Friday, August 31, 2007

On immigration

My Uncle sent me something last week and it made me so angry I had to write a response. I actually made an effort to organize it as a proper essay. I would like to make it as good as possible. Please feel free to comment with constructive criticism and discussion.

Lamm rebuttal
Lamm rebuttal.pdf
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Dreams deferred

I bought a fashion magazine this week. The big, fall issue of Vogue. There have been times in my life when I've subscribed to fashion magazines. Other times when I've bought them off of the stands, different ones at different times.

I used to love fashion--the designers, the creativity, but somehow, this time I didn't enjoy it. I don't know if it was because of my mindset this week, or the stresses going on, but it just all seemed absurd. These things that 99.9 percent of the world will never be able to buy. All that money being spent by absurd people who should be doing better things.

And it all seemed old and boring. I thought, "I've seen these clothes before. I've seen these layouts before, this make-up, these hairstyles."

I've collected fashion magazines for nearly 25 years. I have files of garments I admired, things I wanted to wear, or to try to make. What's different now? Is it because I now know that I won't have a future in these things, when I still had hope maybe 15 years ago. And what does that mean? That I have given up hope? Or just hope in this particular thing. And then, how do I find enjoyment in it again, now that I know it will always be a hobby, if even that? Was I foolish to even have these dreams then?

JT keeps encouraging me to try and find my deeper meaning and pursue it. I wasn't able to do that 15 years ago--how do I do it now?

Steampunk!

I love this:
from the Boston Globe this past Sunday.

I've loved Steampunk, well, since before it had a name. Thomas Dolby is a master of it. I think it's criminal that he isn't mentioned in the article. Dolby strips out old equipment and puts his new synthesizers in it so that he can control them with levers and dials. I've coveted a good pair of goggles for over a year now.
Steampunk is a sort of sub genre of science fiction--as if computers and modern technology existed alongside Victoriana. There was a comic I read in the late 80's--Baker Street, an alternative universe where World War II never happened (I remember a headline in the comic--where a 92 year old Hitler had died). It's one of those slippery things--people debate its boundaries, its style. It's becoming an ethos as in the article of DIY, arts and crafts and high tech. The desire, as in the last turn of the century Arts & Crafts movement to recreate the beautiful in the mass produced. I wish I could build these things.

Anime is a great source for this--most obviously Otomo's Steamboy, but also the strange universes of Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, or Laputa. Evidently there are "Steampunk" watches for sale in Japan. My phone (for which I spent too much) is sort of the big companies attempt to create the beautiful object.
This is the kind of thing I want to get into Industrial Design to create. Something beyond the merely sleek--things with personality.

One more Kate

If those other pieces are Kate Ethereal, then this is Kate Fierce.

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Peter Gabriel

Thinking of Kate made me think of Peter Gabriel. Kate started out under the wing of David Gilmore and sang back-up on two Peter Gabriel songs. If you think that Big Time is the most outrageous that Gabriel gets, watch this (and this is not Gabriel at his height), Shock the Monkey:


I saw this late at night at some point in the early 80's. I don't remember if it was at a friend's house watching MTV or on some video show. I was overwhelmed--the sound, the vision--it was a seminal moment for me.

This is the first Gabriel song with Kate, Games Without Frontiers:

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She's singing, "Jeux Sans Frontieres"--games without frontiers. I love this one too.

Guinness, the Bean

Guinness is our of surgery. They tell us it went well and that he might be able to come home tomorrow. They biopsied his liver.

It cost more than I expected. It cost as much as our wedding and honeymoon. I believe it cost about the same as our trip to Britain, much more than our trip to Montreal. What else were we going to do?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Quick and easy

L'Arc's new single. It's quite a contrast with the last one:

For House fans

(Isn't it funny how a plain noun has become a metaphor unto itself).

Anyway, since I'm strolling down memory lane, and my Zen gave me both of these songs today on random:


Yes, that's a very young Hugh Laurie, and Dawn French of French & Saunders, Vicar of Dibley and co-creator of Absolutely Fabulous. This is one of my favorite Kate Bush songs. It was the only new song on an album of hits in 1986. I always thought a Greatest Hits album from Kate was pretty funny since at that point she'd only made five albums. She's only made three more albums since then. If you YouTube Kate, you'll see that her early videos are dreadful--they look like high school productions. For some reason, for her fifth album she got a lot of money for videos. She was hanging out with a lot of comedy people then--working on The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (a charity event in Britain). This oddly enough also reminded me of Atlas Shrugged--there's an experiment with sound in the novel as well. This video was banned from Top of the Pops because it was too violent.

This is another one of my favorites. It's from the fifth album, 1985. And that's Donald Sutherland, Keifer's father, star of M*A*S*H and many other fine films. "It describes psychologist Wilhelm Reich's arrest and incarceration through the eyes of his son, Peter, who wrote his father's story in A Book Of Dreams, published in 1973, on which the song is based. Wilhelm Reich is the inventor of the cloudbuster." (Wikipedia).


Kate is nearly worshiped in Britain--it's hard to describe how much of an icon she is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Bush

It should be noted hat my husband thought that this album, The Hounds of Love, was already a come down from her early brilliance. I heard Hounds of Love at 15 and, well, it spoke to my soul. I love the earlier stuff too. Many people find her voice too shrill on her earlier hits such as Wuthering Heights.

End of the month--rush for posts

Time for me to make some short fast posts. Nine to get in between tonight and tomorrow. To find topic, inclination and time. I generally have one of the three. Sometimes I think I should split the long posts into separate posts, or break the ones that ramble into different posts, but I always think I shall have enough for the month.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

File under D'Oh

I'm now going to admit something so amazingly dumb that your estimation of me may go down.

My husband and I have been driving our car in third gear for the past year.

