Monday, April 30, 2007

A Special Treat for Gram Tomorrow

My grandmother plays piano, but not as much now that she's 92 and hard of hearing. Her arthritis also slows up her fingers and she gets impatient when her body won't make the music come.

But in her day she played piano at all the house parties, and my grandfather played the fiddle. Not this grandma's husband. This grandma is my mom's mom. The grandpa who played the fiddle was my dad's dad. The two of them were a duo and played the night away.

She misses those days. We often joke about finding her a man to fiddle around with. Well, probably because we just lost my dad and the idea struck my uncle that time's a-tickin', so my uncle asked two musician friends of his if they would come over to Gram's house and play for a bit with her. They'll be there tomorrow morning for about an hour or so. My uncle is going to videotape it.

Luckily I've got an appointment at the allergy clinic tomorrow morning, and when I get home they'll still be here before I head into work. My mom made Cape Breton pork pies just for the occasion (don't know why they're called that - they're little raisin tarts with maple frosting.) Should be right some fun, 'bye!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Defining Myself as a Writer

I went to my monthly romance writers' meeting this afternoon, which I look forward to with the glee only a thinly-stretched fulltime day job employee who is the part-time caregiver of a 92-year-old grandmother can muster. The craft session today concerned defining oneself as a writer.

We talked about the state of the writing area as a reflection of how important writing is in your life, among many other things. When I got home I mentioned that to my mom, and we both laughed. Loudly. Not only because my writing area needs a massive overhaul, but because her art studio is in the same sort of shape.

Mom is my grandmother's primary caregiver. She's also a watercolor artist. She hasn't done a lot of new work in the last few years, basically since we all moved into this house together. Gram's care takes up a lot of Mom's time and energy. I'm the relief pitcher. My evening and weekend caregiving keeps Mom from going stark raving mad. It keeps Gram from having only one person to look at every day. And it eats significantly into my precious, precious writing time.

But I do put my caregiving on a Priority One basis, so writing gets second-tier status. I've been working at striking that ever-elusive balance so that caregiving and writing are on equal footing. I pass along all of these sort of tips to Mom so she can get back to her painting. Unfortunately I think her creative well is in a bone-dry condition.

In the meantime, let's look at my writing area to see what priority I've given to writing. I'm currently sitting at my desk which is temporarily situated in the living room. My office is filled with storage. What does that say?!?

My desk is missing three drawers, which are piled at the bottom of my closet. I haven't had a chance to sort through the drawers in two years. I have stuff occupying the space where the drawers should be, however. Mainly my family history stuff and critique session stuff.

There's a printer on the right side of my monitor. The monitor was passed along to me from one of my critique partners, and the printer was passed along to me by my almost-brother-in-law. The tower is a twice-passed-along refugee that processes too slowly to download the driver I need to connect the printer. Normally this would say I don't give writing too high a priority because I don't have the tools I need. However, finances do play a role in those decisions and I would say that my recent addition of an internet connection to my monthly expenses shows my very high commitment to writing.

There's a small pile of DVDs beside the tower. Not too topply. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny is in front of the tower, to the left of my keyboard. I love that series and I love looking at the cover illustration of Amber.

The Moe's Tavern Simpson's alarm clock is in front of the printer, to the right of my keyboard. I need that so my guardian spirit can press the Duffman button from time to time when he/she visits.

There's a small (very small) pile of paperbacks and CDs on top of the tower. Piles of paperbacks can get very tall in our apartment. There's a page from the travel section of the newspaper showing discount fares to Toronto on the printer. A card sent in memorium to my dad from my best friend, from her donation to the palliative care unit, stands next to a roll of toilet paper that I was using as kleenex. Two boxes of floppy discs, earphones, a can of club soda, a can of Fruitopia and a Batman mousepad round out the residents of my writing environment.

As long as the monitor is the tallest object on the desk, I'm happy with that.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Annual Booksale at the Library

This morning my mom, my husband and I got up early (for us) and headed downtown to the library for the booksale we always want to go to but never get up for. We met one of my Bus Buddies and my aunt in the sizable lineup. Once we started to be let in, we had an additional half hour to wait before we were let into the sale room by the Libary Bouncer.

Remember, Brad and I need another book like we need a hole in the head. But there we were, patiently waiting for our chance to cruise the aisles with the other maniacs (some came equipped with boxes and wheeled carts.) When we got our okay to enter, I happily squeezed my way past everyone else, who contentedly did the same to me, craning our heads past shoulders and elbows, picking up books to flip them over to read the back copy.

I ended up with seven research books, plus Brad picked up a Chelsea Quinn Yarbro novel for me - Midnight Harvest, a Saint-Germain book. My favorite vampire!

I got Treasures of Tutankhamun, a companion book to a museum exhibit that I can use for my own vampire WIP.

Gentle Bridges, Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind, by Jeremy W. Hayward, PhD and Francisco J. Varela, PhD. Also for my current WIP.

An older Time Life Nature Library book on Australia, for a different historical WIP. Lots of goodies in that one.

And for yet another WIP, also historical, Fodor's Scotland; New Ways Through the Glens by A.R.B. Haldane; Poems and Songs by Robert Burns; and The Dandy, Brummell to Beerbohm by Ellen Moers. Just a ton of great stuff!

Getting up early nearly killed me, especially since I still feel like a tornado tore through me last week and my cell repair crew are still sifting through the wreckage. I dozed on the couch with my dog all afternoon. Brad and I had to go pay a bill and grab only a few groceries, cause I'm too tired to get a full load. Now it's back to the couch in time to watch "America's Most Wanted", our favorite Saturday night show for almost two decades. I just love it when John Walsh doesn't hold back in calling suspects 'scumbag', 'lowlife' and other colorful descriptions. That ought to cheer me up!

Friday, April 27, 2007

"Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for his competitors, for it is that which all are practising every day while they live."

Ralph Waldo Emerson made this observation, which should be in the back of every writer's mind while writing dialogue. Since I'm preparing a workshop on dialogue for the retreat next weekend, it's at the forefront of mine.

