Sunday, July 31, 2016

Smile and the world smiles with you

There was a time when societal dictates favoured keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of fear or danger.   Or in another venue,  Don't wear your heart on your sleeve.   In the era of Pride and Prejudice, women especially  were expected to control their countenance and demonstrate neither glee nor misery.   A bland expression was preferred and outbursts of any kind were frowned upon. Privacy was greatly valued and many indiscretions and tragedies were played out behind the lace curtains.

There is no such expectation today.   Anything and everything is shared whether in a loud cell phone conversation on public transit or on Facebook or Instagram.   We find out more than we want to know.    Insults and barbs are traded whether the object is a previous employer or a straying lover.    The internet never forgets as politicians and others have discovered to their dismay and regret.

Blandness is boring and unrealistic today.   We are encouraged to share our feelings, to let it all hang out, not to bottle up anger and anxiety lest it fester and cause irreparable damage.   But if you have ever consoled a friend going through a divorce or coping with a seriously ill child, you might acknowledge that the strain of unrelieved  grief, even as a supportive friend, can be exhausting.

We don't wish to return to the repressive past but a middle ground can be easier to live with, especially in the company of acquaintances, co-workers and strangers.    People who go through life with a positive attitude; those who smile regularly as opposed to finding fault with the world and all in it, lighten the load for all of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


I'm not referring to dinner and a movie or whatever presently constitutes a 'date'.   I'm thinking of how best to avoid references to old technology or ideas if a writer is attempting to be current.   Or the converse:   how to capture the flavour and authenticity or a time that is still in recent memory of potential readers.

If a writer has set his tale in the Regency period of 17th Century England it is perfectly acceptable, correct even, to make statements like "A single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife."   (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice).   At the present time, no one would admit to being in want of a wife or husband or even a cold drink.

One of the challenges of writing a period piece, even as relatively recent as World War II, is getting the jargon correct, not to mention the behaviours and clothing.   No mentions of the heroine wearing a racy push-up bra, when those dubious items weren't invented until 1947.   That's where the internet is so handy for fact checking.     It's like writing about a place you haven't lived in or even visited.   Even with Google Street view and long conversations with those who have been inhabitants, inevitably a small detail will trip you up . . . and haunt you long after the book is published.

Attitudes change too, of course, but when was the tipping point?   Sexual diversity, smoking, or even bringing reusable bags for grocery shopping have varied from unacceptable to acceptable to downright desirable or undesirable in public opinion.

I was recently reading a novel in which the protagonist couldn't get through on the telephone to another character, obviously because she was on the internet.   I had to stop for a moment to consider how that made a difference.   Down memory's path to the point where I recalled the screeching sound emitted if some unfortunate person picked up the telephone when the internet was being used.   Ah, dial-up internet.   Those difficult days were almost forgotten.   By then my train of thought required me to check the date of publication.   

Period costumes, manners and mores are far enough removed to be fascinating but portable telephones that look like shoeboxes are only laughable and in a dramatic crime series not the effect the director was going for.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


From a Prompt from my writing group:


(fortunately not my basement!)

           Any conversation that commences with I (or we) have a simple request, is bound to be complicated beyond belief, not to mention definitely not to my benefit.  Some people have a gift for getting others to do the job.  Some might call it 'passing the buck'

     Yes, it would simplify matters for the requestor if I would lead the committee, clean out the entire basement and paint the walls.   My father had a saying that the easiest money was that which you could talk yourself to.   I could add that the easiest job is the one you get someone else to take on.

     I've come to realize that enunciating the request is the simple part.   The execution is complicated, if not impossible.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Different Kind of Destination

Are you in the fortunate position of running out of places in the world to visit?   Have you been to London and Paris too many times and besides, so has everyone else?  Then consider taking a jaunt to countries few have heard of and fewer still have visited.     Is it because of crime, climate or cost?


It is because they are so small that they have escaped notice.   It may be the reason that some of them are also tax havens and replete with duty free shops, banks and insurance companies.  But that is just a small part of the appeal.   Two of my daughters recently visited Andorra, which at 181 square miles or 468 square kilometres is only the sixth smallest country in Europe.   A landlocked nation in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, Andorra also has a lesser known official language, Catalan.  Nevertheless, over ten million tourists visit annually enjoying not only the duty free status but the summer and winter resorts.   My daughters certainly enjoyed the many activities from skiing to hiking to rapelling down hills and mountains, kayaking, tubing . . . you get the idea.

I wrote earlier about once considering how it might be interesting to  explore the  official Unesco Heritage sites -- until I discovered there are over one thousand.   But, if you focus on small countries, starting  (or ending) with Andorra:

  • Vatican City (0.44 km2) ... 
  • Monaco (1.95 km2) ... 
  • San Marino (61 km2) ... 
  • Liechtenstein (160 km2) ... 
  • Malta (316 km2) ... 
  • Andorra (468 km2) ...

you will have a different kind of travel experience, and likely unique among your friends and acquaintances.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Plagiarism or Inevitability?


     I was intrigued to hear of the lawsuit regarding Led Zeppelin's iconic Stairway to Heaven.   The introduction to this song does sound similar to the Plaintiff's as others have identified.  But I heard a musician discuss how common the particular musical phrase was;  reviewing  four other songs that had a similar opening passage, albeit in a different key or slightly different rhythm.  

     Composers have only eight notes to work with plus the notes' sharps or flats, depending on the key signature.   So, for example, the Key of C would have the notes C D E F G A B plus some accidental sharps or flats.   These notes can be arranged in infinite ways.  Then there's the rhythm.   

     In a sense, writers are much better off with twenty-six letters arranged in a dictionary full of words.   There's the old saw about a roomful of monkeys on typewriters.   Given enough time, one of them will produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Or so it is postulated.  Somerset Maugham admitted that "All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary--it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences."

     We are all the product of our past and the memories that go with that.   A fragment from childhood, words or tune, might suddenly surface in our minds and declare itself original.  We might search the recesses of our recollection in an ultimately futile endeavour and thereby reassure ourselves that there has been divine inspiration or the equivalent.   We have been original and unique.

     Of course, all artists are inspired by their predecessors or even their contemporaries.   Shakespeare gleaned much from Greek and Roman mythology.   It has been suggested that The Lion King is an anthropomorphized Hamlet.   But, no lines of speech were directly lifted from the original.   Neither Shakespeare nor the Greek and Roman  storytellers receive any royalties today.

      Romance novels have their tropes or  commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or cliches.     There are even acronyms:   HEA for Happily Ever After or the modern equivalent:   HFN - Happy for Now.   A plot that has two people  meet, encounter obstacles over which love ultimately prevails has surely been repeated, with variations, many times over.

    What about the plot devices of mistaken identify or time travel or even amnesia?   Familiar, even common, but is that plagiarism?

     I have heard of unscrupulous people who download a free romance novel, go through the book making name, occupation and location changes as well as some other details.   With a new cover and title the book is then uploaded as their original work.   Royalties roll in and the original author is unlikely to discover the subterfuge.   Even more so if the book was translated to a foreign language.
     Almost everyone would agree that the foregoing is unlawful plagiarism.

(Since I drafted this post, the Courts have decided that there was no plagiarism in Stairway to Heaven.)