Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shooting Pictures in Ordinary Places

I really enjoy the idea of taking something mundane, ordinary, or limited and doing something cool with it.  In my mind, this is where real creativity comes out.  Sure, you can come up with something innovative and groundbreaking but making something special out of what people see, experience everyday is still a great way to spend your creative energies.

This short post is about my parents' backyard and the shooting I did while I was there over Christmas.  I'd hoped to go out shooting but the weather wasn't cooperating.  Lots of rain.  So I did what I could with what I had.

My parents' very ordinary backyard in the rain.

The next morning I noticed the sun was out.  Everything was dripping and there was a cold chill in the air.  I grabbed my camera and stepped out onto the patio.

As you can see, the light was beautiful.  I took this picture and stepped forward until I was right next to the glowing orange Birds of Paradise.

As was my custom, I started out shooting these flowers from farther away then moved closer until I got this shot.  The other shots are beautiful too but the contrast of the creamy white, orange, rust, and roadrunner blue really shows up when you get in close.  Note the water droplets.

Later that afternoon I was taken by the glowing green of the leaves from one of the large bushes.  I took many shots but couldn't get the right picture so I did what I like to do in those circumstances:  I looked up.

Apparently, shooting into the sun isn't something you're supposed to do.  You turn your back to the sun  and use it to light your subject but I take pictures into the sun all the time.  And I'm not just talking about the endless sunset pictures I seem to take.

Anyway, I was taken by the glowing green of the leaves, the blue sky, the clouds, and the sun between the tree branches so I took several shots.

I love how this photo came out.

I took several of these patio shots.  I really love the deep shadows and how they contrast with the bright green and the peek of sunlight glow at the top.  I also like the blue of my parents' house in this picture.  It provides a kind of grounding for everything else.

I've learned that shooting is all about paying attention to light.  Where the light is (and isn't), what's being lit up and what isn't, and what the colors look like.  In these pictures, the light is affected by the fact that it had been raining for a good part of the day and everything was still wet.  Water (even in droplets) creates another kind of glow and cleans the air which is why the light looks so clear here.

It wasn't long before it started raining again.  That's another thing about shooting pictures, you gotta pay attention to what's going on around you so you can take advantage when you see something that might be worth looking at.  And you need to keep your camera handy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Musings: Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

***This blog post contains spoilers.***

Le Cercle Rouge is a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.  This film is about an elaborate heist in a well fortified jewelry shop.  I have to admit it's a very deliberately paced film which is a polite way of saying it's a little slow in the middle.  At least by our standards.  There's not a lot of dialogue either.  These things don't detract from the film.  It's beautifully put together and suspenseful but it's not anything near what we would consider an action movie so if you want something that moves fast and has a lot of shootouts, you need to look elsewhere.

I loved this film.  It gets better with subsequent viewings.  And it was put out by Criterion.  I might have to add this one to my collection.

Alain Delon is Corey, a criminal just released from prison, and a man with so much understated cool oozing out of his pores that he enhances every location he happens to be in no matter how dingy or mundane.  Ever wanted to know how to look like you have your shit together?  Ever wonder how you can look amazing while wearing a trench coat, smoking, standing in the mud, while some guy approaches you with a loaded revolver?  Corey's the answer.

Corey makes it all look good.  The car, the rain, the cigarette, the steering wheel.
The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, very interesting.  The colors are saturated but have a muted, cold palate for the most part.  Nothing looks too bright or washed out yet sometimes Corey's hair is so black that it looks superman blue as does his blue eyes, and the whites of the cigarettes and especially the whites of the men's shirts are almost blinding (in one scene, one of the men crosses a river in nothing but his blinding white underwear).

Corey waits for someone to answer the door.
You can clearly see what I mean by the colors being saturated but not overly bright.

The lighting was great too.  I couldn't find the train scenes with their beautiful play of shadow and light but I found the picture below which will give you an idea.
Corey and Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) check out the state of Corey's apartment.  The flashlight, the cobwebs on the phone, the dust, and Vogel's distinctive profile against the window all combine to enhance that film noir look.

Speaking of Vogel, one of the things I really enjoyed about this movie were the relationships between the men.  There wasn't enough exploration of that, in my opinion.  Vogel had escaped from a train while in police custody.  He manages to hide in Corey's car trunk.  I love their meeting in the middle of a muddy field.
I love this shot.  You can just see a bit of warm light coming in from the right there.
There isn't much warmth in this film so I enjoyed this moment.
Vogel notes that Corey has several thousand francs in his jacket even though he doesn't take any of it.  After that Corey offers him cigarettes and a lighter.  As Vogel lights up, they just stare at each other for a few minutes.  They seem to realize they are kindred criminals and after Vogel saves Corey's life, they start working together.  Later, you will see that they have developed a high level of trust and a curious kind of thieves' devotion for each other.

