Sunday, September 30, 2012

BACKGROUND



                                                               



In a previous life, I worked occasionally as what is flatteringly called a 'background performer.'   You might know it better by the word 'extra.'  I did not become engaged in this line of work out of a futile hope for a career in the movies or television.   Rather, I had a young daughter with such hopes and I was required to be present as a chaperone due to her age.    Often, the movie required, if not a cast of thousands, then hundreds or at least dozens of people who had the time and inclination to be on a movie set for one or two days or more.  They even needed me!

I recommend this work only because it was an interesting experience for me and, as a writer, I find interesting experiences of my own or others, useful for inspiration.  You get an insight into how movies are made, you get to see major or minor movie stars and actors in person (usually even thinner than you thought) and you do get paid--a few dollars over minimum wage usually.

My daughter was an extra in a big budget film called I, Robot, which I ended up referring to in one of my books, Death at Table 15.   In that case, even the extras were given special outfits flown up from Hollywood and received hair and make-up service from the crew.   I had the pleasure of taking part with her in movies such as Cat Woman, Blade 3, Are We There Yet?  and a few television shows whose names escape me.     There is a lot of repetition on set;   sometimes over a dozen takes are made.   In this it is similar to the editing process that takes place with books:   Many reviews and amendments are par for the course.

I'm wasn't sorry when my movie career ended.   Some of the days went on for more than twelve hours and in some cases we were standing in the rain or in other uncomfortable situations.   But I'm glad I experienced it and when I watch a film I sometimes think of the days that were spent filming two minutes of screen time.    

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SELL YOUR CLEVERNESS AND BUY BEWILDERMENT

This is the last of my writings to prompts from my Writers' Group:


"I have it all worked out, Mom.   I'm not going to go the cheap, pardon me, frugal route.  I'm going to marry a man who will keep me in the style, not to mention the shoes, that I want to become accustomed to."  Heather flounced down on the sofa, grabbed the remote and turned on the television.

"Okay, hon, but remember money doesn't buy happiness."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before but I think it's only poor people who say that--to make themselves feel better."

Mom decides to play along.   Anything to avoid listening to another episode of Storage Wars.  "So, what are you going to do to avoid falling for a guy with no money?"

"I'll just check him out first."

"What, ask to see his bank balance?"

"No need, Mom.   I can tell within ten minutes of meeting someone whether he's some poor schmuck saving pop cans for the deposit refund or someone who knows how to have a good time."

"Sounds like you've got it made then,"  Mom ended the conversation, heading out to the garden as the television volume was turned up.   Remember, Susan, she told herself, you can't put an old head on young shoulders.


Fast Forward to ten years in the future:

"Mom, it's Heather.   Can you babysit for me tonight?"

"How come?" her mother asked.  Her four year old twin grandsons were almost too much to handle alone, she'd found.

"Stu has gone on another business trip, Mom.   Since they made him vice-president he's expected to visit all the plants.  It's ridiculous!"

"Can't you get a sitter, Heather?   I've got other plans, to tell you the truth."

"I've told you, Mom, that's one of the problems with this neighbourhood.  I mean, it's great to be surrounded by million dollar mansions and I love the gate and security that keeps the riffraff out of the neighbourhood.   But none of these kids want to or need to babysit.   Their allowances almost equal our car payment.  I'm stuck home every time Stu goes."

"I guess you never thought being rich would turn out this way, dear."

"Huh?   What do you mean?"

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

ODE TO A CATERPILLAR





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The third of my  four Writers' Group offerings:

Dear Caterpillar, you are munching on the leaf of my radish plant, blissfully unaware.   Do you remember your past as an egg?   Probably not.  I am certain you can't anticipate your future as a king of the butterflies -- a Monarch.
Shall I lift you from your gourmet table?   Your fuzzy back is so soft; I think not.  Soon your leaf eating days will be behind you.   You will make the chrysalis to surround your body and fast for fourteen days.

Will you dream of green radish leaves?  Will you be asleep as strange changes take place in your body or do you feel each evolution?   Your metamorphosis.  When you break free of your papery brown enclosure will you have forgotten radish leaves or do you look at them with longing as you sip upon the nectar of the blossoms in my garden with your long proboscis snout?  Or have you put away childish things?

Do you dream of distant lands, of vacations in the sun?  As you pack your non-existent bag for Mexico and lift your wings skyward, will you miss my radish leaves that nurtured you along?   Or do you revel in the moment; after all, you can fly.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Family Camping Vacation

Another piece of inspiration from a prompt (the title) from my writers' group:


Location:   Canoeing on a tranquil lake in southern Ontario.