This is due to the design on the gear shift that has 3rd and drive in line with each other. But it was obvious to JT when he was riding in our car.

D'OH, D'OH, D'OH

http://emuse.ebaumsworld.com/flash/play/1848/

Now, we did wonder why it was so noisy, why it seemed to over-rev and why our gas mileage was so much worse than reported for the Yaris, but we thought it was just a side effect of living in the city.

Well, at least it was only a year (in my defence, this is only the second car I've ever driven at length--my husband feels mighty stupid). I'm looking forward to seeing how much better our mileage is going to be.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Putting my money (read time) where my mouth is

Some Duran Duran with some songs that I believe prove their musical merit. eSnips gives me the power and I'm going to use it. (Bwahaha)

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This is one of my all time favorite songs. I have it on a B-Side Collection, although I can't find any mention of what it was B-Side of, just that it came out in 1988.
The words are quite haunting, as is the melody. But, I can hear you say, this is not at all a standard D2 song. Well, no, but what is a standard song by any band? How do you average that? Thomas Dolby's singles were always abnormal compared to the rest of their respective albums. Same with Barenaked Ladies. I think the B-Sides are often truer to what the band wants to be without the pressure of the labels for commercial success.

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This is probably more like Duran Duran you're thinking of, right? It's from Pop Trash, released 2000. The words are based on the true story of a boy who was building a nuclear bomb in his garage--because it's that easy.

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From Big Thing, also 1988. I listened to this over and over as I worked on my college essays and read "Atlas Shrugged" to enter an essay contest a teacher wanted me to enter. The two seemed to echo each other in strange ways (I've never read of any connection--other than the fact that Simon was once a fan of Ayn Rand's work--but like every sane person, he got over it). Even now, certain passages in the music can evoke the images of the book--empty streets, America collapsing. I bet you never knew D2 could be serious.

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Careless Memory, from their very first album--very raw, not overproduced. Simon's early lyrics were not always known for their coherence, but I've always thought "Fear Hangs a Plane of Gunsmoke," an amazing piece of poetry.

[Sidenote: continuing the L'Arc/D2 connection, I have a copy of Simon singing Linger with The Cranberries. It's not a very good recording since it was live, which is why I'm not putting it here.]

Edit: In searching DuranDuran.com and Wikipedia for dates, etc., I have discovered the rather frightening fact that Justin Timberlake has produced/mixed a new D2 single supposedly coming out soon. I listened to it. I am saddened (as were many of the commentors). Is this a bid to become "popular." I think it makes them bland. Crap.

On acting

I thought of and then failed to post some thoughts on two lessons I recently had on Voice-Over. Having debated the merits of doing a Voice-Over demo for almost two years now, and having polled and gotten good advice from everyone I know in theater, I finally realized that unless I paid a stranger to help me, I was never going to pull together copy. So I grabbed a name from the various things that come into my mailbox, made a private apt., and went.
First of all I was late due to traffic for my first apt., but she was very friendly in an earthy, crunchy sort of way, by which I mean that she probably says terribly cheery, upbeat things to everyone. She then had me read copy and praised me and then said, "Try to sing the copy--no tune, just whatever feels good. Then go right into the copy." This was very hard for me. I have a lot of hang-ups about singing, but because I'd been late we'd jumped right in so I had no time to dig in and try to get out of it. She was terribly enthusiastic about how much better the second read was than the first and didn't I feel different, etc. And I said yes, but the truth is, I'm not sure. I felt it was a good exercise and that it made me physically looser, but I don't know that I found "more truth." The next week we tried some announcer type copy and this time she had me say "F*#!ing" wherever I felt it needed it and then go into the straight copy. Again, I felt free-er and more forceful, but "truer?" No.
She did point out that sometimes--only sometimes--my voice which can be powerful, seems to just stop a little ways out--as if I am not sure that what I have to say is worth hearing. I'd definitely agree with that, and I find myself doing that at work when I want to state my opinion quite strongly. Oddly enough, I can generally state my opinion to men better than to women.

Now, here's my terribly, deep, dark secret. I don't believe in truth in theater. Blasphemy, I know. I mentioned in my 36 things that I was not a Method Actor. I'm not a Meisner actor either. That's not to say that I'm a Brechtian actor focusing on the unreality of theater either. I'd call my acting style the close imitation of life. Find the right clothes, find the right posture, find the right voice and imitate. Very few of the actors I really admire consider themselves Method/Meisner, etc. Dame Judy Dench describes her process very much the same way I do. Looking for the costume, mimicking the imagined type. Ian McKellen calls himself a method actor, as does Paul Scofield. Those are the only ones I can think of of the Brits who have really aligned themselves with it. Gielgud, I think, practiced it along with the language of Shakespeare. My heroes, Olivier and Alec Guinness both claimed it was finding the clothes and the voice and a person to model it on. I'll go with them. Learn acting as a craft, not some subjective mumbo-jumbo. Learn to project, learn to read metre, hone your body like an athlete.

Now, for the non-actors, to say you don't believe in Method/Meisner or some combination thereof in America is tantamount to heresy. It sometimes feels like it's all that is taught. I know a young actress who probably (and I'm both speculating and projecting) doesn't respect me as an actress because I'm not successful and if she reads this, will probably respect me less. She probably thinks I didn't have the nerve or the talent or the belief needed and she does. I'd have thought it at her age.

I think I'm a good actress. I don't, in fact, think I've worked hard enough to be a great actress, and at this point, I don't know if I ever could have because it's tied in with so many other things about who I am and what I've been through. If I'd had a different life, I'd have been someone else. Mirror and Writing Life both recently discussed the problems with the fact that of a group of actors and directors, nearly every one thinks that they are a genius. I don't think that.

