31 July 2009
Here I am at the end of the day, knowing I should get some rest. Instead, I find myself tapping away at the keyboard or reading by the light of the monitor (lamps are packed), reluctant to let this last day go. Tomorrow brings new and unknown things; tomorrow is the first step on an undiscovered road; tomorrow leaves the comfortable and familiar behind.
JB and I stayed up later than usual, wandering a tangled conversational path. I think we were both prolonging our last evening of chatting in this house. Somehow - as is common, I believe - talk of politics led to talk of fashion (how clothing in the 1950s was universally flattering to women) and then of course to foundational garments. I'll spare you some of that, but along the way, we touched on the current trend of highwaisted trousers and the fashion for broad belts. Not regular belts serving the purpose of holding up your slacks, but very wide, decorative belts, worn over tops and blouses. Both JB and I are short waisted...hips to bossom with nothing in between is what I mean. It is very difficult to clothe us nicely, let alone fashionably, and we short waisted types cringe whenever these ridiculous fashions become pervasive. We laughed at the image of ourselves in one those belts, and JB illustrated the scene for me: "Look at this new belt I got!" (excitedly to friend) "It's got a great buckle, see?" (hoists up the bossom to show friend nifty new belt and its wonderful buckle)
Doesn't work, does it?
Right. I'll take my short-waisted self to bed now, acknowleding the demise of the era. Good night room. Good night house.
29 July 2009
It's an interesting experience, handling the bits and pieces that compass, define, and make possible your life as you know it. It is purgative, stressful, freeing, humourous and time consuming -- and that's just the canvas tote collection I had tucked under my bed! Apparently I thought I needed 10. I was ruthless and whittled the count down to four. How liberating!
I'm fairly certain that I have packed my brain into a box as well. It hasn't been seen for a few days now, but I don't remember which box it's in. I hope I marked it clearly, so I can find it quickly when it comes to unpacking at the other end.
In the meantime, there may not be many posts until things settle down a little. All I've got to talk about is boxes anyway, and while I could spin that into deep metaphorical insights into life, perceptions, gender differences and so on, I am currently lacking my brain.
26 July 2009
The church I went to for Mass is right beside a lake, perched up high as if to blanket the town under its mantle. Its setting prepares you already for the experience inside of simple beauty in both architecture and liturgy. I felt at home, as if I truly belonged there. I've had that experience before, in different parishes. It must be that my soul recognizes Home among people who sincerely seek Him.
24 July 2009
23 July 2009
21 July 2009
However, there I was, water-side, with a really good book, good company, gorgeous weather, and settled in to people watch for the day. There were bodies in all shapes and sizes - a shocking number with multiple tattoos, there were several piercings, hairy backs, the white guy with white white hair tanned to the colour of a coconut shell, cute-as-buttons little people, including a month old newbie who slept beside me for a couple of hours. But not one..not one single...speedo. I was disappointed! It used to be guaranteed that anytime you were in spitting distance of water, there'd be some European guy swaggering along in his speedo and gold chains. The closest there was to that today was a gentleman in a 007 suit. You know the one I mean. Casino Royale? Daniel Craig in the water? I thought of posting a picture, but that could be construed as lascivious. Or licentious. Not sure which, but neither are appropriate for the tone of this PG blog.
While he was a nice looking man, I was still sorry to not have seen a speedo. It's a sign of changing times, and I'm not altogether sure it's a good sign.
What I did see though, on the way home, was one of these which finished off the day very nicely. We used to see these Citroens all over France, and longed to own one for ourselves. We called them Duck Ducks...though I couldn't tell you why.
20 July 2009
18 July 2009
It is raining. It seems to be a proper sort of rainy day and I'm able to settle in and embrace the subdued calm that comes from a good rainy day. Or maybe because we've actually had some really nice summery days all in a row, today doesn't strike depression or malice into my soul! Whichever, I woke up this morning and feeling quite content as I listened to the drip of the drops, and admired the altered appearance of the leaves and limbs.
Thinking back over my adult years, most of the places I have lived have featured trees, and often to the point that I could imagine I lived in a tree house. One place was on the seventh floor, but the trees were so tall, we were on level with the canopy, as if we could step off the balcony right onto their branches. It gave the apartment such a feeling of peace...it was lovely.