Brad went poking around online for me and got some wonderful examples of dialogue from screenplays. I was just looking at Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" and found this marvelous scene between the three sisters. This is only a segment of the scene. But it uses dialogue to convey internal conflict, their history with each other as siblings, plus reveals that the main character has caught on to a major plot point revealed to the audience prior through voice over.

For a male writer, Woody Allen writes quite well for female characters. The amusing thing is his insistence upon giving every character his own vocal idiosyncracies. I'll take those out and just present the dialogue to stand on its own:

You know,I could always tell what
you thought of me by the type of
men you fixed me up with!

You're crazy! That's not true.

Hey, Hannah, I know I'm mediocre.

Oh, will you stop attacking Hannah?!

Oh, now--

She's going through a really rough
time right now.

Why are you so upset?

You know, you've been picking on
her ever since she came in here.
Now just leave her alone for a
while! I'm just suffocating.

What's the matter with you, Lee?
Why are you so sensitive all of a

Look. Listen. Listen. You want to write? Write.

What's the matter?

Write! Let's just not talk about
it anymore.


Take...take a year. Take six
months. Whatever you want. Who
knows? Maybe you'll, maybe you'll
be sitting with a good play.


(To LEE)What's the matter? What's the
matter with you? You look pale. You okay?


I'm-I'm okay. Yeah, I, you
know, I...I'm just, um, I got dizzy
all of a sudden. I'm-I'm...I have
a headache.


I think we need to eat.

I really love that! Dynamic, tense, realistic. Great handling of plot development and character reveal, and allows the viewer to start putting the pieces together for herself. That's what I'm shooting for as a writer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 3 - 13 Things I Don't Do Every Day

As a proud Canadian, I often define myself by what I am not. Here are some common things engaged in daily by millions that I rarely do:

1 - I don't style my hair. I simply have hair. I wash it. I comb it. Styling consists of putting it in a ponytail or a braid. C'est tout.

2 - I don't put on make-up. I'm very allergic to make-uppy type things, even hypoallergenic brands. I'll wear it to super special events, but I always pay the price the next day.

3 - I don't pack a lunch. Not every day. I'm very sporadic on the lunch-packing thing. I'm better at packing a breakfast. I generally eat breakfast in front of my computer once I get to work. Not awake enough to eat before then.

4 - I don't get the kids ready for school. No kids! I get the dog out to the yard for her morning constitutional, pour dog food in her bowl, tell her, "I'm going to work. You stay with Brad, and I'll be back." Every day, I say the same thing. If I don't say it, she waits for me to say it. Then she 'nods' and settles beside Brad on her blanket. If Brad hasn't stirred enough to get up, I make sure he's up to take his morning medication. Then I stumble out to catch the bus. This is about all of the morning caregiving I can manage.

5 - I don't drive a car. Not every day. I'm a public transit taker. I borrow my mom's car to get groceries or for a few errands. But I try to do even those by foot power or on the bus.

6 - I don't skip meals. That's not something that I could forget. Maybe because diabetes runs in my family - fortunately I haven't developed it myself - but I'm aware of not letting my blood sugar levels dip on a regular basis.

7 - I don't tidy, sweep, vacuum, scrub, etc. as a daily thing. I'm the Anti Domestic Goddess. I'm more of a kick-things-out-of-the-way sort of person.

8 - I don't use a credit card. Neither my husband or I have one. We used to. We try to pay for things or wait until we can. We'll probably have one someday. If you don't, some commerce becomes difficult.

9 - I don't make to-do lists. Only when I was packing for my wedding, that sort of thing.

10 - I don't prepare dinner. I leave that for Michelina.

11 - I don't settle in to watch TV. Unfortunately, I'm conditioned to fall asleep once I stop doing all of the things I do. As soon as I sit down to 'watch TV' I merely lose consciousness. Sometimes if there's something I really want to watch (more likely a movie) I actually stand up so I won't succumb to exhaustion.

12 - I don't aim for or achieve a daily page count on my WIP. When I did the NaNoWriMo in 2005, I split the 50,000-word challenge into daily word counts and got them. But that was like Hell. I'm still finishing that book. It's 2007.

13 - I don't lay awake worrying about all the stuff that didn't get done. I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


My sister went to a conference earlier this year and heard Brian Selznick speak. His hugely popular The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an atmospheric and haunting hybrid of novel and graphic novel. Which I haven't read yet, but I looked at my sister's copy.

Anyway, he'd mentioned a French children's book he'd enjoyed as a fellow illustrator, Fortunately by Remy Charlip. Here's a sample of what happens to Ned, the main character of Fortunately:

"Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute."

There was a lot of that going on for me this past weekend.

Fortunately, my WIP first chapter was in good shape, ready for a contest with a May 1st receipt deadline.

Unfortunately, I got limp-as-a-noodle sick.

Fortunately, my best friend said I could come over to her office at lunch today so she could help me get rid of a bizarre file corruption that wouldn't allow an even-page header.

Unfortunately, she couldn't make it go away and I was running out of my lunch break.

Fortunately, her friend Barry popped by and asked what we were up to. He's an engineer. He fixed the header somehow. Yay!

Unfortunately, I was out of time and had to go back to my own office to cover reception.

Fortunately, my friend said to leave it with her and she'd deliver everything to my office on her way home after she picked up her daughter.

Unfortunately, when I went to ship it by courier after work, I didn't have enough money to cover the return post.

Fortunately, my mom lent me the money once I got home and my husband will get it to the courier for me by lunchtime tomorrow.

Yay! Let's hear it for my fantastic support team!!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meandering My Way Back To Health

Didn't go into work today, as my agenda was taken up entirely with drifting in and out of sleep on the couch. But it seems to be working. I'm confident I'll be on the bus tomorrow, heading into work to scan, scan, scan.

