first to tell us, were he somehow able to speak to us from the beyond at his own memorial. Make no mistake, he was a proud man, if one with very much to be proud of. And that is the difference between pride and hubris; the former is based on accomplishments, the latter on mere self-regard.

Kidding aside, 5150 is a beautiful symbol for the life made by mon mon oncle Marcel Chojnacki. Little more than a shack when Lillian and Marcel bought it in the early 1960s, 5150 Boulevard Sainte Rose grew bit by bit, as Marcel built his own life from the ruins of his monstrously destroyed childhood.

His home (their, was a mansion of the spirit, filled with music and art, with food and with drink — speaking of pride, no doubt there are few here now who have not had the pleasure of drinking Marel's wine, of eating his break — and, so often, with guests. With friends and with family (and unlike too often in this world, the two were often one).

My uncle was a generous man, but not to a fault. Though he was an artist — a dancer who painted, and later a musician in honour of his late son Daniel, he was also a husband and a father, a provider and later on a caregiver, who knew the importance of living in the physical world as well as the artistic.

Life for all of us, if we are to be full human beings, is a matter of balancing matters of the spirit with the exigencies of the real world. Better than most, mon mon oncle accomplished that and more.

During the last year of his life, it was my pleasure and privilege to interview my uncle on video, documenting his many stories for posterity and, yes, for my own selfish desire to know him better than I already did.

As we all know, he had a lot on his plate, and looking back at our third session, in January, he seemed a little tired; I think he was already starting to get sick again. Yet, he was kind, he was funny, he was (yes), generous, insisting on feeding us and even taking us on a trip out to the Oka cheese factory.

I'm going long, and feel as though I haven't scratched the surface of the man I knew for my entire life. But really, what are we here for except to say goodbye? And so I say, Salut, mon mon oncle, je t'aime.

Young Geoffrey scatters his uncle's ashes
Young Geoffrey scatters a handful of Marcel Chojnacki's ashes, May 30th, 2019.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.