By summer's end, I will be in yet another new home. I don't know what the view out of my window will be, but I hope there will be a tree or two. For now, I'm going to take advantage of what I have here; I'm moving over to the chair tucked between both windows to watch the rain come down and let the peace soak into me. I hope wherever you are, you have a view that eases your heart.
15 July 2009
This particular cute thing came about after the wee ones were "in bed". The living room began to get dark, so we got up to turn on some lights, when suddenly, there was a little person (4*), standing right there in the middle of the room, scaring the...dickens out of us. Looking up at his mom ever so trustingly, though groggily, he held up his tiny finger, and with one word, tried to get himself out of trouble for being out of bed so late: Owie.
Last night, I was helping the above mentioned wee person with his supper. After every few forkfuls, he would hold up his hand in the universal sign of 'stop', telling me "Just a minute". He would then reach down, pick up his blankie, and take a few comforting sniffs, put the blankie back down, and say so very nicely "ok. Some more, please."
Several nights ago, when the whole gang was eating around the small kitchen table, one of us must have pretended we were going to sneak something from his plate. He placed his arms in a protective shield around his plate, and told us "back off, guys. This is my plate!"
* Four in birth order, not age.
He walked with the confidence of a man in uniform, one who knew he could keep 900,000 pounds of machinery, metal and human flesh aloft over mountain ranges and vast sweeps of ocean expanse; through storm and cloud and shattering sunlight. He was a pilot; a ginger-haired pilot with the clear, icy blue eyes of an Alaskan Husky. Even in the warm and contented fog of a week well-lived in New York City, Colleen recognised the masculine command emanating from the very presence of this man, and nearly swooned on the spot. At least, never having properly swooned before, she thought the limp spaghetti state of her knees was a precursor to an out-and-out swoon, and she clutched at the back of one of the moulded plastic seats riveted to the floor of the departures lounge in long rows, like prisoners in a chain gang. He heard her luggage tumble to the floor, turned to see if assistance was required (he could fly a plane - a lady in distress was nothing to this man) and that’s when it happened: their eyes met across the crowded room. His piercing blue gaze drew her own like a magnet draws iron shavings; it felt as if her very soul was yearning toward him.
Glenn…his name was Glenn. (He wore a helpful name badge on the breast pocket of his uniform) The name had a Scottish ring to it. Maybe he was Scottish, and had a lovely, lilting brogue in his speech, was able to sing like an angel, and could tickle trout out of creeks when hill walking through the heather. The beautiful man started to walk toward her, and it seemed there was a glow about him, like Maddy Hayes on Moonlighting (it was the Vaselined lens they used for her on the show). When he stood next to her, he reached out and touched her, holding her hand and helping her to steady herself. His nearness though, intensified the wobble in her knees, and she had to rely on his support in order to remain standing. He was warm and strong, and he smelled so good she couldn’t help leaning in to absorb him a little more. He smiled at her - a lift at one corner of his mouth and a flash of dimple in his cheek -- then without a word he patted her hand, and walked with confident, man-in-uniform strides to his gate, and disappeared from her sight.
What had she done? How could she have allowed this man to just walk out of her life like that? There had been a connection between them, she knew it; and in the brief contact of their hands, she had felt a lifetime of belonging. She would have to trust the Fates on this one, for she knew the door closing behind him as he went to his plane was not the door of possibility closing on their future happiness.
14 July 2009
A few days ago, I bought a cheap-but-delicious hotdog from one of those fast food places. This one specializes in hamburgers dressed any old way you want, but I really enjoy their hotdogs and have pickles on the side. I always ask for more than they first give me. I really like pickles. It had been a day of errands and lots of rain. I was tired of the constant in and out of the car routine, so made use of the drive through. Or is it drivethru? Anyway...have you ever noticed that when you actually enter the store, you wait a long time for service, while about 17 people are busy handing coffee or burgers out the window to people sitting warm and dry in their car? This is why I chose the drivethru (or is it drive-through?) on that day. But I had to wait to place my order, and once I got to the delivery window, not once did the girl acknowledge me, or even say a thing beyond "four twenty-five". She used up all her words talking to her friend working beside her.