My problem with Method/Meisner and, in point of fact, with theater in America is this:
Leaving myself out of it entirely--not how I was graded, judged, hired or critiqued, but based on watching other actors in classes and auditions, the ones who were praised for the "truth" of their performance, were almost always the ones I thought the cheesiest, the hammiest, and the most fake. And I find almost all theater fake--partially because natural acting is invisible on any stage which is more than 5 feet from the audience, I do realize that--but also because I find the cheesy but popular being cast over friends I feel are really talented. (Mirror's wife is doing very well in Boston theater right now and I will happily point out that she is the exception to the rule--I think her a great actress not just because she reads this :)--and certainly not because she studied at The Actor's Studio).
What I would also observe--and this applied to myself as well--was sort of the exercise that I had in the voice-over class. You would do the piece and and then the teacher would advise you to feel it, or find the sense memory, or dig within your own experience, or find the truth of the moment, or the ever popular motivation, and then you would do it again, and I would again watch the performance become cheesier or bigger, or smaller, or stay exactly the same, and the student would say, (to paraphrase A Chorus Line), "Oh, I felt the snow, I felt the wind," and the teacher would dance with joy and say she could tell because it had been so truthful and the class would follow suit.

Except for me. I'd generally say nothing. And then when it was my turn, if I did as they said and dug deeper for my own truth, I'd generally get smaller and they'd tell me I wasn't being truthful. But if I went for big, showy and fake, I'd get all sorts of praise for my truthfulness and really using the exercise.

Blech. Is it any wonder I really believe that the Emperor Has No Clothes? (cliche alert).

I won't even go into popularity in theater communities. You never escape high school, but what makes people popular may change. There are a several actresses in Boston and a few actors who are cast in everything (Equity) whether it suits them or not. Roles they are 10 years too old for, or more, and several of them seem to get up and just be themselves every time (imho and the o of several people I know), whether the role is Lady M, Cordelia, or Shirley Valentine (I don't mean Tina Packer here). On the fringe side, there seems to be a new hot ingenue every few years and she is in everything for a bit and then she goes Equity and disappears.

Mirror and his wife go to a lot of theater in Boston, as does Writing Life. I go to almost none, and feel a little ashamed when I invite friends to come see me--if the production isn't spectacular in some way. I just don't like much of what passes for theater, and I don't like a lot of what passes for theater people. So why am I in it again? Oh, yeah, I'm not.

Back to my voice-over work. It ain't fine art, but it pays very well. Even the non-union stuff I've done up to now has been lucrative, fast, and pretty fun. And no one has asked me to be more truthful. I've been asked to be faster, slower, deeper, higher. To smile more, to enunciate well, to imitate famous people. Those are objective goals I can cope with, not the subjective--be more truthful. I don't know what that means. So, do I go back to this teacher (she went on vacation buying me a month of decision time)? She's expensive. She's given me a stack of copy I can use. If she makes the tape (disc actually) it's going to be very costly when I know there are places that do it for less. But I will get more of these useful exercise. I will also get more talk about truth, and I'm not sure if I'm up for it.

More on Angell

Two things: One, Angell was recently completely refurbished, so the waiting area was completely different from the night we went there for an emergency. Bizarrely it looked quite a bit like the human hospital in my dream, even down to the vending machines at one end, the curved wooden benches, the big automatic doors (which Guinness nearly crashed into). The only difference was that the one in my dream was brightly colored and this one was monochrome. Almost disturbingly similar.

Two, Angell has an adoption center, which we foolishly walked through. My husband fell in love with several cats, including one who was so fat he looked like a pillow with a head. The dogs' stories were just heartbreaking--owners got to old, owners died, owner's abandoned, didn't deal with newborn baby. They were such sweet dogs who had no idea why their happy home wasn't there anymore. Some of them were huge--they're going to be hard to place. I kept tearing up and had to leave. One was there because the landlord didn't allow pets--that makes my husband crazy--then you find another landlord--you don't betray a creature who trusts you. We had friends who decided that they really didn't need dirty cats after they had a baby. My husband has pretty much cut them out of his life. We could have many more options in apartments if we gave up our pets. We would probably rather die.

Long day

Guinness went for his ultrasound today. This became a much bigger process than it should have been for several reasons. One, there are only two animal hospitals in Boston and the more convenient one to us only had weekday slots. We also couldn't just bring him in for an ultrasound, he had to be examined and then the Vet would decide if he really needed one, or something else. The other is located in the heart of south Boston neighborhoods--areas we are not familiar with, where I had gotten lost only Thursday, and where certain areas are...less savory. We'd been there before, but late at night with no traffic. So we went down taking a long a roundabout way (I don't want to sound like a travelogue, but for those in Boston, Storrow to Kenmore, to Longwood, to Huntington St., to JP), but had given ourselves plenty of time. Guinness doesn't deal well with other larger dogs, so I walked him around the little park while husband waited. Vet was very nice, very thorough. Could fit him in for Ultrasound, but no guarantee on time. Might be an hour, might be four. Plus he found some enlarged lymph nodes and wanted to rule out some things so those would probably be easier for them to do all at once. So we could leave him or stay. We decided to leave and pay the extra price for day board. We went to lunch in Jamaica Plain, at the exact same restaurant I'd eaten in on Thursday, wandered a bit, checked with the hospital. Still not done. So we decide to go home. My husband starts to retrace our steps. I point out there's an easier way, but we're headed in the wrong direction. Oh well--so JP to Huntington, to Mass Ave. to Melnea Cass, to 93 North.
Now, as the crow flies, this place is probably 3.5 miles from our house because Boston is quite geographically small. Each of these trips have now taken about 35 to 45 minutes.
It's terribly hot, neither of us feel well, we go home and nap with the phone next to the bed. At 5:30 the vet calls and says that Guinness can be released at 6 (the original apt. had been at noon). We go--I'm driving this time. We leave about 15 to 6. I take 93 with the intention of picking up Melnea Cass back to Columbus to Centre St. where the hospital is. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Except there are no signs for Melnea Cass once we get off of the highway and we end up in DORCHESTER (seedy neighborhood) where some sort of peace parade is happening and we are diverted repeatedly!!! I actually ask one of the cops directing traffic if he knows the best way to Angell Memorial Hospital. He asks where is it. I say JP. He shrugs and I say, "So I'm SOL?" He says, "Basically." THESE NEIGHBORHOODS ARE SIDE BY SIDE!
ONE HOUR LATER we get to the hospital in a pretty frazzled state. It then takes an HOUR for Guinness to be discharged.
But we are so happy to seem him and he is so happy to see us, and everyone in the waiting area tells us how cute he is.