...and Corey are having a moment, almost smiling at each other.
Notice how Corey's collar and tie is just slightly off and his trenchcoat collar is barely turned up in the back.  Also his trenchcoat is very soft unlike the more structured ones the other characters wear (notably the police).

If you haven't guessed by now, I just loved how elegant this film and these men were. Their clothes were beautiful. I also liked that there was very little emphasis on women in this story. Better for me to focus on those shirt collars, trench coats, ties, suits, and fedoras.

Yves Montand portrays Jansen, an alcoholic ex-cop and a brilliant marksman.  He has plenty of issues but still gets the job done.  He also looks great in all black, including gorgeous black overcoat, hat, and gloves (the effect is severe, he almost looks like a priest) while casing the jewelry shop, in a tux while posing as a musician during the job, and in a soft camel colored turtleneck and cardigan while practicing his shooting.

Corey and Jansen (Yves Montand), right, talk about the job.
Jansen is hyper elegant even while his hands are shaking from the DTs
(except when we first see him literally trying to deal with his demons). 

Heist.  In this famous 25-minute sequence no dialogue is spoken.
The heist sequence is justifiably famous.  The jewelry shop is ingeniously fortified and watching them work their way through all the obstacles is a real pleasure.

I know I haven't discussed the story much or Mattei, the police commissioner who is chasing them and who was accompanying Vogel during a prisoner transfer until he got away, some of Corey's other contacts, the nightclub owner, etc. but that's okay.  I'm sure you can find out more information on other blogs, or better yet just watch the movie.

Bourvil as Le Commissaire Mattei looks right at home in this film, as does his underlings.  
This film is fatalistic but I can't tell if the message is that the good guys prevail because they're good or because sometimes things just don't work out in your favor.  Regardless, one message I enjoyed is even if you die face down in the mud shot by the police while running away, you'll still look brilliant if you're wearing french cuffs and a beautiful overcoat.

Just say yes to awesome french cuffs!  Vogel unlocks his handcuffs on the train so he can escape.
Yeah, this is weird film review.  Just watch the damn thing and disregard my menswear fetishist ramblings.

P.S.  I think this film should be remade with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Corey and Tom Hardy as Vogel. Though Gordon-Levitt lacks Delon's unforgettable charismatic cool, he'll do just fine.  Both Gorden-Levitt and Hardy look great in suits and while smoking.  And they had such wonderful chemistry in Inception that I think they would do very well with the "thieves' devotion" part too (as long as the director expands on that even more and keeps the female presence in the film to a minimum).  I can dream a little, can't I?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

City Life: Flowers at the Community Garden

I took this picture today while on my way to get some coffee before settling down for more writing.

Cameras and Shooting

People always seem to be struck by the header photo, the Pink Church.  I have a small sliver of a side window which allows me this view but I have to stand on my couch to look out.  Thing is, no matter how times I take this picture and no matter which camera I use, the photos never come out the same.  I have come to the conclusion that this particular photo is a special moment arrested in time.  I might be able to duplicate it with this new camera I have or even make it better.  We'll see.

The header photo was taken with, get this, my first digital camera, a 5.0 megpixal Kodak EasyShare V550 with a small zoom.  All the early photos on this blog were taken with it (something like the first two years).  Once I was at a Circuit City store looking at cameras.  The two sales guys were young and arrogant.  They were talking about cameras with some other young, arrogant customers.  One of the sales guys made the comment that it was impossible to take good pictures with a mere point and shoot.  I spoke up telling him I'd taken some perfectly lovely photos with my Kodak EasyShare.  He literally rolled his eyes at me.  His credibility went right out the window and so I left the store.  I went back once or twice but never bought anything then Circuit City died a well publicized death.

Left to Right:  Nikon J1, Panasonic DMC-TZ4 with 10x zoom and Leica lens, Kodak EasyShare V550
Shit, I've taken some lovely pictures using my phone camera so I can't help but think that part of taking good pictures is also about how you see, not just the equipment you're using.

I've posted this picture before.  Taken with my Motorola Droid phone camera.
That's a street light shining behind the tree.  A very flawed picture but still striking.
And this, one of my favorite self-portraits, was also taken with the Kodak EasyShare then changed from color to black and white.