I've got nothing on Dave Carroll though, and his crazy experience. Check this out: http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/story/united-breaks-guitars/The link is to his website and his telling of how United Airlines damaged his costly guitar (he's a musician, so aside from sentimental value, his guitar is also his livelihood) and then proceeded to give him the runaround from Halifax to Chicago, New York, India and Omaha in an attempt to pass the buck of responsibility. Being a man of good humour, he determined to use his songwriting talents for fun as well as work and kept his promise to United that he would write of his experience with them and post it on Youtube. That link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo The video (and the song) is simple but clever, honest and humorous. Dave has written a part two, with one more installment to follow after that. From what I gather, there has been no official apology from United, but they have approached Mr. Carroll for permission to use the video in customer service training. Isn't that hilarious?
Which reminds me: I was with a couple of friends on the weekend, and the conversation drifted to the topic of customer service. I don't know how that happened, because lovely beverages of fruits of the forest mixed with a sugar cane by-product was accompanying our very high-brow cinematic experience. Regardless, the gist of this conversation was that both friends were interested in starting up a 'customer service training' business. Teach individuals how to deliver good service, or teach businesses how to train their employees in the principles of good customer relations. I think it's a grand idea. They could have saved United a great deal of embarrassment.
(A note to people who rely on Spellcheck to catch their typos: for every occurance of drivethru/through/-through, Spellcheck suggested diptheria)
13 July 2009
Today I stumbled across two new blogs, and while I've just begun to explore them, the initial sampling struck me as being worth sharing. This first one because it made me laugh. It is so very British, so very 'bloke'ish, wonderfully descriptive...it could be Dave Barry with a British accent. http://thebigsideorder.blogspot.com/ I've often joked that I'd love to be Dave Barry... I think having the ability to universally make people laugh (that sounds rather bullying and manipulative. Should I say 'inspire people to laugh'?) is the most wonderful gift. As well as very difficult.
The second one I've included because for years now, since first learning about Act One, I've been wanting to learn more about Christians (specifically Catholics) in Hollywood. While I can be rather scathing of "the emptiness of Hollywood", the power of film to tell a story, evoke emotions, share experiences, ensure the remembrance of history, and to simply entertain, is not to be maligned or overlooked. http://www.churchofthemasses.blogspot.com/
I have aspirations to write, and think I'd like to try my hand at screenplays. I didn't believe it would be possible to write good, broad-appeal scripts without also having to compromise the thing which is most fundamental to who I am: Catholicism. Until I learned about the group at Act One, that is. And today I somehow found my way to Barbara Nicolosi's blog, and I feel inspired to take this idea of writing more seriously.
Think about movies that you've seen. Think about the ones that have really left an impression, have almost become a part of you. The best stories always do. What do they have in common? I'm sure that for the most part, those lingering movies tell the Truth, even if only in a small way. The characters may be flawed, there may be struggle and sadness - maybe not even a
The trick, I think, for contemporary storytellers who choose film as their medium, is to share Truth in such a way so as to not alienate their audience. There is a place for evangelism, and those who are called to (and gifted for) overt prophecy - telling the Word straight out. But there is also a place for those who speak the language of 'the world' and bring light into its darkness in a less overt fashion. Perhaps like a mom who sneaks spinach into the scrambled eggs, or vitamins into the orange juice. Harmless but effective. I see it as reclaiming popular culture: it is taking back the storytelling art form, and restoring substance to its content. The challenge is to spin a tale with mass appeal, and deliver an important message without hitting the audience over the head with it.
11 July 2009
Customer service II, or, I'm twelve, don't know a thing about our product and really can't be bothered to help you.
First of all, I was asked by three different people as I came in the store if there was something they could help me find. I told each one what I was looking for - a rom com by one of America's leading sweethearts - and each one had to go to the computer to look it up. We could plainly see for ourselves the store didn't have it, because their entire selection of comedies was exactly one row long, and in the row most of the videos were sitting flat, cover out, instead of lined up like books, spine out. I only mention this to make the point that their selection was very very limited. What they had, frankly, were a bunch of movies I'd never heard of, or was afraid to touch -- certain that if I did, I'd get slimed. But did they have the one we were looking for, with an A-list cast and box office clout? Stop laughing! Why do you laugh at that question? The answer, obviously, is 'no'. They didn't have it, and yes, maybe we were naive to expect they would have it. Consider the lesson learned: video chain stores are not really in the movie business. They do not hire knowledgeable film buffs, or train their staff in the products and services of the company. It's like going to Fox Books, where they think of books like giant cans of olive oil.
