Sunday, January 30, 2011

Through the Opera Glasses - 71 - Black Swan

Black Swan opened in theatres over a month ago, yet I only saw it this past weekend due to scheduling challenges - because I simply had to see it with my co-ballet-freak sister.

I adored this film on multiple levels - but really, there's no other way to experience Black Swan.

The story in a nutshell: Soloist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) takes on the notorious ballet roles of Odette, the White Swan and Odile, the Black Swan - a cavernous dramatic stretch for the same dancer to pull off both roles convincingly. Nina attempts to find the darker, seductive side to herself in a make-or-break grasp at the principal role brass ring. In a career that is brutally short, Nina has to fend off the expectations of her mother, the competition of her company members, and the unrelenting efforts of the artistic director who senses her untapped greatness. Can fragile Nina handle the considerable pressure?

In an inspired casting move, Barbara Hershey plays Natalie Portman's mom, a former dancer who now appears to devote herself to her daughter's career. They have a strong storyline centered on a delayed detachment between mother and daughter.

Vincent Cassel is a perfect choice for the artistic director of the New York ballet company staging a fresh version of Swan Lake. He's all slash-and-burn business when it comes to retiring the prima ballerina and courting funds for his company. He resorts to mind games without blinking if it will give him the performances he not only wants but needs, in order to woo new audiences to a rarified art form.

Another soloist in the company with just as much to win or lose as Nina, Lily (Mila Kunis) has the passion and easy seduction of the Black Swan but none of the purity of technique required of the White Swan. She's also one of the only company members willing to remain friends with Nina after her promotion, yet her casting as the alternate for Nina's role puts a strain on their relationship.

For obsessive perfectionists like dancers, the prospect of deconstructing their painstakingly-crafted signature dance styles in order to transform into something uncontrolled like the Black Swan character is a recipe for psychological disaster.

There are many, many real dancers in companies all over the world who possess all of the aspects of Odette and none of the untidy brilliance of Odile. To take on the challenge really does require these women to confront and wrestle with their Ballerina Princess identities. I'm certain there is a long history of mental anguish associated with dancing the Black Swan.

That is also why the role is not handed over lightly.

For me personally, as a lifelong devotee of dance, the sequences of transformation from dancer into Black Swan gave me incredible chills. It's a private moment that happens for every dancer as she stands in the wings, whether she is Odette or whether she's in the corps.

And the sequences where the steadicam brings us directly into the rehearsal movements and onstage during the performance bring me as close to the dancer's POV as I will ever get.

However, this film - often billed as a psychological thriller or even an art house horror film - also takes us along the disturbing descent into mental illness. Aronofsky's use of fractured mirror imagery, through-the-rabbit-hole mirror-upon-mirror imagery, and the donning and removal of identities via ballet roles makes the realization that we may be in the point of view of an unwell narrator sneak up on us.

Read clinical psychologist Dr. Villarreal's review of Black Swan as a journey through a mental health crisis HERE.

I have to say that Natalie Portman's courage in taking on a role where it was clearly herself dancing a difficult role for a professional dancer - let alone an actor portraying one - is nothing short of mindblowing.

*insert my standing ovation here*

She executes really impressive lifts, displays very respectable arms, and does honest-to-God fouett├ęs. She's been a huge favorite of mine for years, but now...


Check her out:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weekend Writers Retreat - 40

Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.

Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 40

When Scorpius rounded the curve in the road that revealed their cottage, the sight of his master sitting on a stool near the front door drew a smile, then a chuckle from him. Certainly, Richolf was busy polishing his boots. It was most definitely a fine day to sit outdoors and work.

The dog bounded up to greet him halfway along the road, trotting happily beside him as he approached the falconer.

“How did you fare?” Richolf asked, glancing up from his polishing.

Scorpius opened his leather satchel and retrieved the coins. He described his successful negotiations with the pelt trader, and warned his master as to why he’d paid too much for the falcon jess bells.

“How much is left, then?” Richolf asked, his expression darkening more than Scorpius had expected.

When Scorpius told him the sum, his master put down his boots and stood, taking the money from Scorpius’ hands with an abrupt swipe. Re-entering the cottage to secret away the coins, Richolf left Scorpius to stew alone.

For a moment, he considered picking up the boots and finishing the job for his master, but the unexpected reaction from Richolf stirred tight anger in Scorpius’ chest. He’d only meant to spare his master the pain of the journey to the estate. Why should he act like Scorpius had done some terrible crime in helping out the market girl?