So, the good news is that his liver doesn't look misshapen or wrong, just large. His blood work is all the same as it's ever been. The bad news is that he definitely has stones and needs an operation. They will biopsy the liver while they have him open (saying that makes me a little sick) to rule out cancers. And this is a chunk of change, which we have, but weren't planning to spend like this. Poor little guy.

Post Script: Came home smoothly, the way I'd been aiming for all day--Centre to Columbus to Melena Cass to 93 North--15 minutes. Jeeze, Louise. I'll have to do this in rush hour next week to drop him off.

Movies we have watched and some observations thereof

In the last two weekends, we've watched the following movies in reverse order:

300
Aeon Flux
Hollywoodland
The Queen
The History Boys

300 - lush visually, fairly simplistic but we'd both read the graphic novel, so no surprises. We kept counting the ways the lead kept slipping into brogue and comparing him to Sean Connery. We also spent some time speculating on the computer effects.

Aeon Flux - better than we'd been led to believe, not extraordinary, but then, while we enjoyed the original, strange shorts, we weren't 'in love' with them, so not wedded to them. I thought it a decent, basic sci-fi story and I was happy that the Kwisatz Haderach of this was female. [Sidenote: apparently when a friend of mine saw The Matrix in the theater, someone stood up at the end stood up and yelled, "He is the Kwisatz Haderach." That was exactly why my husband didn't like The Matrix. I said, "There are a lot of Messiah's in sci-fi; get over it." He said, "Yes, but they don't have to be Keanu Reeves."] A large portion of our enjoyment was the fact that Charlize Theron took the role as seriously as possible.

Did you notice how last year there were numerous films that seemed to come out in pairs? The Prestige/The Illusionist, Aeon Flux/Ultraviolet, Blood Rayne/Underworld II, and the next one with Black Dahlia. Oddly enough, the night we watched Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet was playing on another channel.

Hollywoodland - again, better than we'd been told it was, again, primarily because of the commitment of the actors, not because of the quality of the film. I have never really watched the George Reeves Superman's, so had nothing to compare, but I think Ben Affleck really worked hard at it. Adrian Brody is always good, and it's always a joy to see Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins

The Queen - Another performance driven. I am sorry that the weekend I saw the two highbrow films I was trying to work on things for work, and so missed a lot of the subtlety. Helen--divine, of course. She made HRH very sympathetic--a woman of a different age trying to understand why people were behaving (in her eyes) badly.
Something that hit me as I watched was the corrections that Blair's team give to her for her speech. She's the bloody QUEEN and yet they gave her small, humanizing corrections. I guess you never get to a point where you get to just say--that's it, my word goes (this relates to my feelings at work). Of course, she could have told them to shove off (there's a funny image) and they would have to. I guess Prince Phillip rather does that.
A couple of months ago, Mirror followed the story of a monologist who's work was attacked and boycotted DURING a show. The church group got up and marched out and one man poured water on the script. The proverbial straw was when he pondered what it would be like to "Bleep" Paris H*!ton. He said, "You're thinking, 'I'm Bleeping Paris H*!ton,' and she's thinking, 'I'm Bleeping Paris H*!ton." (emphasis mine). I was thinking, what must it be like to get up every morning and know that you are THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND? Stressful, I would imagine, but quite literally and appropriately, noblesse oblige.

The History Boys - I'd read the play and loved it. I love Alan Bennett in all his catty, erudite glory. Unfortunately, because I'd read it, I didn't focus on it, and I'm sure missed some lovely acting. Fortunately, the writing is so good, I shall gladly see it again--although I missed the great chunks that they cut out. My husband, who has not read the play, enjoyed it very much.

(Mirror, do you have a copy?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pieces of Whitey

Writing Life x3 (Pat) has an interesting post about his play "Pieces of Whitey." I saw the production he's referring to, and I would agree with his assessment (the set overwhelmed the actors at times--never a good, I say, as a set designer; the pacing was odd, etc.) but some very funny AND very thought provoking lines. I also saw it with my friend C, a beautiful black woman, who was dating (at the time) one of the white actors. She had also auditioned and they had discussed with her why they were going with an all white cast. I did find myself glancing at her through the night. I think she enjoyed it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

KARAOKE

This is for Musing and B to take both of their minds off of other things. I happened to find it instead of what I was looking for (which was the 5Lives--they know what this means).



Now, I'm not a fan of Karaoke, but I found this entertaining not because of the song, which is not a favorite of mine (more on that in a minute) but because it's written three different ways--Romajii, Kana and English translation. I wish I could find more (perhaps of the songs I like more), but the irc seems to be dead. I did find this:
http://www.karaokebox.org/
which is kind of fun, because you can sing with the artist, and then try it alone, but it doesn't tell you WHEN to sing, like a real karaoke version.