Not deterred, we decided to check out the P-V section, and noticed they had a 'special offer' - buy four and get them for forty percent off. Hoorah! We love movies, are not snobbish in our requirements, so surely we'd find four titles, piece of cake. Once we got over the shock of discovering they were selling movies better suited to one of those adult-only establishments that keep their windows covered, we found several we were interested in. Being experienced sale shoppers, we took note of the small print: selected videos. We hied ourselves off to the service desk, and asked them which movies were the selected ones. The answer included several "I think"s, and "it must be" and "I guess". Overwhelmed at the knowledge and confidence of the young service representative, we asked if he would mind checking if our choices met the criteria. One of them was not even supposed to be for sale, he said, though it clearly had the big red round sale sticker on it. The others were fine, but one marked 7.99 was supposed to be 9.99 which he told us. We commented that by law a store must sell the product for the price advertised. His buddy at the till next to him was smirking and sort of chuckling under his breath, maybe amused we were talking about 2 bucks. The one 'serving' us didn't make eye contact, and actually made no comment at all, just processed our purchase. Checking the receipt after, we discovered he charged the higher price.
Being on a crusade against poor service -- or no service -- we both wanted to march back in the store and get satisfaction. But satisfaction would not have been had: the manager on duty was sure to be 17 years old, with no real service training. The guy who dealt with us was not capable of even saying hello and looking at us the whole time we were in front of him, let alone resolve an issue we had. I've been in that store before, only to hear employees gossip about other employees, or talk about the party they were at on the weekend, all while I'm waiting at the cash. I'm not likely to ever go back, but even that is not enough any more: I'm making phone calls and writing letters to places that have poorly trained, irresponsible and unprofessional staff.
If store owners are content to hire minimum wage teenagers to do the work, well and good, but they have to take responsibility. As a consumer, I am not obliged to accept poor service. It may be inconvenient, but I am going to seek out businesses that offer good service, and are knowledgeable in their field. I have less to spend these days, but my expectations are higher: I want to enjoy the experience too, rather than allow some video clerk to treat me like a nuisance or a joke.
09 July 2009
"Oh, you know" he replied, "something that costs two dollars!"
I explained in my limited layman's terms what happened to my computer, and made it very clear that the thing wasn't working. Mr. Manager kept asking in various ways if I'd checked online, either for technical help, the number of the company who manufactured my brain-in-a-box, or for the owner's manual. Several times, I had to remind him that I could no longer go online, because my computer was down and that was the reason I was in the store. Otherwise I wouldn't have bothered him while he was doing the very important job of sorting fliers. He said he had to ask those questions, and I wondered why. Why did he have to ask those questions instead of think for himself?
Turns out they don't do the work there themselves anyway, and there certainly wasn't anyone in the store who could help me by even opening the thing and taking a peek at it. Mr. Manager finally looked up a couple of numbers and wrote them down for me, but I left feeling very disatisfied with the experience. Why do stores feel they must be all things to all people, meaning that essentially they can offer no expertise to anyone, or real customer service when it comes to that. I wasn't even born then, but I sure do miss the days of attentive store clerks, home delivery, store personnel knowing their customers, reliable products, pride in a job well done.... sigh. It's rather humbling to be less important than a pile of fliers.
The facility out of which we are offering our program is currently under construction. Or rather, we are currently under the construction to the facility out of which we....you get the idea. The roof is being replaced, or repaired or reworked or re-whatevered involving hot smelly tar, lots of noise and the removal of interior ceilings. Not really a problem except it is occasionally smelly and noisy, but in the crowd we work with, neither state is ever terribly unusual. (love them to bits though, I do)
We were supposed to be in the pool today, swimming and having a grand ol' time, except at the last minute we got the call: the pool is closed with filtration issues. Poor pool. I just hate filtration issues myself...very uncomfortable. Not deterred, we managed to salvage the day, and as it was blessedly summery out, out we went, spending the better part of the day under the sun. I have the sunburn to prove it, which will look just fab tomorrow in my swimsuit if the filtration situation has been repaired. Picture a very white sort of person...I'd say even eerily pale...with burnt arms from the mid-upper arm, and burnt v-shaped upper chest, and burnt-in-strappy-pattern feet coming out of the dressing room tomorrow morning. Children will either laugh or cry when they see me. I look forward to that.