Striding quickly past the cottage, Scorpius headed for the falcon mews, needing some time to cool down. He entered the dwelling of the hawk in need of the new bells, ignoring the raised wings and screech as the bird sensed his annoyance.

Scorpius grabbed the jesses from the hook and went outside to restring the bells. Just handling the delicate metal balls calmed him down, recalling the feel of her palm as he returned them to her, following the chase after the little thief.

He would have thought Richolf would have approved of Scorpius coming to her aid. Apparently not. It was the sum of four hundred or nothing at all. Scorpius released the old bells and replaced them with the new ones, his anger merely simmering as he worked, not dissipating as he’d hoped.

No more was said of it until the time came to bring the next delivery of pelts to the estate market.

As Richolf counted up the furs and readied the bundle for the journey, Scorpius’ heart swelled with hope that he would be granted permission to accompany his master. Oddly enough, his chest also squeezed with the echoes of anger. It wasn’t fair, the way Richolf had responded to Scorpius’ first efforts at trading in the marketplace.

Likely, he wouldn’t be allowed to go. Scorpius mucked out the falcon mews with sharp movements, unable to believe his master could be so harsh.

He’d barely thought it when he remembered that night when the nightmare hunt had shown him what a cruel master really looked like. Giving a hot sigh, Scorpius stopped and leaned on the rake, just as Richolf entered the mews.

Scorpius started up with his work again, even though his shoulders ached, not wanting to make eye contact.

“I’ll be needing you to take the pelts to market for me,” Richolf said, as if he’d never yanked the coins from his grasp or insinuated that he’d made a poor trade.

“Sir?” Scorpius said, stopping his work and forcing himself to at least face his master, though he still avoided his gaze. His face burned hot with both the effort of raking and with unspoken words.

“You should be able to get five hundred for this lot.”

“Five hundred,” Scorpius said, nodding.

The memory of her face already lightened his heart. But what if she wasn’t there? What if it was her mother, returned to health and running the market stall?

No matter. She lived somewhere near the estate, or perhaps at the estate – he would soon discover where. The prospect of finding out her name drove the weariness from his muscles as he flew through the last of his chores.

© Julia Smith, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 51

Travis at Trav's Thoughts invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

This is the wrap-up to Elvis Month, so this week I'm looking at his wealth of movie soundtrack songs.

The King of Rock and Roll also had 31 film credits under his belt, all of which contained music with the one exception of Charro! I am an unabashed lover of Elvis movies, and it has always impressed me that he delivered the same intensity of performance to every song he recorded, whether it was a true gem like Are You Lonesome Tonight or one of the less noted of the 260 songs he featured in his films.

He hit his marks in literally hundreds of choreographed sequences, and delivered both in-studio recorded versions and then lip-synched soundstage filmed versions of these songs. Another reason why Elvis is truly The King.

1 - Guitar Man - From the Clambake soundtrack, 1967

So I slept in the hobo jungles
Roamed a thousand miles of track
Till I found myself in Mobile, Alabama
At a club they call Big Jack's

A little four-piece band was jammin
So I took my guitar and sat in
I showed them what a band would sound like
With a swinging little guitar man

Show 'em, son

- Jerry Reed Hubbard

2 - Got a Lot of Living to Do - From the Loving You soundtrack, 1957

Oh yes, I've got a lot of living to do
A whole lot of loving to do
Come on, baby
To make a party takes two

Oh yes, I've got a lot of living to do
A whole lot of loving to do
And there's no one who I'd rather do it with
Than you

- Schroeder / Weisman

3 - King of the Whole Wide World - From the Kid Galahad soundtrack, 1962

The rich man wants the princess
The poor man just wants a girl
But the man who can sing
When he hasn't got a thing
He's the king
Of the whole wide world

- Bachelor / Roberts

4 - Wooden Heart - From the G.I. Blues soundtrack, 1960

Can't you see I love you
Please don't break my heart in two
That's not hard to do
Cause I don't have a wooden heart

There's no strings upon
This love of mine
It was always you from the start

Treat me nice
Treat me good
Treat me like you really should
Cause I'm not made of wood
And I don't have a wooden heart

- Kaempfert / Twomey / Weisman / Wise, after Friedrich Silcher

5 - Jailhouse Rock - From the Jailhouse Rock soundtrack, 1957

The sad sack was sitting on a block of stone
Way over in the corner, weeping all alone
The warden said, hey buddy
Don't you be no square
If you can't find a partner
Use a wooden chair

Let's rock
Everybody, let's rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancing to the jailhouse rock

- Leiber / Stoller

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 195 - 13 Theatres Where I've Enjoyed Plays or Dance Performances

1 - Prince Andrew High School Auditorium - Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Where my stage bug hit and my love affair with theatres began. Performed in plays including Charley's Aunt and musicals including Oklahoma!