We had the first sunny, warm weekend of spring, and I was down for the count. My poor dog kept checking the calendar, certain it was the weekend and time for her leisurely daytime walks in the wooded paths near our house. I had to keep letting her smell my breath, for as funny as that sounds she knows I'm sick by different smells she picks up from my breath. She even knows when I'm having a migraine by putting her nose right up to mine and concentrating carefully. Even funnier than that, when she knows I'm in pain she comes up to check the state of my breath, then doesn't settle down until I've taken my painkillers.

So Nurse Xena was on duty this weekend, staying glued to my side except for several lounging stays on the carpet pointed towards the door and the walks we weren't taking. Luckily my husband was able to get me things to eat and settled in to watch about five episodes of season 5 of "Xena Warrior Princess". Yes, our canine warrior was named after her. Nothing like the sight of Ares, God of War to cheer up a gal!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Special Guest Blogger Brad - My wife is sick!!!

Sorry folks but if you're looking for fast wit and repartee, you've come to the wrong place. Julia is laid out like a bratwurst at an Oktoberfest and I'm not ready for my major blog debut. Thanks for coming by & we'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Sliver Moon and a Bright Planet

The weather here has been sleety, stormy and otherwise a total bust for walking my dog. But today the sun came out, and this evening after supper my Xena tore me away from the computer with leaps of joy. She knew we'd be heading out at long last.

As we rounded the corner of the house, the view of the new crecent moon in the sky with Venus just below it filled my heart with a humming sense of being alive.

"Forget television and steal a moment for yourself April 19 and 20," writes Blaine P. Friedlander in The Washington Post. "The sliver of a new moon dances below Venus on April 19, and a slightly larger sliver dances above Venus the next night."

Here's a brief glimpse of the sort of thing that makes me cherish night time walks over sunny strolls. I guess that's why I'm writing a vampire novel. I'm a creature of the night.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 2 - 13 Reasons I Hate To Cook

My mom came up with this one, after patiently listening to me tell her about my blogging escapades when she is A) not patient and B) not interested in anything to do with computers. Also, she is right on the money with today's Thursday Thirteen:

1 - I hate to cook because there is no room in my precious grey matter for a recipe file. It's too busy thinking about my plot threads and characters. This doesn't stop people from launching into a recipe when I compliment them on how delicious their hors dourve or entree or dessert tastes. It doesn't get saved onto my mental hard drive, unfortunately.

2 - I shudder if I have to look at raw meat. Even pictures of meat in store fliers.

3 - Handling raw meat gives me post traumatic stress disorder.

4 - The smell of meat cooking gives my stomach the heebie jeebies.

5 - The soul-crushing tedium of the peeling.

6 - The mind-shrivelling boredom of the chopping.

7 - My sore back. Counter heights are always too high for me. I'd need custom-made countertops for peeling and chopping to be comfortable for my back. But don't you have to love cooking to want custom-made countertops?

8 - The hurry-scurry of timing out multiple items cooking in multiple pans. Always puts me in a cranky mood.

9 - The sight of congealed grease set aside after cooking can make me wish I was a Stephen Hawking-like physicist, having discovered practical applications for wormhole time travel, so I could return to a moment just before I had seen the congealed grease.

10 - I despise without reservation having to clean any pan with meat grease in it.

11 - I always think everyone else's versions of favorite dishes taste better than how I make it. Real cooks always think that nothing tastes as good as their version.

12 - If I cook, then I can't go out for dinner, one of my all-time favorite things to do.

13 - Cooking may have a genetic factor. Most people in my family are absolutely fantastic cooks who get all dreamy just thinking about cooking. I'm certain everything about my relationship with cooking will be explained at some later date when the cooking genome is identified, and my bloodwork will show I was born without it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Showcasing Bakka Phoenix

Last night while I was watching the late night edition of news on CBC, a segment started about a new release of posthumous work by J.R.R. Tolkien called CHILDREN OF HURIN. After one shot I recognized a favorite bookstore of my husband's in his hometown of Toronto, the sci-fi/fantasy bookstore Bakka Phoenix. Not only is Bakka a sentimental spot for him, but it's also the store where my sister's former roommate is the manager. She's a very good friend of mine, too, in fact of our whole family, and I last saw her a month ago when she flew here to attend my father's funeral.

So I got rather excited to see that the segment had been taped in the store, and before too many heartbeats went by, there she was in glorious close-up, giving her store-manager opinion on an historic book release.

You can catch it on the link below. It's viewable in the box you'll see on the right under 'video clip.' Chris is the woman with the fantastic array of curls.

Ron Charles reports for CBC

Go, Chris, go!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Learning to Take a Step Back

Often we find ourselves performing roles in life and wonder how we got cast in that part. Sometimes it's pretty easy to see. Sometimes not.

As do many women, I perform the role of caretaker. With me, this often transcends that basic role and I function more as the optimistic coach. I'm the one who dusts people off and sets them back on the road. I've been at my new job for only a month and it's already happening there, too.

The problem with coaching is the time it takes from the doing. I have my creative life which requires a lot of alone time, and I have a great deal of my time diverted into coaching.

I'm working at detaching myself from those who come to me. It's incredibly difficult. When I sense another person struggling, I respond. To me, it's like seeing someone whose sleeve has caught on fire. There's no thinking involved. Grab a bucket of water and toss it on the flames.

The problem for me is realizing that the point of every person's life is his or her struggle with something. I struggle, too. I can't throw water on everybody.

What's really exhausting is when the same people erupt in the same flames on the same sleeve. Over the years I've thrown water on them, showed them how to throw water on themselves, showed them how to put the flames out with a blanket, or sand, or even a foam extinguisher. But the flames keep erupting.

I must now learn to concede defeat. For me, this is truly painful.

Today I was talking this over with someone who wondered if perhaps I need to let these 'others' go through the fire on their own. I understand what she means. My struggle with that will be to hold onto my bucket of water the next time the flames leap to life.

Monday, April 16, 2007

50th Post

It's my 50th post!

Here are some interesting fifty-ish things I'm thinking about today:

We will need 28 more prime ministers for Canada to reach its 50th prime minister. Who will it be?