Also, posted elsewhere on this blog.  Probably the third or fourth time now.
Most of the photos in the last couple of years were taken with my Panasonic camera.  That little camera has served me well.  Here's its iteration of the Pink Church.

The church at dawn.  Camera shake is a problem for me hence the not quite in focus look.
And, finally, I'll be shooting more with my Nikon, my first camera with interchangeable lenses.  This evening I took the following picture.  Keep in mind it was dark when I took this shot.  As in so dark, I couldn't really see the church.  This camera performs very well in low light.

Actually, I kind of like how this one came out.  I was thinking of replacing it as the blog header but there's something special about the original pink church header photo.
I've got a long way to go before I can really start taking decent pictures with this camera.  I've taken some nice ones so far but don't feel comfortable with it yet.   That just means I'll have to out shooting some more (and posting the pictures to this blog).

Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2102: 51,342 Words!!!!

Yes, sports fans, I did it.  I kicked ass and took names.  I stared down my own procrastination, excuses, and I plowed through that shit.

It was difficult.  It was a slog.  I was about 10,000 words behind going into Thanksgiving weekend but I did well these last three days, only had to write 2,000 words a day.  For those of you wondering, 50,000 words is about 120 pages.  51,342 words is about 125 pages.

And it's not over yet.  I'm guessing I'm about two/thirds the way through this story.  I may rest tomorrow then I'll keep writing.  I'm going to start out with a goal of 1,000 words a day but if that turns out to be too ambitious, I'll throttle it back to 500 until the story is done.  And who knows?  Maybe this will be the start of a good writing habit.  Maybe I'll spend the rest of my life writing 500 or 1000 words a day and never look back.

It can be done, this novel writing thing.  But it's really hard work.  It's a commitment.  It's a big deal.  And I might not get anywhere with this stuff but who cares?  I'm going to keep writing.  When I'm on my deathbed, I'll be frantically typing on my tablet or laptop, trying to outrun Death's grasping hands for a few minutes longer while I lay down my last words.

Have a good weekend, everybody.  I know I'm going to.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: 20,178 Words

It's the middle of the month and I'm still behind.  Nothing new there but it's difficult to stay focused and I'm not sure why at this point.  I could blame it on a lot of things, and believe me I've been trying to but the blame isn't getting me anywhere.

I just need to write, dammit.  That is all.

I'm loving my story a lot.  Usually by the middle of the month, I start hating the story and the characters.  I think about quitting and I wonder why I ever bothered but this story is different.  I feel like it's a slog to get it down but I'm really enjoying myself.  Weird.

I'm starting to wonder if this story will breaking the 50,000 word limit.  Like the last NaNoWriMo novel, this one might.

Unlike previous NaNos, I had a much better idea of what this story was about because I've spent a lot of time thinking about it.  I took some random notes on the way to the starting line and I knew there were several scenes that had to be included.  I knew how it was going to begin and how it's going to end.  Thing is the story is still managing to surprise the hell out of me.  For example, my characters keep having these fascinating conversations and for the scenes I knew had to be in the story, they're going differently than I expected.

This has all been great, of course, but it's still a slog.  Onward to the finish line...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Miss Turtle IS Darth Maul

My department at work takes Halloween very seriously and we go all out for it.  This year we voted for a "Star Wars" theme.  We built a Death Star and put up a bunch of decorations.  And each of us dressed up as a character.  Originally, I wanted to be Boba Fett but I realized trying to fit armor on my body would be a serious challenge so I picked Darth Maul instead.  Maul figures prominently in "Star Wars I:  The Phantom Menace" as the villain.

Maul is a badass with a double-sided red light saber but more than that, he has super cool clothes.  I'd purchased the main outfit (including the mask and boot covers) along with a cloak.  I had to buy the gauntlet gloves and turtleneck.  The cloak turned out of be completely inadequate and Maul's cloak is flowing, voluminous, and awesome so I decided to make my own, placing all my modification efforts there.

I bought a bunch of black linen fabric at 50% off and used my bathrobe as a pattern.  After sewing it together, I then sketched out the hood but made it huge (Maul's hood drapes down in the back even when he's wearing it) then sewed that on.  Connecting the hood to the cloak was a challenge but I got it to work.  I noted that Maul's sleeves were very long, almost to the floor, and split on the underside so I had to add more fabric to the already very long sleeves to make them look right.

Me with the cloak on.

Me sans cloak.