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Susan thinks:

I don't know why we had to go on this dumb camping trip.   Francine's family has gone to Disneyland and Chrissie flew to New York with her aunt.   Why am I stuck here in this mosquito infested wilderness?

I know why Stuart put me at the front of this double canoe.   It's so I won't be able to see that he's not even paddling.   He always makes me do all the work, just because I'm a little, okay, five years older.  It's so unfair!   I can't wait until I'm old enough to stay home from these dorky family vacations.


Stuart thinks:


Look at Susan, spooning away with her paddle.  No wonder we're not getting anywhere.   I should try to see if I can get a fish or crab or something and put it in her sleeping bag tonight.   That'll teach her to always hog the front seat.   Just 'cause she's the oldest she always gets the best spot.  I'll show her!



Dad says to Mom:


"Look at the kids, working together.   It's so nice to see them cooperating for once."


Mom answers:


"Yes, and they are so focussed on getting their canoe strokes right that they're not even squabbling like they usually do.   And the silence on this lake is so awe-inspiring;  we should do this every year."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

TURNING THE CORNER



                                                            


The next four posts are some of my writings from one of  the local Writers' Groups I attend.  The prompt the group was given is the title here.   Give it a try yourself!


Walking a small dog in the morning can be a definite pleasure.   The breeze in your hair, the leaves underfoot that you can crunch or kick.   Sometimes you find a lucky penny that seems to forecast a pleasantly eventful day.

Don't forget the benefits of exercise:   improved cardiovascular endurance, more energy, more flexibility.   You'd think that many people would walk every morning even without being the proud owner of a pair of handsome Yorkshire Terriers.  But no, there seems to be no one about on a weekday morning except for a few vehicles departing for work that disturb the solitude from time to time.

But then, an enemy approaches and the quietude is about to be disturbed by an interloper.   Small in size but fearsome in effect.  An ominous feeling hangs in the air in those few moments of anticipation before the inevitable crisis erupts.

A small white poodle has turned the corner.   This,  of course, cannot be tolerated.   The street, indeed the entire neighbourhood, is the sole property of my two dogs and of that they are convinced beyond doubt.   For once they are in agreement.   A cacophony commences and the walk, and its attendant benefits, must, alas, be cut short.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BOOKS VIA SERENDIPITY




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Have you ever thought about how many books you have read because you happen to be in a location where there were limited activities available at certain times?   You elect to choose a book to read from a meagre selection.   I'm thinking about a cabin or cottage with no television or other electronic amenities.  Or a visit to a friend or family member where you discover that, while you are used to arising at six in the morning, the rest of the household sleeps in until eight.   Or a bus tour in a foreign country where the tour leader has, as most do, a bin of left behind novels of considerable variety and genre.

Very recently, in a similar situation, I read The Five People you Meet in Heaven.   This book was published a few years ago and later made into a movie.   The main character is a maintenance worker at a seaside amusement park.   My quick research revealed that it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 95 weeks.  (Interestingly, it was filmed locally and my husband met the main character, Jon Voigt, when he was casting in local schools for a young girl to play one of the 'people'.   Not only that but  my daughter was an extra in the film but I somehow I still didn't read the book or see the movie!)  Now, I'm glad I've read the book.  I think this book is what would be described as 'high concept' -- a really different idea.   I found it to be engaging, engrossing, shocking  and charming at different times.

The book's segments dealing with the chance encounters we have with people and how they lead to a fork in the road or even a great change for either them or ourselves.  There are no random events; we are all connected.   There are spontaneous decisions that we make that have lifelong ramifications.   The misunderstandings that lead to decades of resentment or grief.   The futility of war.  The endurance of love.  A lot to think about . . .

Sunday, September 9, 2012

WHY SOCIETIES FAIL





                                                                     
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I'm reading a book called Why Nations Fail (by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson).   I'm only part way through.  The authors dismiss weather, geography and culture as possible reasons for why some countries are mired in poverty and a lack of productivity and progress for most of its inhabitants and others are more successful, even happier places to live.   They hypothesize that it is the political and economic institutions set up by those who emerge as leaders that create the difference.   Countries that, for various reasons,  have set in place institutions and policies that provide no incentives for hard work, savings or innovation which do not allow everyone an equal chance to succeed, are mired in misery.