The US will need 7 more presidents to reach its 50th president.

The UK will need 18 more monarchs to reach its 50th king or queen (descended from William I.)

Britain reached its 50th prime minister 2 leaders ago, with Margaret Thatcher.

France will need 28 more presidents to reach its 50th president.

Interesting that France became a republic 12 years after the US became a nation, yet the US has had 21 more presidents than France.

Canada has had the same number of prime ministers that France has had, but France has been a republic for 78 years longer than Canada has been a nation.

Also interesting that Britain gained its first ever female PM as its 50th PM.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

5 Things Most People Don't Know About Me

I got tagged with this one on Friday, but saved it for today:

1 - Most people don't know that I was born in Texas. In an army hospital, to be exact. My late father served in the US Army even though he was Canadian. As a registered alien, he was required to serve, so he joined rather than be drafted. So I entered the world at the Fort Hood army hospital in Killeen, Texas.

2 - Most people don't know that I have Mi'kmaq ancestry. The Mi'kmaq are the First Nation people here on Canada's east coast. Both sides of my family are Acadian, which is the French culture of the Atlantic provinces. Many Acadians married Mi'kmaq partners in the very early days, absorbing them into their European traditions. I have several Mi'kmaqs in my genealogy chart but don't have proper names for them, as all the females were renamed 'Marie'.

3 - Most people don't know that I have Phone-Out Phobia. I'm not sure what the actual name for it would be. But I used to work with someone who also shared my same problem. We both hate to call people. It doesn't matter who it is. It's not as bad when I call my husband or my best friend, but anyone else and I have to force myself to pick up the receiver. The stress level is in the High Agitation Zone. Answering the phone is fine. Calling out is bad. And my former co-worker also hates to go through drive-throughs. Both of us park and go inside to order. It's the disembodied voices - we can't take it.

4 - Most people don't know that my love of all things Christmas usually means there's a few Christmas items lurking about our apartment in full view during most of the year. Like the Nutcracker standing on top of my china cabinet. I love him being there, no matter if it's April. I don't get too many people dropping by the apartment, as my husband has bipolar disorder and can get worn out by company. We try to keep socializing outside of our home so that it's always a haven for him. So I can leave Christmas up as long as I want.

5 - Most people don't know that I don't have a digital camera. They know I love taking pictures. They know I have an addiction to buying photo albums and frames. But I have a camera that takes 35mm film. I'm old fashioned, that way.

And now you know!

Looking Forward to the Writer's Retreat

I've literally spent the entire day reading other people's blogs. I enjoyed myself so much that every time I looked over to check the clock, 3 hours had gone by.

I'm putting together the workshop I'm doing for the May retreat, which is on blogging. Today I checked in on a whole array of writer's blogs. I wanted to get the feel for what attracts me to one blog and not another. I looked at their profiles to see how many profile views there were. Were there a lot of widgets, images and links? Were there frustrating links that didn't work well?

It was very easy to get a sense of the writer's voice, which is the most useful thing about blogging. That's something I'll be looking at during my workshop - how to refine the writer's voice.

As for that retreat, I cannot wait. Spring is the perfect time for a weekend away. I need all-over renewal after the winter, not just creatively, and timing this writer's weekend for the same time that nature has her growth spurt is inspired.

Friday, April 13, 2007


It's taken awhile, but I'm slowly acquiring the ability to revise my manuscript. Revisions used to be so mindboggling that I simply didn't do them. Instead I had three works in progress stalled on the shelf.

Thanks to joining my Romance Writer's of America chapter, going to every monthly meeting for the past several years, soaking up the education sessions and taking in a few writers' retreats, it's all finally sinking in.

There's probably a very direct link to my collector's personality and my difficulty with turfing sections of my writing. I'm very Victorian in my love of clutter. I don't throw anything out very quickly. Including words.

But just as I've watched episodes of "Neat" and giggled over other people's crazily messy homes, I've begun to move more unused items out of our apartment. I used to be obsessed with aquiring more storage, but now I try also to move stuff along - through donating items, recycling and last on the list, ditching it entirely. My husband and I are making headway on our Merlin-the-Magician's-tower-of-topply-book-stacks style of decorating.

And I'm learning to turf the parts that don't work in my manuscript. The crafting part of writing is hard for those of us who feel like we're simply tuning in to a pre-existing story. Once I'd copied it all down, I never seemed able to get good reception for the "Revisions" channel.

Strangely, I never had this problem when I edited films at school. I took one look at a segment and trimmed whatever I didn't need. No internal arguments, for or against. So I've begun to look at my writing revisions as a cross between clearing away the piling books from the apartment, and trimming frames here and there from a film scene.

Maybe I'll look at revisions from yet another angle. I started poking around my garden the other day and saw buds on my roses. I love pruning them. I'll just think of revisions as a pair of pruning shears and my manuscript as a rambler rose. Nothing can get ramblers down for long. The pruning only invigorates the rose to new growth and more blooms.

Yes, I'll treat revisions like pruning and I'll have no trouble at all!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 1 - Thirteen Films People are Shocked to Find I Haven't Seen Yet

I've enjoyed reading many Thursday Thirteens this year, and now give one and all A Piece of My Mind:

The shock value criteria for this list:
First - that half of the films on this Thursday Thirteen are in my 'longing-to-see' category.
Second - as a graduate of Ryerson's film program in Toronto (12 years ago) most people assume I've seen all the great films.
Third - my husband works at Blockbuster, takes home 10 free rentals a week, and has seen almost every film ever made.

1 - "Casablanca" (1942) by Michael Curtiz

with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

I'm holding onto this one to savour someday.

2 - "Taxi Driver" (1976) by Martin Scorsese

with Robert De Niro and Jodi Foster

A classic. Cutting edge, character-driven, Scorsese in top form, a hotbed of cultural references - everything I could want. Why do I deprive myself?