2 - Rebecca Cohn Auditorium - Halifax, Nova Scotia

Saw both the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet companies here on tour when I was a girl.

3 - Neptune Theatre - Halifax

First felt the emotional electric charge between the audience and the performers when I was a girl, in the audience for Gypsy.

4 - Pond Playhouse, Theatre Arts Guild - Halifax

Performed in community theatre out at this small performance space, as well as assistant stage managed and assistant directed productions including The Children's Hour.

5 - O'Keefe Centre / Hummingbird Centre (now Sony Centre) - Toronto, Ontario

Worked as front of house staff for eight years here, enjoying 24 seasons of both the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company, including personal favorites such as Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Giselle; and Tosca, Carmen and Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung. And don't forget about the touring companies with stellar productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.

6 - Pantages Theatre (now Canon Theatre) - Toronto

I saw the first run cast of The Phantom of the Opera here. Shivery goodness.

7 - North York Performing Arts Centre (now Toronto Centre for the Arts) - Toronto

I was very lucky to see Showboat, Sunset Boulevard and Ragtime here.

8 - The Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto

Brad and I saw the Gershwin musical Crazy for You here on our anniversary.

9 - Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto

I saw my favorite play of all here, The Importance of Being Ernest.

10 - Young Peoples Theatre (now Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People) - Toronto

I saw Road to Avonlea's Gus Pike - otherwise known as Michael Mahonen - in Salt Water Moon here.

11 - Bathurst Street Theatre - Toronto

My husband and I saw a two-man comedy show featuring Mike Myers here.

12 - Sir James Dunn Theatre - Halifax

Once I'd moved back to Halifax, I was beyond thrilled to catch a ballet performance by Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart here with my mom and sister.

13 - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto

On trips back to Toronto, I've sighed with bliss to watch the National Ballet of Canada's Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker in this glorious-acoustics space.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - 185

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Through the Opera Glasses - 70 - Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at Neptune Theatre

What do I spy through my opera glasses this week?

A sparkling comedy by Noel Coward, now playing at Neptune Theatre in Halifax and running from January 18th to February 13th.

Neptune is located at the corner of Argyle and Sackville streets. Bringing professional theatre productions to Halifax audiences since 1963, with a history of previous live performances including vaudeville in the same location since 1915, Neptune is a Maritime jewel and a cultural landmark for which any East Coast arts lover holds great affection.

Observe my contented visage as my husband and I made our way into the lobby. I'd picked up our tickets on my lunch hour, which gave us time to meet up after work for dinner before popping into a favorite haunt and then take in the show. As I've mentioned previously here at A Piece of My Mind, those are the ingredients of a perfect day:

- anticipation of a live performance
- dinner
- the show
- some wandering about the city for an added element of perfection

Both my husband Brad and I really enjoyed the play. Our current Supernatural obsession makes Blithe Spirit the perfect play to break up our daily doses of Dean and Sam Winchester.

The story in a nutshell: to research psychic mediums for his next novel, writer Charles Condomine invites Madame Arcati to his home for a seance. However, the medium successfully pulls the spirit of Charles' first wife Elvira back from the Other Side, leading to a territorial showdown between the past and present Mrs. Condomines.

Brad, being a graduate of Toronto's New School of Drama, enjoyed a taste of live theatre for a change from his regular cinephile screenings. He laughed out loud several times (he's not overly-prone to such giggling,) mentioning afterwards that the performances were all strong ones.

As for me, I already knew I would enjoy Blithe Spirit, having seen a production once before. Noel Coward's play is filled with enough wit to be entertaining even as a script-read-through, no sets/costumes/performances necessary.

But the joy of the theatre is settling into my seat to be transported into the story, and words alone don't make the theatre experience.

I'm always impressed by the set designers for Neptune productions - they work with a small stage and never fail to make it seem four times as big. Geofrey Dinwiddie has created an English country manor house that seems cozy enough for the romantic farce elements, and spooky enough for the ghost story to come with its Gothic arches hanging from the proscenium.