Now, what I was saying about it not being my favorite got me thinking. L'Arc has 118 song by rough count--counting "My Heart Draws a Dream" due out next week, but not any of the remixes, Ectomorphed songs, D'Arc, P'Unk, live versions, Hydeless versions or the new songs they are doing on tour. I know I LOVE at least 25, maybe 30, that just take my breath away for beauty (Forbidden Lover) or strangeness (Shinshoku) or just great melody (Peeping Tom). There's then probably 25-30 that I like; just great pop songs or rock--this falls somewhere in the middle to low end of that group. Edit: I realized that this song: Ready, Steady, Go, is probably the best known L'Arc song in the world because it's the theme to Full Metal Alchemist. Which means nothing to those who aren't Anime Otaku, but a lot within it. I know many people who found L'Arc through the show.

Sorry, B, but I really don't listen to Dune much (except for one song), so that's probably 9 at the bottom, and I don't like much of Real, so maybe 7 there plus some others--what I consider cheesy ballads that sound like other people (What is Love), or songs where I just don't like what Hyde's doing with his voice (Anemone). So probably 20 to 25 at the bottom. That leaves 23 songs unaccounted for.

Nan dai yo, ne?

Probably what's happened is I'm just misjudging the size of each group, but it struck me as very odd, and may prompt the OCD in me to categorize the songs, just to get it out of my head.

Edit: Oh, parsnips--I just realized it cuts off the English translation. Well, you ain't missin that much--the translation was a little funky.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mad Men

In the midst of the Gladiatorial games which are reality television, it is interesting to see some very good dramas appearing. I never managed to watch 6 Feet Under, or The Sopranos, but I am watching the new one on AMC, Mad Men. Set in 1960 in a Madison Avenue ad agency, it really has a filmic quality to it.

It starts with the opening credits--an animated sequence capturing both the glitz and the despair--worthy of a Hitchcock or some of the other amazing animated sequences of the 1960's. It's even shot like a film. A power struggle moment is shot so that the main character is framed between the underling and the boss. It's shot slightly below eye level so we're looking up at his face in the V between their bodies. Fantastic! The look is amazing, and nothing has been smoothed over. Everyone smokes, every moment. The bosses drink at lunch, pinch, ogle and proposition the secretaries. The only black faces are in restrooms and driving the cars and doing the lawns. They even got Robert Morse (of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" among others) as the big and really wacky boss (a Japanophile, he makes everyone take off their shoes when they enter his office). And everyone is competitive, and everyone has secrets. The veneer of happiness is very thin.

It has been suggested that this is looking at the past through mud-tinted glasses, not allowing the real mix of nice people and nice things to show through, but that wouldn't make for good drama, now would it? In one brilliant moment a little girl runs to her mother with a plastic bag on her head and her mother, (a good mother by the standards of the time), cigarette in hand says, "If I find the dry-cleaning that was in that bag on the floor, you're in big trouble. Now go play." (How did any of us Gen-Xers live through our childhoods? Jungle gyms on concrete, our teachers smoking at the edge of the building).

It's a study in class and wealth, in privilege and race. And it's all going to explode--you just know it.

I was thinking how I don't find myself watching reruns as much as I used to. I really do believe that television writing is becoming better and better--not just on the cable stations, but on the networks as well. I'm not sure when it started--perhaps with Twin Peaks, when Lynch proved that audiences would tune in each week for tiny clues. Even with the daytime soaps and the night time soaps of the 80's you really didn't have to be there each week. In the daytime enough would be repeated to catch up, and at night some things might build, but they weren't really necessary to still enjoy J.R. getting shot. The X-Files, Babylon-5, shows where episodes were defined by whether they were "Arc" stories (meaning clues in the big mystery) or non-Arc, (stand alone's). But those were "genre" series, meaning watched by trainspotting nerds so not part of the bigger demographic, or so the studios thought.

I still watch shows without arcs, House, Bones, etc. but more and more I'm finding them less satisfying.

"What Came Before He Shot Her"--Elizabeth George

I'm really, really close to finishing Moby Dick, really. I'm also reading a book by Elizabeth George. In a post that I can't at this moment find, I talked about not liking her last book and this is a sequel. I was also afraid of reading it. The last book featured the death of Inspector Lynley's wife, shot on her doorstep. The perp. turned out to be a 12 year old boy. The police force wants to throw the book at him--one of their own,yada, yadda. That's about where that one ends. This one is exactly as the title says. I knew it was going to be sad and hard, because the ending is known. The sweet, sad little boy of the first chapter is going to end up shooting someone and facing a life in prison. Destroyed in some way or other.

I'm a little over a third of the way through and it is sad and hard, because this is such a doomed little boy, and George, whom I've criticized for the distance she places between the reader and characters has done a very good job of entering his mind, and the minds of the people around him. It is still too long and works too hard on authenticity. As an American who writes books set in London, she seems determined to show how much research she's done. She writes detailed descriptions of routes that people take. She works very hard to get the vernacular right. By contrast, the British Ruth Rendell, who's writing about the exact same portion of London manages to cram more story line into a book of half the length.

That said, this could turn out to be George's best book. Eleven year old Joel, his 15 year old sister and his 8 year old brother who has something mentally wrong with him--no one is sure what, are literally dumped on their aunt's doorstep when their grandmother decides to go back to Jamaica with her layabout boyfriend. Slowly it unfolds that their father was shot in the street in front of the boys. Their mother is in a mental hospital. Ness, the sister, is so filled with a rage that she skips school and quickly finds sex and drugs as a way to fill the emptiness she cannot articulate. There is a beautiful line about Ness having so little ability to assess her own state of mind that she mistakes anger for power, hurt for need. Joel has taken on all responsibilities--for his retarded brother, for the family happiness, for the world. To watch this 11 year old try desperately to make things right is heart wrenching. To know the end in store for him is nearly (for me) unbearable. His aunt tries to do the right thing, but she was not prepared for this either. He has one mentor in the community, but none of the characters can trust or communicate very well. At the mentor's encouragement he goes to a poetry event and writes his first raw poem. Last night I read about his feelings at getting the Poet with Potential award and I had to shut the book and cry. For everything he'll never have, for everything that so many children will not have. Not iPods and Nikes, but self-respect, dignity, a sense of place, a sense of childhood.