3 - "Cinema Paradiso" (1990) by Giuseppe Tornotore

with Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio

"Every Filmmaker's Favorite Film" says caspian1978 on IMDB. "The ending answers all of your questions and completes the missing pieces to all movies. If the musical score doesn't put you in tears, the amazing visuals will push you over the edge." This one really is a puzzle.

4 - "A Christmas Carol" (1951) by Brian Desmond Hurst

with Alastair Sim and Mervyn Johns

The 'definitive' film version of one of my favorite all-time stories. My big problem is that I love the 1984 version with George C. Scott so much. I also love the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart. I like thinking there's a Christmas delight still waiting for me.

5 - "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) by Kelly Donen and Stanley Donen

with Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds

This one was doubly hard to miss, as it was screened at film school. I was working a matinee that day at a performing arts theatre, which was a total drag because I'd been looking forward to it.

6 - "The Red Shoes" (1948) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

with Anton Walbrook and Moira Shearer

Torn between the love of dance and her passion for her lover - is that not the perfect film for a ballet freak like me? "Personal relationships are fragile; a dancer's active career can be short. If you have a gift, service to it must come first. Domesticity can wait," writes Silverwhistle from Glasgow on the IMDB. After watching the documentary on the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo last year, I must watch "The Red Shoes" as all the stars of that company dance in the film. In their prime!

7 - "Cold Mountain" (2003) by Anthony Minghella

with Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger

My critique partner's favorite film. The late 1800's, battle footage, a tragic love story - why am I doing this to myself?

8 - "The Seven Samurai" (1954) by Akira Kurosawa

with Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune

My husband is a huge fan of samurai films and Japanese manga (graphic novels) like the Lone Wolf and Cub series. My hero George Lucas named this film as an influence to my beloved "Star Wars" films. And still I've never seen more than clips of this masterpiece.

9 - "Breathless" (1960) by Jean-Luc Godard

with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg

A landmark film that ushered in the French New Wave. "With fast editing and unresolved camera movements, Godard disseminated the very essence of his hero's lifestyle," says Spiros Gangas of the Edinburgh University Film Society. About time I saw it, then.

10 - "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006) by Davis Guggenheim

with Al Gore

Preaching to the converted, but I know I'd love it.

11 - "School of Rock" (2003) by Richard Linklater

with Jack Black and Joan Cusack

There's no good reason why I haven't seen this yet.

12 - "The Notebook" (2004) by Nick Cassavetes

with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams

This is my cousin's favorite film. So I want to watch it with her. So far, 3 years have gone by of trying to do just that.

13 - "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993) by Nora Ephron

with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

Actually, I'm not that much of a contemporary romantic comedy fan. I like them quirkier than this. Like "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!".

I can vouch for the shock value of this list. If you could have seen the look on my mom's face when I mentioned I hadn't seen "Casablanca". Or on my sister's face when I told her I was putting "Taxi Driver" on my first Thursday Thirteen.

Are there similar films waiting impatiently for you to watch them?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Two movies in one week! At the theatre, I mean. Ah, this is the life. The only things missing are a few nights out at the ballet, saving a couple more for a musical or two. A thumbnail sketch of my perfect life.

But I digress. My cousin emailed me this morning to let me know she'd seen "Amazing Grace", starring a fave of mine, Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd. Plus a marvellous array of other actors I love: Brits Albert Finney and Rufus Sewell, and Irish actors Michael Gambon and Ciaran Hinds. It's directed by Michael Apted, whom I admire for his "7 Up" series of films ( "14 Up" - "42 Up" ), plus several episodes of HBO's "Rome". My cousin encouraged me to see it, probably fearing that it would leave soon. Time flies and it'll be out on DVD, but I cleared my schedule for the evening, hopped on the bus after work and caught the 6:40 show.

"Amazing Grace" follows the political crusade in the English House of Commons to defeat the slave trade. Ioan Gruffudd plays William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament for Hull in Yorkshire who kept bringing his bill before the House for 18 years until it was finally passed in 1807.

Like all visionaries, Wilberforce didn't do 'normal' very well. He collected stray people and animals, preferred having chats with God out on the grounds of his well-appointed country house, spoke to his butler like an equal and felt personally responsible to end one of the economic cornerstones of the British Empire.

Though obviously on his own passionate crusade, Wilberforce had a rather significant figure in his early life - his spiritual counsellor was the cleric John Newton, who wrote the very personal hymn "Amazing Grace". Newton was an ex-ship's master whose cargos were the slave trade in its most human form.

In Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, a wise man figure often points the hero onto the path he must take. But Newton wasn't written into the plot by a writer. He was placed into Wilberforce's life by a Divine Hand. Both amazing and humbling when you think about it.

Of course, Wilberforce wasn't just any English land owner. He was the childhood friend of Pitt the Younger, soon to be Prime Minister (guide with a magical key.) Wilberforce held the privilege of sitting in parliament (the unfamiliar world, since he doesn't act like most others of his ruling class.) He has colitis and subsequent addiction to laudenum (temptation) to pull him away from his goal.

The Dark Moment comes when revolution takes France, war breaks out, and his friend the prime minister must distance himself from seditious Wilberforce. How easy it is to throw our characters into that Black Moment. How horrible to actually live through it. Especially if you lived at the end of the 18th century and the Hero's Journey is still 150 years away from publication.

We ultimately know that slavery ends, so the audience begins the film with the knowledge that we're watching an authentic hero. But I couldn't help thinking many times over the course of the film how easily Wilberforce's life fit into Joseph Campbell's parameters.

If a person could recognize all the signposts of the Hero's Journey in his or her own life, would it make all the pain and suffering any easier to bear? Would being perpetually out of step with one's fellows be easier to tolerate if that meant it was the hero's persona?

Watching "Amazing Grace" tonight left me thinking about all of the real-life Wilberforce's who are born to parents who dream of contentment and joy for their little ones. If parents knew ahead of time that their child was fated to the Hero's Journey, the urge to spare him or her from such a torturous route might leave the world with a lot less heros.