I'm something of a Luddite -- technology-free, or so I thought. I have an old fashioned alarm clock, reheat food on the stove, and when I email someone, I spell the words out, and use punctuation. Hopeless! I was quite proud of my archaic approach to life, until my laptop failed me one night. I noticed a low-grade anxiety set in; I started to get twitchy because I couldn't check my mail, or google a movie when I couldn't remember an actor's name. I realised that a very great deal of my life is contained in this silicon and plastic box, and that most of my brain is deposited in these bits and bytes...and not in my head. Addresses? Account information? Schedule? Writing in progress? Friends? All online or on the hard drive. Gulp.
I realised that in many areas of my life, I no longer know how to function without a computer...and preferably my computer. It knows more about me than most people do, and it certainly knows more about my life and its myriad details than I do. Honestly, I'm not a gadgety sort of person: I've never played a video game in my life (well, Pac Man once or twice back in the day), and I use my cell phone strictly for the phone feature though I think it's capable of triggering launch codes and who knows what else. The relief I felt when after 24 hours I tried the power button again and the thing whirred to life was ridiculous...I can't even describe it.
If I experienced panic at not being able to check the weather online, imagine how Blackberry addicts would react if the network went down? It would surely be a state of emergency... we'd need hotlines, drop in centres, 12 step programs, free coffee dispensing stations... it'll be chaos.
It's supposed to be a lovely day. I'm going to immerse myself in plain and simple goodness, leaving my brain-in-a-box behind, pretending that the peace I feel right now has nothing to do with the fact that it'll be waiting for me when I get back.
05 July 2009
Jane Austen has a place in the canon of classic English literature, though she is overlooked by many because her style is simple and straightforward (compared to, say, Tolstoy) Her stories deal primarily with family, life, and love. I think her genius lies in the simplicity, familiarity, relatability and humour of her style, and she has such a light, deft touch with description and dialogue that it is easy to overlook the craftsmanship required to carry off that very lightness. People also belittle ABBA for their seeming simplicity - but try to sing their songs well, and you'll discover how complex the structure is, and how gifted a singer you really have to be. Austen is only easy to read; she is not easy to imitate.
A genre of writing has developed called 'fan fiction' in which 'fans' (supposedly capable authors in their own right) rework a plot, or carry on the story of an object of their affection (a book by Austen - usually P+P). It quickly becomes clear that devotion to their muse does not imbue these writers with the ability to imitate her. Admittedly, it takes a great deal of gumption to place your writing in direct comparison to someone like Austen by continuing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy for example. I'm currently reading one of these homages to Jane Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' (or I was, until this happened!) I've read a few over the years; some are successful and enjoyable, but many, I'm sad to say, are neither - being rather plodding and self-consciously period-y (sorry, but sometimes a made-up word is the best word under the circumstances!)
Among the successful is a series of three books by Pamela Aidan, which tell the story entirely from Mr. Darcy's perspective: An Assembly such as this; Duty and desire; These three remain. This author captures Austen's voice closely enough that the tone isn't an obstacle to enjoying the story, and she is true enough to the Darcy revealed by Austen that even the bits she invents are convincing.
I've been tempted to try some fanfiction of my own, or to adapt a book into a screenplay, but after reading so many dismal attempts from other people...maybe the best thing to do is just read the original again. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but I think sometimes it's best to not mess with perfection.