Mr. Dinwiddie must have had a great time rigging the set for its displays of otherworldly presences - a smashing good time, I dare say.

Check out the marvelous costume designs by Patrick Clark, showcased by blogging team Haute Halifax:

Spirited theatre fashion

I especially loved Elvira-the-Blithe-Spirit's frothy white Carole Lombard gown.

Here is the merest of tastes of the delightful wit of Mr. Coward:

Ivan Sherry as Charles Condamine

Ruth: You must promise not to catch my eye. If I giggle - and I'm very likely to - it will ruin everything.

Charles: You mustn't. You must be dead serious and if possible a little intense. We can't hurt the old girl's feelings, however funny she is.

Ruth: But why the Bradmans, darling? He's as sceptical as we are. He'll probably say the most dreadful things.

Charles: I've warned him. There must be more than three people and we couldn't have the Vicar and his wife because (a) they're dreary, and (b) they probably wouldn't have approved at all.

Martha Irving as Ruth Condomine

Margot Dionne as Madame Arcati

Madame Arcati: Fortunately an Elemental at this time of the year is unlikely.

Ruth: What do Elementals do?

Madame Arcati: Oh my dear, one can never tell. They're dreadfully unpredictable. Usually they take the form of a very cold wind.

Mrs. Bradman: I don't think I should like that.

Madame Arcati: Occasionally reaching almost hurricane velocity.

Ruth: You don't think it would be a good idea to take the more breakable ornaments off the mantlepiece before we start?

Marla McLean as Elvira Condomine,
the Blithe Spirit herself

There are still several weeks left of the Halifax run. Take a break from your normal everyday and treat yourself to a slice of my favorite taste of life: an audience settling in, the lights dimming, the first footsteps as the actors step onstage...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Writers Retreat - 39

Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.

Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 39

The girl stretched across the crowded market stall to take up a little covered woven basket. Enjoying the sight as she reached, Scorpius nearly missed his cue to look away in time.

The muffled sound of tiny bells beckoned from the container held in her palm. “Ma told me someone would stop by for these,” she said, her eyes gleaming with mischief. “But you don’t look anything like the man she described.”

“Well, if I may say so,” Scorpius said, waves of relief rolling through him at what he’d nearly said about the old woman before he knew it was her mother, “I nearly passed by this stall, as I was looking for someone other than yourself.”

She grinned and dipped her head down in the most adorable manner. “You’ll be wanting these, then?” Lifting the basket lid, she revealed several assortments of miniature bells held together by twine.

Scorpius leaned forward to peer inside just as the girl did likewise. They knocked heads.

“Ow!” she cried as the basket flew from her hand, bells scattering over the ground. Scorpius chuckled and bent to retrieve them when a grimy little boy darted from out of nowhere and scooped up a handful.

“Hey!” the girl shouted, shoving at Scorpius and reaching for the boy. But he was quick and disappeared before Scorpius could blink.

One glance at the girl told him how great was her distress at the loss of her mother’s wares. Scorpius bolted after the boy, scrambling to keep him in sight, darting and weaving between stalls and market goers.

It took a great deal of trouble, but Scorpius finally grabbed a handful of the boy’s tunic. It nearly ripped in his hands, it was so threadbare. The feeling in his gut when the market girl had looked at him in despair was nothing compared to the chill in his heart when the beggar boy gazed into his eyes.

What a hard little person it was staring back at him, covered in grime and old scars, smelling to the heavens. No one to take him on as an apprentice, no one to care for him, no one but those he could steal from before they could give him a blow and a curse.

Still, these bells weren’t his. He threw the boy down on the ground, pried his fingers open and retrieved the bells.

As he rose, panting, Scorpius noticed the boy hadn’t run off as he’d supposed he might. Taking a moment to adjust his own tunic, he noticed the silent tears as the boy regained his feet. He also noticed how bony the boy’s ankles were beneath ragged trousers.

Grabbing the boy by the shoulder, Scorpius saw the boy’s instinctive flinch. His heart squeezed inside, but he forced himself to remain gruff as he picked several bells from the retrieved loot and offered them back to the little thief.

Gazing suspiciously at him for a brief moment, the boy didn’t give Scorpius time to change his mind. He scooped up the bells and took off, disappearing into the crowd.

Hardly anyone in the market had bothered to stop and look. Two boys fighting were hardly a matter for concern, especially when one was clearly a beggar. Scorpius made his way back to the girl’s market stall, his heart soaring when he found her craning for a look at him.