I guess that's why we're only given the story of our lives one day at a time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Can't Help Myself

I went to see "Grindhouse" last night with my husband, because I'm the sort of person that thinks a one-legged go-go dancer with a machine gun for a prosthetic is awfully funny. I'm also a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City" and Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Volumes I & II". How can I resist a double bill from those two fellers?

Of course, my husband is the proud owner of books like THE PYSCHOTRONIC VIDEO GUIDE by Michael J. Weldon, essentially a primer on any film considered to be grindhouse material. Plus my husband used to go to a few grindhouse theatres in Toronto in the early 80's to take in his favorite guilty pleasures, like "Convoy" with Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw, "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" with Peter Fonda and Susan George, and "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" with Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, to name a few. Outside on the marquee were signs like "Four Great Movies For One Great Price!" and shows ran continuously from 8:30 in the morning to 4 am, the tail end of the following night. Inside he once watched a patron destroy the seats for no apparent reason. Meanwhile the rest of the audience carried on watching the movie.

Since my husband and I met each other while working as ushers at the old Runnymede Theatre in Toronto's west end, we found the little "Grindhouse" touches like the skipping and repeating dialogue as the 'reels' changed were priceless.

I won't get too specific in case anyone else ventures out to see it, but I have to admit I liked the second flick, Tarantino's "Death Proof" the best. While overtly referencing films like "White Line Fever" with Jan Michael Vincent, and "Vanishing Point" with Barry Newman and Cleavon Little, as well as featuring an identical 1970 white Dodge Challenger, Tarantino subtley builds his story arc over Hitchcock's classic "Psycho" format. A nice touch for cinephiles.

Also, I really enjoyed Kurt Russell's performance in "Death Proof". Not for people who can be disturbed by visual images that come without warning. Generally I can see those moments coming, but there were a few images that arrived onscreen without my violence-sixth-sense registering an in-the-next-second appearance.

However, Kurt Russell makes his Stuntman Mike character charming and flirtatious enough to have the women in the film willing to fall for him, while keeping the sinister edge apparent to the moviegoer. I think he did a kick-ass job.

Two beautiful things about Kurt Russell I've always admired - his lovely voice, and those I've-got-a-secret twinkly blue eyes. Great choice for Stuntman Mike, Mr. Tarantino.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Excerpt From 'Brotherhood of Blood'

Since I've been editing my WIP this long weekend, I decided to go for it and post an excerpt.

This story takes place in Wales in 577AD. My hero Peredur has been made into a specialized vampire. In this scene he's being put through one of a series of trials to get him accustomed to his new state of being. The 'cousins' referred to are traditional vampires.

Excerpt -

The next lesson was very straightforward. Peredur was led into the sunlight the following day until he passed out.

He came back to his senses under Wladyslaw’s watchful eye. Peredur fought the urge to sit up as would be expected in the presence of a commander in his old life.

Equal brethren. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply.

“Don’t hurry it,” the szlachcic said. [note:a dark age Polish prince]

The water sickness had been very different from the sun sickness. He lay back on the cavern floor, safe within its cool earthiness. He could actually feel the presence of the minerals in the ground beneath him, and knew somehow that the earth already acted as a tonic for him.

Where the water had worked upon his muscles and skin, making any movement impossible, the sun had worked upon his head and the blood within his veins, heating them both. He could not get any thoughts to settle in his mind, and his blood had pumped too fast until he lost consciousness. All in a much swifter manner than the water sickness.

Even now he felt the bleary haze of fever. He opened his eyes and fought to focus them.

Wladyslaw regarded Peredur with wary hope. This former szlachcic was Peredur’s fourth test. His body felt runny like the upturned contents of someone’s stomach. Peredur forced himself to focus on the szlachcic’s face.

He thought of the blood that would revive him out of the stupor. Reading his thought, Wladyslaw explained, “I cannot offer you sustenance, brother.”

He placed a hand on Peredur’s shoulder. “This feeling is what you must experience. You will learn to cope with it in time.”

Peredur closed his eyes against this unwelcome news.

“I have the unhappy task of guiding you through this transition, Peredur.”

He opened his eyes again, urging himself to see this brother closely.

“Unhappy?” he managed to ask.

Wladyslaw looked off into the distance. “Our cousins know this sickness for themselves and will use it against you. Men will too, if they hunt us.”

Peredur fought against a wave of illness, keeping his attention on the szlachcic. “How long was I in the sun?”

“A few moments only, no more.”

“Longer would be the end,” he noted, not wanting to imagine it.

“And not very much longer,” Wladyslaw verified. “If you find yourself in the light, you must act quickly or perish.”

Peredur nodded.

“Sit up,” Wladyslaw said, his voice less gentle than it had been.

Peredur looked hard into the szlachcic’s face. Unhappy task. But sitting was impossible.

“Up,” Wladyslaw commanded.

Peredur responded as he had always done on the battlefield. He gathered strength where there had been none and rose halfway.

He collapsed. If he could have done, he would have vomited, but that too seemed to be a relic of his former life. It didn’t stop the debilitating queasiness from holding him in its grasp.

“If our cousins mean to finish you, they will succeed with such feeble effort.” Peredur heard the same tone in his princely brother’s voice as his swordmaster had once used. Was this something the other brethren had gone through? They would not show him up.

Peredur pushed himself up on his elbows with enormous effort. Panting, he rolled onto his side and pushed all the way up to a sitting position. He trembled with it, the detestable weakness, the queasiness. But he looked Wladyslaw in the eye.

The szlachcic’s arm shot forward and his hand cuffed Peredur in the head. He swayed forward, then fell sideways.

Peredur rolled to keep his eye on Wladyslaw in case more blows should follow. His head swam and he felt the hideous weakness swirl in his veins.

Wladyslaw rose to his feet. Peredur pushed back, trying to keep a distance between himself and the szlachcic. The sickness not only weakened him, it disoriented. Try as he might to rise and meet his brother the cavern seemed to tilt.