At the same time, in Boston, in the real world, a seven year old was shot and killed last month by a cousin with his older brother's gun. His older brother had promise, looked to be getting out of the gangs. He had promise, vivacious and friendly. All of the siblings have different fathers. All of the fathers are in jail or have been. Or are dead. The mother has never worked, was pregnant at 16 with a 15 year old's child. Has been in jail herself. A doomed family on whom thousands of dollars of taxpayer's money has been spent to try and save these children--to camps, to learning centers, counselors, etc. And now this little boy is dead.

I've been very poor in my life, and I've been in less than ideal living situations, but I've never had to live with the level of fear that these children face, everyday--in school, on the sidewalk, in their own homes. How do you live with that fear and manage to overcome it? Because it is fear that shapes every thug, every criminal. Fear at the most fundamental and earliest times. You never learn to express your feelings. You never learn coping mechanisms. You can't even articulate what you feel, only that you must do something or go mad. And if someone hands you drugs and guns at that moment. How do you say no?

I go mad when Conservatives dismiss these problems. "I never chose drugs or violence they say," but the question is not whether you have done more with your life, but whether you could have done more with their life. As it is lived, every moment.

Do you have what you need, if not what you want?

Guinness, my Cairn Terrier, may have calcium stones in his bladder. This means he needs an ultrasound and then probably an operation. His liver also looks enlarged in the x-rays. The vet wasn't sure what this means, as his liver function enzymes are fine, with only one elevated. Could just be a genetic anomaly, could be something more...

My first dog died when she was 7, a year and a half after my father. I cried more for her for a variety of reasons, among them because I felt like I had killed her by not getting her regular check ups. My mother, in one of her rare bursts of being a perfect mother said that this was understandable as Fedora was with me every day, whereas I hadn't lived with my father since I was 12. In other words, every moment was a reminder of Fedora, while I could go long stretches without thinking about my father's absence.

Guinness is 9, but the breed average life-span is 15 or 16. I am trying not to worry--to worry before knowing the facts is to waste time and energy. It's been a long week.

Added to all the stress of the past few weeks, was the fact that we were trying to apartment hunt. We've long wanted to move, and now we are in a position to financially do so. Rents in Boston are embarrassingly high, and ours is rather amazing for the amount of space we have, so we knew we were going to make quite a jump. In the past two weeks, we've looked at four apartments (it's not an urgent search--we don't HAVE to move). Two of the first three were just wrong--one too small (esp. for the price), the other possessing only a shower/bathroom, and when I said, "It doesn't have a bathtub?" The landlord replied, "Who takes baths these days." I smiled politely and said, "I do, thank you." Way to sell it, buddy. The third was nice, but had more rooms than we need. The fourth was a fabulous apartment in almost all respects. Three bedrooms and an office so studios for both of us and a computer room, a porch in the back, roof access in the front, off-street parking, living room and dining room (which becomes a library in our lives) and tons of closets. The only odd thing was the kitchen, and that seems to be the norm in Boston--mainly because the houses have all been converted from single family homes, so the kitchen has to be carved out of some other room on the second floor. This one had only the stove in it and the sink and cabinets were in a separate alcove. I have had to give up the idea that we will find a place with a modern kitchen, re-stained floors and perfectly painted baseboards--it just ain't happenin' unless we buy into a complex which is difficult with a dog and a cat, and then the walls are thin. This one was in quite good shape, and the landlord was working on it to make it better. It was also about $300 more than I wanted to spend, adds at least 20 minutes more to my commute both ways, and $50 more per month to my husband's commuting costs. Blech.

It was also ready for the 1st of September and though my husband really, really liked it and we could both see ourselves there, I realized that there was no way that I could possibly add packing to everything I have to do. I didn't want to pay rent that would take up all of the extra money we now have. And now, with the possibility of Guinness having medical bills and the possible need to see my mother sooner rather than later, I don't think we can move at all. It is nice to have the money to deal with emergencies. It is rather sad that windfalls seem to come (in my life, or so it feels) with equal necessary expenditures.

Added to this is a sense of panic--a sense that if we commit to a higher rent (or a mortgage as so many of our friends seem to be encouraging us to do) then I am trapped. Trapped in a job I'm still not sure I love. Trapped in a career at all. Trapped in Boston. Trapped perhaps in adulthood.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

L Learns Photoshop

I was going to type my name because of the alliteration, but I don't want to use my name here and Novel Learns Photoshop doesn't work. I thought about Novel Needs Photoshop, but that's just daft.


Anyway, this is what I've been doing all evening, because I have nothing better to do, natch. Nor do I need to get up early and take the dog to the vet--ha ha.

Matt linked to a very cool site with fun things to do with Photoshop, and as I'm going to be using Photoshop more and more I decided to try some of them:

My car as a car from Cars by Pixar. It's not perfect by any stretch. I couldn't get the color blending right around the mouth--I'm still working on figuring out paths, levels, etc., but it gets the idea across.