He basked in her relief as he rejoined her, holding out the bells and dropping them back into her palm.

“Oh thank you!” she said, a catch in her voice. “Thank you!”

Scorpius shrugged as if all the running and jumping, the grabbing and sorting things out had been nothing at all.

“This is just the sort of thing Ma was saying would happen. She didn’t want me to run the stall for her today, but she isn’t well.” Her voice thickened and she turned away.

So many tears today. Scorpius closed the space between them and said, “My master said the same thing. It’s all turning out pretty much as he’d warned me.”

She laughed and turned to smile up at him. Why did she look even prettier in the midst of her dismay? Was it the way she seemed to need him just now?

“I wish we didn’t have to tell them they were right. Don’t you?” she said, wiping her face.

“You won’t have to tell your ma anything. I’ll buy the bells he made off with, as well as the ones I got back for you.”

She shoved at him, but her face softened with hope. “Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not being anything except a terrible deal maker, just as my master predicted.”

She swallowed and turned to someone stopping at her stall to make a purchase. When they’d finished their exchange, Scorpius moved to take his place, offering the money he would have paid for all of the bells in that design.

“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head and smiling a warm and beautiful smile. She gasped as he took her hand and pressed the money upon her. “But your master won’t let you near the market again if you’re such a dreadful dealer.”

“What would be the point of coming back, if your ma didn’t let you run her stall for her?”

She laughed, a delightful sound that made him feel as though he’d performed the spirals and dives of a courting falcon.

© Julia Smith, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 50

Travis at Trav's Thoughts is celebrating his First Anniversary for this music feature which I've enjoyed immensely. A round of huzzahs, everyone!

If you've been hankering to join in, Travis invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

At the beginning of January - in honor of Elvis' birthday - I began Elvis Month for my 5 on Friday with my Popculturedivas post, which featured five of The King's delta-blues gospel songs.

Last week I showcased five of what I consider his ballad gospel songs.

But this week I'm presenting the Elvis who likely inspired the gospel Elvis to beseech the Lord in the first place.

1 - Trouble

If you're looking for trouble
You came to the right place
If you're looking for trouble
Just look right in my face

I was born standing up
And talking back
My daddy was a green-eyed mountain jack

Because I'm evil
My middle name is misery
Well, I'm evil
So don't you mess around with me

- Leiber / Stoller

2 - Surrender

So my darling
Please surrender to me
All your love so warm and tender
Let me hold you in my arms, dear
While the moon shines bright above

All the stars will tell the story
Of our love and all its glory
Let us take this night of magic
And make it a night of love

- Pomus / Shuman, after the Neapolitan ballad by Giambattista and Ernesto de Curtis

3 - Little Sister

Little sister, don't you
Little sister, don't you
Little sister, don't you kiss me once or twice
Then say it's very nice
And then you run

Little sister, don't you
Do what your big sister done

- Pomus / Shuman

4 - Devil in Disguise

I thought that I was in heaven
But I was sure surprised
Heaven help me, I didn't see
The devil in your eyes

You look like an angel
Walk like an angel
Talk like an angel
But I got wise

You're the devil in disguise

- Baum / Giant / Kaye

5 - Such a Night

It was a kiss
Ooo, what a kiss
It was, it really was, such a kiss
Oh, how she could kiss
Oh, what a kiss
It was, it really was, such a kiss

Just the thought of her lips
Sets me afire
I reminisce
And I'm filled with desire

But I gave my heart to her
In sweet surrender
How well I remember
I'll always remember

- Lincoln Chase

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 194 - 13 Words

Here are thirteen words I plan to use this year:

Photo by Maureen Kemp

1 - prosecco

I just adore this Italian dry sparkling wine. Mmm, mmm, mmm. Not for everyday, though. Should be for special occasions.

2 - celebration

I'm definitely in the mood for celebrating. I have a few specific ones in mind. And I'll need prosecco for those.

3 - set

As in, 'walking on set'. As on a film set. Will have more on that as spring rolls around. Just a short project, book promo-related, but returning me to my true passion.

4 - bravo

Psst... here's a little secret. Ballet people love shouting 'bravo!' and clapping wildly. It's part of the fun of going to the ballet in the first place.

5 - conference

My first writer's conference! Coming up in June! Working like a dog to save up $$$. Thankfully, there's lots to do at work, at the moment.