04 July 2009
It was a good day for people watching. As I sat on a bench, enjoying the sun and listening to Four call his friend Michael by the name of Quincy (?) it seemed the world passed by my vantage point and I saw some interesting things. Here are a few:
A small barefooted boy - about three years old - came running up one of the paths approaching the park, down the slight hill through the trees and away down past our house. He looked utterly confident as if he had done this many times before and he had a fixed destination in mind. The sight of him trotting along without even stopping to look at the park or glancing at the boys playing made me think that I might have imagined the episode...he looked a little cartoon-like. But after he had faded from view, a jogging man came past my bench, and as he went by he asked if I'd seen a little barefoot boy pass this way. Apparently the little guy is an experienced escape artist. Not long after, barefooted boy and breathless dad came through the park again on their way home - the one looking smug and the other...exhausted.
I saw a man dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops jogging. I know he was jogging because he had all the markings of a jogger except for the clothes he wore: checking his pulse, listening to an iPod, water bottle. Does it seem odd to you that a jogger would be wearing street clothes? That's why I mention it.
From the files of "Don't judge a book by its cover": A mom and dad pushing a pram back home from shopping. I saw the cutest little baby tucked up inside with a fuzzy pink receiving blanket decorated with dancing bunnies. Mom had three facial piercings and tattoos all up one arm and her chest. Dad wore the typical goth uniform. Keep in mind this is not downtown...I don't think you can get more whitebread or suburban than where this park is at. The couple looked proud as punch of their bundle of joy and the pretty pink blankie, and were polite as can be, saying hello, lovely sunshine isn't it, and then carying on their way. The cover to that book is really misleading, isn't it?
03 July 2009
A fascinating story from the folks at Nova, about music and the brain. How do we experience music? Is everyone capable of appreciating it, though we may not have the gift of producing it ourselves? Does it have the power to heal, physically and psychologically?
One of the segments tells of a young man with Tourette's Syndrome who suffers with very bad twitching. In his childhood, he would become violent, though he was generally a very gentle, loving boy. He discovered an affinity for the drums and also that playing the drums gave him respite from those twitches. He's taken his experience of the power of music, and is using his talent to help others discover the same thing.
Another man, an accomplished surgeon well into his career, initially liked rock and roll from the 60s and 70s. One day he was struck by lightening, and almost over night he developed a love for classical music - particularly piano music. He didn't know how to play a note himself, but the music became almost a compulsion for him. He bought sheet music, and taught himself how to play, by practicing for hours a day. He went on to compose his own piece (whether a piano symphony or sonata I don't remember) His life was transformed.
It has been documented that people with brain injuries or brain-affective disorders who cannot talk will sometimes be able to sing, and those who cannot walk will sometimes be able to dance. Isn't that remarkable? Wouldn't you rather listen to a beautiful tune than pop a pill, or undergo surgery?
Music is so powerful; it is very personal and intimate as well. The doctor on whom the story "Awakenings" is based, a man who is passionate about classical music, underwent a brain scan to show just what happens in the brain when you listen to music. It was fascinating to see how many areas of the brain are engaged - memory, the senses...neurons are firing all over the place. But it is not the same for everyone, and it is not even the same for one person for every piece of music, no matter how similar they may be. This doctor listened first to Bach - a mournful requiem, I think it was. His brain scan lit up all over the place. Then a very similar piece by Beethoven - quite alike in pitch, tempo, mood etc. and yet there was much less activity.
Personally, I know that music is powerful. So much of what is produced is absolutely inane, and yet.... along comes something really really good. Not just technically good, but good in how it grabs hold of you somewhere deep in the heart of you...deep down where you are you. There is some contemporary music that has that ability for me, and some classical as well. I think what they have in common is sincerity, and probably also the fact that they are sad. For example, I really like an Adagio by Albinoni, which was once offically voted the saddest piece of music ever. I also like Everything by Lighthouse, and while it may be about the desire to give everything to a lover, it is mournful, yearning, heartwrenching. Plus, I love Depeche Mode, and if Martin Gore ever wrote a song not in a minor key, I haven't heard it! They are not a group known for peppy, perky, upbeat, happy happy happy songs.
Is it easier to connect to sorrow? If so, why? And despite the imagery of the brain scans showing where the brain fires up on hearing music, just what is it about music that bypasses logic and reason to go right to the heart of us?
One sad note from this program: there are people who cannot hear music. They are not just tone deaf - they literally cannot hear the difference in pitch, tone, tempo or mood from one piece of music to another. Can you imagine a world for yourself without music?
(The title of this post is a literary quote. Did you catch it?)