Of course what I really want to use it for is a better version of this:

My car as Tonari no Totoro. As soon as we brought the car home last year I said, "I think it looks like Totoro, don't you?" (to my husband). "I bet we could Photoshop that and it would be funny. The Toyota symbol is in just the right place for his nose, and the grill looks like he's smiling." I had the eyes over the headlights at first but that just looked creepy. I'm torn as to whether it needs to be Totoro's more crescent shaped smile, but I like leaving it in the place of the grill. Again, I have a ways to go--I worked the left headlight (right in the picture) out nicely, but the right had too many shadows. If you go in close you'll find an overuse of the smudge tool. I couldn't change the color of the ears, just lighten them, but still not bad for no lessons. Each bit of tinkering teaches me something new.
Edit: My clever (and paranoid) husband pointed out that I probably don't want to have my license plate number plastered on the web.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mortality part 2

My mother has an aortic stenosis. This means the valve in her heart is getting more and more rigid, and eventually it will stop moving altogether and she will die. Her doctor told her it could happen anytime with no warning, "Any time from two weeks to a year." That was five months ago. She mentioned it then, but I put it out of my mind at the time. That seems extraordinary at this moment but my mother has often cried wolf. Last night she mentioned it to my husband again and told him not to tell me as I'm so stressed from work. He, of course, told me after I'd finished speaking with her. I called her back and asked if the diagnosis had changed, if she felt different. If that really meant she had ONLY a year to live, or was it more in the lines of now, or some vague time in the future. She wasn't sure. She said it was just one of those things doctors say. She also said she had no intention of dying. She'll be 83 in October when I'm planning to see her. I haven't seen her face to face for 8 years. As I lay in the bathtub afterwards and cried I wished things had been different, that we'd had the kind of relationship that we'd each wanted, that many of my girlfriend's have with their mothers. Of being friends. But we never did, and she never understood why, and I finally had to shake myself and say that there was nothing to be done about that now.

Now, as I said, she and I talked about this in the spring, yet she led my husband to believe that it was new. She was not surprised when I called her back--that he had told me. What do I make of that? And do I think of her as dying more rapidly any more or less than all the years of my life when she's lived with blood pressure over 200 and high cholesterol and a weight problem, and a carelessness of her health, and two heart attacks and breast cancer and a mastectomy? Or simply the fact that she is 83? I feel as if I've been doing this moment--my mother could die any day--over and over again since I was a child.

And a friend's 17 year old daughter is facing losing her father to cancer, and my husband lost his mother when he was 20 after watching her slowly die for years, and JT lost both parents within a very short space of time while he was in college. I am not a child. I am not even so young as I was when my father died. I am a grown up woman who will someday have to face her mother's death no matter how or when it comes. Buckle up, Novel. A woman at work got a call after I spoke to her about this that her mother had been rushed to the hospital with fluid on the heart from kidney failure. "Here beside the news of holy war and holy need/Ours is just a little sorrowed talk,"--Duran Duran, Ordinary World

I think that defined myself for so long by pushing against my mother, that I am terrified of how I will define myself when she is gone. It was not something I had to deal with in my father's death. I am better now than I would have been even 9 years ago. I have made a sort of peace, but I do not want her to die yet. And I don't know what I think will happen if she doesn't.

Nalini again

Nalini did a reading in Boston on Monday night. I didn't find out about it until late on Sunday, and I made no effort to go, but last night I dreamt that she came to my house (it wasn't really her) to find me only in the dream, she was not a writer, but a classical guitarist (something she'd been trying to learn in college). She made me go and there was some sort of conflict at the event.

The problem with...

Not getting back here every day is that posts pile up and then, sometimes, other things happen which reduce the first post, so do I post in order even though mentally I have moved on or rather that new developments put past things in different lights? Do the old events simply become part of the new posts, or still stand on their own?

While driving to work last Friday, on my way back from a deep clean at the dentist, a rock flew up and chipped my windshield. The chip is about 1/2 inch wide and low on the windscreen, so not a priority to fix at the moment. It's annoying because the car is only 1 1/2 years old so to need to replace something as large as the windscreen seems particularly galling. Whatever flew up was large enough for me to see as it hurtled towards me and I was shaken, though kept driving. Recently here in Boston a man was seriously injured when a drainage cover flew up from the highway, shattered his window and hit him. They weigh a couple of hundred pounds and should have been bolted down. He's still in the hospital. They had pictures of the car on the news, and it was just decimated and the front was all covered in blood. Last year a woman was killed when a chunk of ceiling inside the tunnel came down and crushed her side of the car. Her husband walked away.

In both instances, human negligence was to blame. This was no one's fault. The truck in front of me was not driving erratically. The road was not particularly littered, but it made me think how brief life is. I wondered if those two people had time to register fear, and surprise or was it done in an instant with no time for them to even know what happened to them before they were dead or woke up in a hospital. I think about that alot in regards to sudden and terrible accidents. And I don't know if it's just a morbidity on my part or something else.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh, I love this! Duran Duran vindication

Matt sent me this interview:
http://www.transpacificradio.com/2007/08/07/tpr-spotlight-2-japans-foreign-labor-market/

I think it says it all, plus it's a pretty interesting interview after the Duran Duran stuff, and OH, how the interviewer does not want to acknowledge that Duran Duran might have musical merit. Probably loves U2. I hardly think D2 is the most plugged band--certainly not anymore.

Here's to ignoring it all...

Despite the documents I have not finished, the graphic that could be improved, the reading I should be doing, the layers of dust on everything I own, the piles of ironing which have taken over my sewing room (ironing is on an "as needed" basis at the moment), the personal filing of paid bills and important documents which is inches thick, Husband and I went to the beach in Salem. I did something I haven't done since I was a teenager--stuck my legs out to actually try and get a tan (pursuing goth paleness, I usually try not to get a tan), did a quick swim in the very cold water and read Moby Dick. Then we had Fried Dough and came home where I brushed the cat (he was shedding faster than he could cope). I did pretty well on ignoring the above while sitting there on the sand. It was bliss and I am only lightly burnt.


I also made this for work (I've put a USB drive next to it for scale):


I'd always meant to make one, but I haven't always been in a cube, plus I got the frame as a favor at the wedding I went to. Here's to doing nothing, but doing it very well.

The pitch

After working for two nights to clean up the guitars and play with the colors of the dollar signs (I'd shown my boss a rough with only a few styles of guitars on a white background before continuing) I took what I considered the finished product into my boss and he said, "It seems busy. Don't you think it looks busy? Can you make the guitars smaller and the logo bigger and maybe the guitars could be fainter. But I like the concept."