6 - connect

I really enjoy connecting with people. Not in a chat-up-total-strangers-on-the-bus kind of extroverted way, but in a longterm-blogging-develop-relationships-with-people introverted kind of way.

7 - retreat

I'm a repeat retreater. Writers' retreat, that is. I've been to about seven of them with my writers' group each year, and I'm already counting the weeks until the next one.

I'm not much of a retreat sort of person, otherwise, as in step back from a challenge/confrontation. Always refining the art of diplomacy, me.

8 - breathtaking

It's what makes life so precious, those moments that take my breath away. I'm looking forward to all of those waiting for me this year. Hope you find lots of them in your year.

9 - request

I'm looking forward to that magical day when I receive a request for my full manuscript. And being able to write 'requested material' on the envelope.

10 - miniseries

How I love discovering a TV miniseries that sweeps me away and keeps me waiting, waiting, waiting for the next episode. Like Downton Abbey, now airing on PBS Masterpiece. Or Spartacus, returning Jan. 21st on Starz and The Movie Network.

11 - heartwrenching

And I do need my miniseries to give my heart a good squish. Make me cry! That's what I want.

12 - launch

Looking forward to the day when 'launch' is a word for my creative work, and not just the ferry heading across the harbour.

13 - beloved

My year is most complete when I can share it with my beloved.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - 184

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Poetry Train Monday - 181 - Celestial DNA

This is a re-posting of an early Poetry Train appearance from 2007.

It's something I wrote while in university. I was a mature student, returning to school after having been in the workforce for a decade. So this is the work of a 30-year-old me.

Note: This year I'm alternating Mondays between the Poetry Train and my arts feature, Through the Opera Glasses. Normally, today's post would be Through the Opera Glasses, but I'll be doing a play review next week, and the performance is coming up this Wednesday.

Celestial DNA

The world we inhabit
Hides its numbers
In the leaves

While buried in the sinews
Swirling within blood cells
The rhythm of the firmament
The curling of the tides
Tell the tale

The Young Ladies of Avignon
Standing in their
Crystal congress
Know their geometric afternoon

Amoeba glide
Snowflakes drift
Pollen ride the breeze

A mother feels the flutter
Child turning in the womb
The sweep of the grandiose constellations
In the frightening maw of time

God's fingerprints
And ours

Copyright 1994 Julia Smith

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Writer's Retreat - 38

Here's the latest installment of Scorpius' boyhood back story.

Scorpius is a character from my dark fantasy work in progress. For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we follow him as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes follow ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovers the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes give us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovers the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 38

“Four hundred.” Scorpius stared down the trader as if his heart wasn’t beating a little too fast.

The weathered man’s expression soured. “This isn’t worth half that.”

“You’d say that to my master’s face, I suppose? And these are the same quality he always brings you. Four hundred.” He’d already knocked it down from five-fifty. A promise to Richolf for four hundred was starting to sound less likely by the moment.

“Your master was drunk when he asked for such a figure.”

The trader’s derision shoved against Scorpius, chipping away at his resolve. But he remembered Richolf’s prediction that he wouldn’t be able to drive a good bargain. It was now or never.

“You know exactly who my master is. Who else brings you such pelts?” Scorpius forced himself to lean in and speak in a lower tone. The trader’s brows knit together in confusion at first, but he cocked his head to listen.

“The truth is, my master trades here because it’s closer for him,” Scorpius said. “He has a hard time walking these days. But I don’t have the same problem, do I? And there are three other estates a day’s journey from here, all with markets, all with traders who’d love to get their hands on these inferior furs.”

Scorpius stepped back and gave the trader time to make up his mind. The man was too experienced to give anything away, so Scorpius turned to gaze toward the gate and the road leading away from the estate. A hand upon his arm made him turn to the trader, who held out his other hand to shake on a deal.

“Four hundred,” the trader said, and Scorpius made his first deal with a surge of pride flooding his chest. He helped the older man unload the pelts onto a cart, took the money and strolled away toward another market stall. There were a few items to purchase before he made his way back to the cottage.

He stopped short at the stall where he would find the little bells they needed for the falcon jesses.

The old woman who sold at this stall wasn’t there this morning. In her place was a girl about his own age, perhaps a little older. An idiotic smile spread over his face before he could stop it.

The girl smirked, her eyes sparkling at his approach. “Good day,” she said in a deeper voice than he would have imagined. He loved the richness of it.