“Still yourself,” Wladyslaw said, giving Peredur a stout kick that rolled him some distance.

Peredur scrambled to make his arms and legs move, noting with shock how little that kick had actually hurt. The force of it had punted him like a child’s kicking bladder. Still yourself. He’d best make a move and soon.

Too late - Wladyslaw scooped him up and slammed him up against the cavern wall. The vampire pressed his face close to Peredur’s.

“If I had so desired, you would have died the true death, my brother.”

Panting, Peredur sagged in Wladyslaw’s grasp, unable to stop the swirling inside him. At this point, a part of him didn’t care whether one of these cousins came at him. If only the swaying cavern would stop.

“Still yourself,” Wladyslaw whispered near Peredur’s ear. He was so close, it seemed he held up Peredur by his mere presence.

What did he mean by ‘still yourself?’ Wladyslaw seemed so solid while his own insides spun. He focused on that solidness until it seemed he could feel the other vampire’s heart beat. Peredur blinked. His vision cleared.

He could feel the szlachcic’s steady heart.

Just as he sought his brother’s gaze, to thank him for lending him this stillness, Wladyslaw backed away a pace. Immediately the swirling resumed. Peredur went limp. Only Wladyslaw’s grasp of Peredur’s arms kept him from sliding to the cavern floor.

“Listen to your own stillness,” Wladyslaw prompted.

Peredur closed his eyes and listened for his own heart beat. He heard its erratic drumming and felt the floor tip.

But he felt Wladyslaw’s hands pinning him securely. He forced himself to locate the other vampire’s heart beat through those hands. There it was.

So much slower than a man’s heartbeat. But rhythmic just the same. Beneath Wladyslaw’s strong beat was his own that skipped or disappeared entirely.

The szlachcic left off clipping him in the head. Peredur took advantage of this lull and focused as clearly as he could on his heart beat. He listened until his flitting beats caught up to Wladyslaw’s. As his pulse settled down, the cavern seemed less likely to rock as though they were at sea.

Opening his eyes, he saw the szlachcic staring at him curiously. Peredur knew that Wladyslaw could feel his own steadily growing stillness, just as he could feel the other’s heart beat.

As if transfixed by Peredur, the szlachcic stayed as he was, holding his brother against the cave even when they both knew he was no longer in danger of falling. Peredur felt excitement radiating toward him from his brother.

At last, Wladyslaw released him and backed away. Peredur kept his feet.

An idea came to him, but he suspected that he was abnormally connected to the szlachcic just now. Even as he saw recognition dawn in his brother’s eyes, Peredur’s fist flew out and knocked Wladyslaw nearly flat.

The szlachcic righted himself and stood before Peredur with a disarming grin.

“Outstanding,” he said simply.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Did I Ever Tell You The One About...

I was checking out a number of blogs today when I popped onto 'Julie Says':

She told a highly amusing tale and wanted to hear stories from other bloggers. That got me thinking back to a morning not so long ago - well, eighteen years ago - when I was unhappily working for a chartered accounting firm in Toronto. I'd been with the company for a few days, had no prior experience as a receptionist and was soon to leave it for the far more comfortable world of live theatre. Ushering, to be exact. Not that different from being a receptionist except there was no phone involved (those who know me find my phone phobia amusing.) Also, my theatre work day started at the more reasonable hour of 6 pm, rather than the ungodly office hours of 8 am - 4 pm. (shudder)

But back at the drafty reception area, which had the warmth of a medieval castle minus the tapestries, I stoically faced the switchboard. In those youthful days I thought there was nothing at which I couldn't excel. I didn't appreciate then that it would take surviving all the darkest days of the next twenty years to really prepare me for a position on the front desk.

Mornings at this office were fairly busy on the switchboard as the chartered accountants called in from whichever client's office they happened to be working that day. Some of my calls were from our own CA's, some from the public. I answered the calls in quick succession:

"Good morning, Shwartz Levitsky Feldman, can I help you?...One moment please." Put the caller on hold. Tranfer if the CA was in the office. This was before voice mail was a big thing.

In the middle of this I'd have the CA's calling for the head honchos. "Can you hold please?" Then I'd put them through if Schwartz, Levitsky or Feldman were in.

One morning when I still wasn't quite awake - sometime before noon - I had a CA that I put on hold while I answered a few other outside calls. When I got back to him, I said in my lovely professional receptionist voice, "Schwartz Levitsky Feldman, can I hold you?"

Luckily, this only solicited a giggle from our accountant. But it convinced me that I'd better take the ushering job before I said something similar to one of the partners. That, and the fist fight that erupted in the board room over a hostile takeover while I cheerily answered more calls.

Funny story, anyone?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Doing Things I've Longed to Do

I was able to link up some fellow bloggers this afternoon at work, while I sat at reception. My home computer is too slow to process linking anything to my blog, which has been frustrating to say the least. But I had to cover reception this afternoon, which gave me all the time I needed to post links on the much quicker work PC.

I also added links to some of my favorite artists. Being a visual person, I'm very attracted to imagery. I get a lot of inspiration from the artists I've linked to my blog. I was talking a little while ago to one of my critique partners about what we do to get in the right zone for writing. She has to be immersed in reading or she can't get into the right flow. For me it has to be watching movies. I need to see my time period, or atmosphere, or setting, or emotional tone playing out in front of me, and then I get into my zone. I also usually have some sort of collage to do with my current story laying out near my monitor.

So today's layout expansion for my blog has been very exciting. On top of that was the thrill of finally joining as a member, after checking the site out as a lurker for two years. I had to pick out a username and another member name, submit it for approval and check my email for the yea-or-nay.

The approval was waiting there in my inbox - oh, joy! I actually posted a user comment on "300". What an intense thrill! When you've been visiting a site regularly but not joining because you only have internet access at work, the luxury of finally doing these things from home is sublime.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Return of Duffman

For quite some time now, I've been aware that I'm never alone. Western society acknowledges guardian angels and I figure this presence is likely my guardian spirit. It speaks to me often through light symbols, but can get my attention in many creative ways.