I find this topic fascinating.   I've travelled a fair bit, to rich countries and poor, and it is discouraging to discover how difficult it is in some for most inhabitants to pursue their dreams.  A study of history tells us that these societies eventually falter and fail.   The young or ambitious escape and  in some countries the remissions (payments sent home by family employed in richer countries)  are the largest source of revenue for the citizens left behind.   It is instructive to follow the trail and uncover how these countries evolved to their present state.

The two dystopian novels I have written so far, When Bees Die and A New Premise are set in societies that did not evolve slowly but rather exist in conditions that were imposed, quite quickly, by an authoritarian government in response to a crisis.   As in the case in the real world, those in power are reluctant to relinquish it and some few are always benefitting from the status quo.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

DISAPPEARING BLOGGERS



                                                                   
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You may have noticed an interesting feature of this brand of blog which is called Blogger and is part of the Gmail family.   In the top frame there is the phrase:   Next Blog.   I often will click on this after I have written a future post and completed my business on this site.   It amazes me what comes up.   You might think it would be another author site but you would be wrong. In fact, I don't think a blog that has anything to do with writing or publishing has ever come up.

But this feature has made me aware of how many people and organizations have started blogs in the past few years.   It may be that I am on the tail end of the movement since mine started in May 2012.   Many blogs seem to have started between 2008 and 2010.  There are blogs from all over the world on many topics.   Some are what I would describe as personal blogs, detailing someone's life and family, others are more of a travel blog and describe a trip or series of trips or vacations.  Some blogs are in foreign languages, some are the property of a church or political group and some belong to crafters of various kinds:   sewing, knitting, crochet.   Then there are the cooks, bakers and chefs who share their creations and struggles.


But to come to the title of this entry of mine:    Many blogs have not had a new post for months or years.   It is as if the blog was a new idea, a new distraction, a new toy that has now lost its early appeal and has been cast aside for some new and more engaging idea.   Twitter, maybe?   Perhaps the bloggers think that no one will ever come across their blog so it doesn't matter that they have abandoned it without a word of goodbye, a final comment on the state of their life or the resolution of the angst that drove them to engage the world in their personal battle.  So I am left to wonder.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

LOST TO TECHNOLOGY







I lost a post today.   I was in the final fiddly stages of trying to justify margins and trying to figure out why one paragraph wouldn't.   At some point, in frustration, I closed the post and somehow it wasn't saved.  Poof!   Just like that, it was gone.   A carefully chosen photograph, a relevant drawing and a researched and informative post on deforestation--just like the clear cut trees--gone.

But I believe I have cultivated the trait of perseverance so, at some point, when my annoyance with myself and my computer has sufficiently subsided I will endeavour to recreate this post.

But this untimely event did lead my thoughts to contemplating the impermanence of modern technology.  I am one of those people who can recall, to the disbelief of some, a time when there were no computers.   Okay, I'm sure some government office somewhere had those enormous ENIAC machines that took up entire office floors, but for the general public, computers did not exist.   

On a long walk with my two dogs early this morning, we came across a couple of large tattered cardboard boxes containing video-cassettes at the curb of a home.   Out with the trash.  You remember those, right?   You used to go to the video store and rent a movie or two and then had to drive back at 11:30 p.m. to return them before the midnight deadline or face a fine.   I spent a minute glancing at the boxes while my dogs investigated a nearby clump of shrubbery.   Carefully labelled there were television seasons of old shows like ER, old movies like ET (what's with these acronyms?) and dozens of other rectangular black plastic boxes, a memorial to by-gone decades and an obsolete technology.  It must have hurt to have dumped them outside in the open cardboard boxes, knowing that wind and weather would damage them irrevocably.   Did the owner not even deem them worthy of inclusion in his next garage sale, so little value did they now have?

In the book, A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, there is an Epilogue or final chapter (or perhaps it was the Prologue) wherein someone who is discussing the diary, for that is what the book is, or perhaps presenting a paper at a conference on the details of the diary.   (This is where I should have the book at hand to confirm these details!)   The narrator explains that delays in decoding the diary's contents were due to difficulties obtaining the piece of technology in which the diary was recorded.   This was, I believe, a  cassette tape recorder.   I would not know where to obtain one myself now.

By way of contrast, I was some years ago in the British Library in London where on view I saw the actual manuscript of Pride and Prejudice by  Jane Austen and read some paragraphs, written in her hand  over two hundred years prior.    

There is a moral here or at least a message but I will leave that for you to determine.