“It’s very good,” he said, forcing his mouth to put away its grin. But it fought him.
“Is there something you’re wanting this morning?” she said.

Scorpius could only gaze at her. He was certain she must think him a simpleton. “Bells,” he said at last.

“Bells?” she said, her look of confusion so charming, the way her lips parted – if she didn’t stop he would have to kiss her right there in front of the entire marketplace.

“For my birds,” he said.

The girl’s brow creased with annoyance, as though he were taunting her. Then she lit up with a smile of recognition. “Oh! You’re the falconer’s boy!”

Scorpius grinned again, far too widely for this simple trade at the seller’s stall. He should take care that she didn’t fleece him worse than he’d avoided with the pelt trader. He was in danger here.

But a reckless joy made the possibilities intoxicating.

© - Julia Smith, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 49

Travis at Trav's Thoughts invites everyone to lay down a short set of music that takes their fancies for his 5 on Friday meme.

Last week I began Elvis Month with my Popculturedivas post, which featured five of The King's delta-blues gospel songs.

This week I'm showcasing five of what I consider his ballad gospel songs. I think Elvis' voice never sounded more tender nor more beautiful than when he sang to the Lord.

Travis had this to say about Elvis' gospel music last week:

"I have a theory that gospel music connected him so tightly to his mother and to his dead twin Jesse Garon, and that's where the passion and emotion can be heard in his recordings."

Cool theory, Travis. I definitely agree.

1 - In the Garden

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own

And the joy we share
As we tarry there
None other has ever known

- C. Austin Miles

2 - Crying in the Chapel

You saw me crying in the chapel
The tears I shed were tears of joy
I know the meaning of contentment
Now I am happy with the Lord

Just a plain and simple chapel
Where humble people go to pray
I pray the Lord that I'll grow stronger
As I live from day to day

- Artie Glenn

3 - Take My Hand, Precious Lord

When my way grows drear
Precious Lord, linger near
When my light is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home

- Allen / Dorsey

4 - Miracle of the Rosary

Oh, Blessed Mother we pray to Thee
Thanks for the miracle of Your Rosary

Only You can hold back
Your Holy Son's hand
Long enough for the whole world
To understand

- Lee Denson

5 - How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God!
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

Then sings my soul
My Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

- Boberg / Hine

Thursday Thirteen - 193 - 13 Bits of Randomness For a Snowy Day

We're in the midst of a massive snowstorm, which was preceded by my Julia's Migraine Weather Network forecast of 'Beware'. My migraines are triggered by low pressure systems, and two of them are colliding over Nova Scotia as I type. I began to feel the system's arrival on Monday. By Wednesday - Snow Day - I really felt crappy. But a year-and-a-half into acupuncture treatment for migraines, and I was able to make it into work, when previously I would not have been able to get out the door.

The Ordeal home from work only added to the misery. An hour's commute became a two-and-a-half hour odyssey, including trudging home for about forty minutes through the pelting snow from the last bus terminal on the route because the bus couldn't make it past the icy intersection onto the road.

Since the storm ate into my blogging time, here are thirteen bits of randomness for your winter reading:

1 - One never knows where blogging will take you. I was approached this week by the local professional theatre to preview their winter season play because the marketing department googled Halifax arts bloggers and found me.


2 - I have had the pleasure of meeting three blog friends in Real Life - Wiley Kinson, Leah Braemel and Apprentice Writer - and hope to add to that number this summer when I go to the writer's conference in New York.

3 - Sixteen years after graduating from film school, I'm looking forward to working on a short project at long last. I did work on several other gigs over the years, including my very first paid writing job for a TV documentary, but this will be the first time I'll be doing something of my own again in years.

Yeah, baby.

4 - I'm preparing to launch a web site this year. Graphics already being designed as you read this. I had to use it as a carrot during NaNoWriMo.

It worked.

5 - Eight years ago, I joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I already had my film degree and felt I was a strong writer.

However, it has taken all of these eight years to really refine my craft and learn how to write a novel as opposed to a screenplay.

6 - During this eight-year period, I battled chronic pain issues from an injury and from recurring, debilitating migraines. I still managed to write, and even started this blog four years ago, keeping up a regular posting schedule.

Since beginning acupuncture treatment a year-and-a-half ago, my pain issues resolved themselves enough to allow me to complete the revisions that kept me from finishing a challenging manuscript. Sometimes roadblocks are sneaky. Sometimes they're not creative or motivational. They may seem unrelated, but some roadblocks may be physical problems, financial problems or social obligation problems that are not the obvious source of one's frustration.