A common 'conversation' goes as follows: I'll be walking my dog at night. Everything is gorgeous and I'm feeling connected to the world around me. I'll be deep in thought. Suddenly the streetlamp directly above me turns on. One second before it had been off, but I hadn't noticed. After a delighted smile lights my face, it turns off. Over time I've started to call this being Blinky.

During a visit to a psychic two years ago, she lit a candle for the session. It wasn't long before Blinky was with us. The candle flame lengthened, fluttered, split into two flames on one wick, waved back and forth and so on, which the psychic and I both watched, both knowing what was going on without having to mention it to the other. The flame always reacted to whatever subject matter was being discussed. By the end of the session, there was a thin shield of wax behind the flame, left over from having burnt down. She pointed it out and said it meant I had protection. That felt good, as I always feel safe in the presence of this spirit.

Fast forward to this past year, as my dad was diagnosed and treated for the cancer which recently ended his life. My husband special-ordered an alarm clock shaped like the interior of Moe's Tavern from "The Simpson's". At the bar sit Homer and Barney. Moe and Duffman stand in front of it. Each character says several lines, which act as the alarm. You can simply have fun and press the button on the bar to listen to each character speak. You can't control who speaks, however. To set the alarm for a particular character, you switch the figure's position on the clock. Duffman is currently in the alarm position. If the alarm goes off, he'll repeat his phrase until it's shut off. Once upon a time we had it set to Duffman saying, "I've got a bottomless mug of new Duff Extra Cold for Barney Gumble!" But that got a little much to bear at 6 am, so we turned off the alarm and now use the Batman alarm clock, which simply beeps with Justice League intensity.

However, it seems that Blinky was quite taken with the Simpson's alarm clock. While my husband often listened to all of my tales of encounters with Blinky, they usually happened when I was alone with Xena, our dog. One night the turned-off alarm clock burst forth with "Duffman!" That's one of the phrases available, but not the one we had been using. My husband and I had been quite down that evening, thinking about what was to come for my dad. All of a sudden, the happy outburst from the Duff beer spokesman. As soon as it started, I smiled, knowing right away that it was Blinky trying to lighten the mood, even though it had never used sound before. But my husband was taken by surprise, turned toward the clock and gave a yelp. My God, how we laughed! We still make fun of it now as a private joke.

After that first time, we've been "Duffman"-ed quite a lot. Never when we expect it, but always when we need a cheer up. Like last night, after my sister and I spent the evening with my step mom. She's very distraught, grieving my dad with every fibre. My sister found it hard to leave her in such pain. I had to use all of my counselling skills to help my step mom and later I tried to calm my sister's worries.

However, during the visit my step mom did tell us that the light in front of her door in the apartment corridor flickered for three days after Dad first passed away. And she wondered if we'd noticed how the candle next to Dad's urn upon the altar flickered, waved, fluttered and danced throughout the funeral mass, while five other candle flames also on the altar burned steady and still. My sister and I exchanged knowing glances.

When I got home, I had the lucky news that Gerry Butler was about to be on Jay Leno. I got my tape ready, my husband got home from his late shift at Blockbuster, and we watched Gerry till after 1 am.

I got into bed as it headed for 2 am. A long day, a longer night, a surprise joy at the end. I crossed myself and started to pray. At that very moment, in the dark that had just settled over the apartment, we heard "Duffman!"

I giggled, my husband laughed, I said "Hi!" and we settled into a contented sleep.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"300" - Third Time's the Charm

In service to my need to shore up my inner Spartan, I dragged myself to another showing of "300". Okay, I know, meeting excitedly with my husband after work to catch the 6:40 show can hardly be called 'dragging.' And it's not as difficult to settle in to watch the chiseled bodies of the Spartans when my husband is seeing it for the third time, as well.


Favourite moments I can't wait to watch over and over when we get the DVD:

1 - the slo-mo shot where the Persian messengers ride over the hill toward Sparta and the camera tracks alongside them

2 - when Leonidas(Gerry Butler) looks back over his shoulder at his queen to get her opinion on a bit of sword-point diplomacy

3 - when a disgruntled Leonidas waits for the oracle to speak (looks so much like my vampire character in that shot)

4 - when Leonidas is saying goodbye to his queen and calls her 'my lady'. My heart shivers when those lovely words roll past those lips in that delicious voice.

5 - when Leonidas stands with his shield looking out upon the Persian ships tossed by the storm, rain pelting him and his eyes so piercing and magnetic. (Another shot where he looks exactly like my vampire character.)

6 - when the Spartans are just about to engage the Persians at the Hot Gates. We haven't seen them fight yet. The Persian leader says, "Spartans, lay down your weapons!" The front Spartan line takes its position, crouched with shields and spears ready. Leonidas replies, "Persians, come and get them!" You just want the Persians to hurry and rush the Spartan line so we can revel in the beauty of the Greek phalanx "in one inpenetrable unit."

7 - once the battle gets going, there's a long take which is made longer by slo-mo and stop/start freeze framing that follows Leonidas as he plows through twenty or so Persians. If you know my love of ballet, you'll understand the pure poetry of watching that perfectly sculpted body stretching, turning, ducking, deflecting, stabbing and slashing his way through the onslaught of the enemy.

8 - when the Persians let fly with the rain of arrows, the Spartans take cover under their shields. All very tense, then the camera lingers on the shields coated in arrow shafts like a barren forest. Leonidas stands, holding his shield in one hand, swipes his sword with the other and cuts the arrows free, defiance radiating from his mane-like plumed helmet. Oh God, it's making my heart swell right now!

9 - this one actually makes my stomach feel like it's taken a punch. Leonidas kneels before his enemy at one point. If there's something that hurts to see, it's that king kneeling before anyone.

10 - I love the shot where Leonidas has raised his injured body back to its feet so that he can meet death with his arms outstretched in embrace. What a way to go!

Sigh. Can't wait till the next time!