Well, that's good, I guess.

So this is the new version that I'm taking to him tomorrow:
I don't like it as well, I think that the grouped guitars worked as a single image, while this just looks scattered, but I don't pay the bills. I also know better what he wants for the future--an image that suggests but then disappears instead of a strong signature. Good things to learn.
What I have to work at is trusting that a) just because the client doesn't want it doesn't mean it's a bad design b) the customer is always right, even when they're wrong. I'm actually better able to do this as a designer (of anything) than as an actress, for instance. I tend to trust authority more than myself. I'm working to stick to my guns as a writer in this job. It's slow going.

The design

One of the things I've been doing at home for work is developing the theme for the company's fall conference. This is what I came up with:


I've blocked out the company name.





I realized that I seem to have a thing for weaving dollar signs with objects. This is the image I drew by hand for my high school production of All My Sons (forgive the photo--it's a camera phone in night mode of a t-shirt that's become a quilt top. The original shirt is actually red):





Obviously, in All My Sons, the pursuit of the dollar is a bad thing. I would imagine that my boss sees dollar signs as a good thing. I'm not sure how I feel about it.


I am not obsessed with using dollar signs in graphics (these ARE 20 years apart), but I realized, what I do like is the shape of text as it relates to an image. I like picking just the right font to fit with the image and arranging them--puzzle like on the page.

A Painfully Horrible Movie--avoid at all costs

So I'm working on the laptop last Friday night (not this past Friday, the one before) and I see that "Wicker Man" starring Nicholas Cage is coming on and I had a faint curiosity about it. My husband decides to go to bed and I start watching.

Oh, dear God. If I hadn't been actively doing something else, I'd wish that I could have that hour and a half back. It was such a bad film, poorly plotted, ludicrously acted. Smoking guns developed and then let drop--it wasn't even suspenseful or creepy. Just laughable. The only reason I watched was because I vaguely remember liking the original with Edward Woodward from the 70's.

Now the only reason that this rates a post--since I don't usually burden you with bad films--is that the screenplay was written by Neil LaBute. He of "in the Company of Men" and "The Shape of Things." He also directed. Oddly enough, I have never seen another Neil LaBute film--I've only seen his plays. I'm a little afraid of his movies--like Rendell he is not afraid to create monstrous characters with all their flaws, and I admire that, but sometimes that is more difficult for me to watch in a film--where I am trapped for the duration of the film than violence. With a book, I can look up. Walk around--get away for a moment.

I have actually defended LaBute from charges of misogyny by saying that he's actually misanthropic (he hates everybody) but this film was beyond misogynistic. The vitriol against women here is... disgusting. And worse, like most diatribe, it is boring. The dialog is not even interesting--something that was always good in his plays.

The Water's Lovely--Ruth Rendell

The night after my last July post, rather than blog I decided to read a book that I had just received from Mystery Book Club. (Having given myself permission to read other things than manuals and Moby Dick has been a relief as well.) I was so good with Harry Potter the week before--reading half on Thursday night and half on Friday.

So, even though it was a Wednesday I read the entire Rendell in one sitting. I always do that with her books. I can't put them down. I've been reading Ruth Rendell since I was in high school and I worked in a library. She's virtually the only mystery writer I read consistently and one of only a few that I read at all (P.D. James, Elizabeth George--though I have mixed feelings about her). These are living writers--I've read all of Doyle, of course, and Dorothy L. Sayers. I've never been a fan of Agatha Christie. I like writers who are more interested in the why than the how or the who.

I think Rendell is the world's best mystery writer and I think it sad that she is not considered one of the best writers because of the genre in which she writes. In that class I took on European lit. with April Bernard I asked April why she didn't have a Rendell when she had Patricia Highsmith and Muriel Spark. She said that she didn't think Rendell was as universal as PH and MS, but I disagree. This latest book is hardly a mystery at all--the body is dead years before and the "who dun it" is pretty much given. But it is the knowledge of the murderer that has shaped the lives of two young women and warped their lives--and it is that that forms the soul of the novel. Her characters are always vivid and to me very real. They are generally not pleasant. That one sister is weak, and pathetic and has only managed to survive because of her beauty and the other strong because of her plainness is also a major portion of their psychology and she doesn't shy away from it. I know people who don't read Rendell because her characters are often so awful--the blackmailing, cheating, lieing character in this ends up happy and married for instance, while the strong sister is dead in the Asian Tsunami is heartbreaking, but that is life, isn't it? The good do not get their rewards on earth, and the bad are not always caught. Not my favorite book by her, but definitely high on the list.

I've missed this

I've been stupidly, insanely busy at work. I've been sitting here at the main computer every night or in front of the TV with the laptop every night for most of the last week with a few exceptions.

I say stupidly because a) I want things to be better and that takes time and b) I'm not an expert or even particularly trained in any of the programs I'm using so I find after days of work that there were better ways of doing things. It's very frustrating. I keep trying to remind myself that eventually I will be very good in these programs simply by trial and error, but it's slow going now.

For instance--looking at this post by Matt, http://photojojo.com/content/tutorials/best-movie-effect-photo-tutorials-photoshop/, I remembered how simple it is to do something dramatic in Photoshop and made the new picture (although at the moment, it's distorting slightly). Just putting things onto transparent backgrounds has taken a chunk of time. Added to the problem is the fact that I have a different version of Photoshop and inDesign at work than I do at home (newer at home) which makes taking things back and forth difficult even with export. And so on. Plus I want to make old documents PDF writable but it seems to be impossible to get the tabs to work properly when building over a previous version so then I think--why did I think these needed to be writable again?

I have taken time out to do fun things--just not blogging after sitting at the computer for so long.