If you can identify them, however, you can tackle them just like any other creative block.

7 - Why friends are so awesome:

Here in Halifax we have a small dance community, but not one big enough to place a book like Apollo's Angels on the fly-off-the-bookstore-shelves list. But when I caught up with my friend Alan in Toronto, he mentioned it right away, as he knew it was quite obviously written with me specifically in mind.

It's a comprehensive cultural history of ballet, written by a former dancer and historian, and it made the 10 Best Books of 2010 list by the New York Times Book Review.

When I went with my bookstore gift card money to the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto to get it, the clerk in the Performing Arts section said they couldn't keep it in the store. He immediately called over to the Eaton Centre Indigo Books store and had them put one on hold for me, telling them, "She'll be there in ten minutes." Holy mackerel! I raced over to grab my copy before it dashed out onto Yonge Street in someone else's bag.

Thanks, Alan, for knowing I couldn't live another day without it.

Thanks, Toronto, for being the kind of city where Apollo's Angels can create this kind of emergency.

8 - When I was at the matinee performance of The Nutcracker during my vacation, a little girl a few rows behind me sang along when the children's chorus began during the snow scene at the end of act one. Not only did it not bother me, it delighted me that she could sing the entire thing perfectly.

9 - I received a lovely bottle of Glenlivet single malt whisky from my brother-and sister-in-law for Christmas, and made the error of not packing it in my checked luggage for the flight home. I'd had visions of crushed bottles from tossed suitcases. Silly me.

As my husband and I wound our way through the security lines, we realized there were too many millilitres of liquid for it to make it through as carry on. I told the security woman when I got to her: "I've got whisky in here."

She very seriously told me to check that piece of carry on as luggage, as if the very thought of having to toss out single malt would make her seek professional therapy. I loved her reverence for my Glenlivet. Highly appreciated, anonymous security person!

10 - I'm quite certain there was not enough shortbread in my Christmas this year. I think I got some at my writers' potluck at the end of November.

11 - Someone who saw the pictures I took of my sister's wedding thought they'd been taken by the professional photographer.


12 - Meanwhile, my friend Marianne - who takes fantastic photos - checked out my camera while we had lunch together and promptly told me to read my user's manual, as I clearly know nothing about my own piece of equipment.

LOL! Because it's true.

13 - I met with writer friends Chris and Charlene for lunch while in Toronto, and the two of them (and I believe a few other friends of theirs) always declare each year to be the Year of Something.

This year is the Year of Re-Invention.

I told them I would be participating fully in that year. Here's a few thoughts on re-invention from Carla Rieger, a motivational speaker:

"I was discovering a new purpose that wanted to be born into my life.

What took so long for me to get through this process was that I didn’t want to let go of the old identity because it was familiar, I knew how to make it work and I was attached to the social approval I received for this kind of work, not to mention the income and sense of security that provided. Yet, trying to hold on was actually creating more problems in my life.

When I finally let go of my old identity and let myself go into the dark and the unknown I started to discover amazing things, parts of myself that wanted expression. The truth was that I didn’t need to change what I was doing but how I was doing it.

It takes courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful for you. There is actually more security in taking an adventure into the new, because in movement there is life and vitality again."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - 183

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Poetry Train Monday - 180 - Excerpt from New Year's Morning

This year, after four solid years of Poetry Train Monday here at A Piece of My Mind, I've decided to stagger my poetry posts to alternate with my arts feature, Through the Opera Glasses. My fiction writing schedule amped up this fall, and my arts feature got shelved week after week due to time crunch issues. So sharing Mondays with poetry will help alleviate the disappearing act for Through the Opera Glasses.

To help welcome in 2011, here is an excerpt from ruminations on the passing of one year to welcome in the new by Helen Hunt Jackson, a woman who lived through her share of sorrows. She lost two brothers in infancy, had lost both parents by age seventeen, lost both sons to illness and her first husband to an accident.

Yet she attended college in the mid-1800's with Emily Dickinson, who became a life-long friend. She published poetry and novels. She became an activist on behalf of Native Americans. She remarried in her mid-forties.

To me, her poem speaks of an unshakeable optimism even in the face of personal catastrophe. Her poem speaks to me because I feel the same as she did.

Excerpt from New Year's Morning

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.

Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

- Helen Hunt Jackson, 1892

Photo by Azareal

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!