The company has a tradition of allowing the employees to bring in their kids for Halloween trick-or-treat and a bunch of fun activities for the families.  When the kids came through I had to take my mask off because I kept scaring them.  Hell, I was scaring some of the adults.

We're already talking about next year and "Alice in Wonderland" has come up as a possible theme.  I would love to be the Mad Hatter again (I did a really great costume of the Hatter years ago) but if someone else wants to be the Hatter then I'll be Mock Turtle.  Of course.

Friday, November 09, 2012


As Stewart says, "This piece of footage will live forever."

Oh and here's a favorite image:

I know I'm gloating here but if the guys on the other side had made themselves into assholes this big, you wouldn't be able to resist either.  Denial, arrogance, stupidity, and utter contempt for ordinary people were all on display here.

And it's all going to live forever.  That makes me sooo happy.

Congratulations to President Barack Obama!

Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Yes, it's time for number three.  My third participation in National Novel Writing Month.  I've got a story to draft and with November close by, I'm going to give it another go.

The Rules:  50,000 words in 30 days.  Sign up at the website.  You "win" if you can verify your story word count at the end of the month.

I will not be participating in any of the group writing activities or hanging out on the forums.  There's too much work to do - about 1700 words per day of work.  I could talk about how this time will be easier because I've done it two times before but I'm going to assume it will still be a tough slog.

I have an idea for the story, a big fucking muddled stew of an idea, truth be told.  I have no idea how it's going to go.  This story is a cumulation of previous stories and the ending of a short series so it has to be great and satisfying.  Has to be.

Ever look at your own work, marvel at how cool it is and how well it turned out then wonder how the hell you did it?  I do that all the time especially in the beginning of a project.  Did those words really come from me?  How did I figure out those plot points so everything fits so well together?  I'm nervous, of course, as I am before all NaNoWriMos but I'm also excited too.  I can't wait to see how the story goes and what surprises come out.  I've got front row seats to the best show in town.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Gangnam Style LIVE

Ne plus ultra pop.

This is an exuberant, brilliant send up of a song.  I love how the audience shouts the lyrics back at him. And it's so much FUN!  I can't remember the last time I saw people having such a good time.  We place so much emphasis on mastery and perfection.  It's a sad thing.  So EVERYBODY stand up and do that horse dance.  Do yourself a favor and stop taking your damn selves so seriously.

(best viewed at full screen)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Movie Musings: Looper and Expendables 2

So this past week was a bitch.  I'm recovering from a nasty sinus infection and feeling very low energy.  Work was super busy.  Yesterday evening I decided to ditch my plans for the a productive evening at home and saw Looper and Expendables 2 back to back.  Ah yes, nothing like a super smart, probably ground-breaking sci-fi thriller and an over-the-top nostalgic action flick to help blast away those don't-fuck-with-me-anymore end of the week blues.  I marched straight to the snack counter and got my medium popcorn with extra butter along with a large Cherry Coke and plopped down in my theater seat.  Bliss.


Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have a tense conversation
What can I say about Looper (see trailer here) without giving it all away?  It's a time-traveling movie set in the near future.  A Looper is an assassin who kills people sent back through time.  Issues of free will, destiny, how people are affected by the past, and whether personal choices really exist figure prominently in this film.

It's ultra violent and the plot can be a little confusing at first but that's only because it's a time-traveling movie.  Director Rian Johnson, who also directed a favorite film of mine called Brick (see trailer here) which I've mentioned before on this blog, goes all out with this film.  He managed to shock and surprise me, make me jump, and make the action sequences feel fresh.  The sound, editing, and lighting in this film are particularly excellent.  A really interesting story.  Probably warrants at least one more viewing.


This movie was everything I hoped it would be (see trailer here but do you really need to?). Ultra ultra violent, cheesy one-lines and jokes flying around, action stars, big ass knives, super loud shotguns, other guns, explosions, plane crashes, tanks, martial arts, a whole lot of bad guys, and The Muscles from Brussels doing his signature roundhouse kick.  Oh yeah, and Arnie and Bruce Willis mocking each each other with back and forth one liners.

I had really, really a good time.  Sure, the body count is crazy high, sometimes you can't understand what Stallone is saying because his trademark mumble, the testosterone addled macho shit goes overboard, the story regularly veers off into impossible territory, the editing is a bit too enthusiastic, and there are plot holes big enough to drive several tanks through but who cares?  I was there to be completely entertained and I got what I came for.

I think figured out why I love action movies so much:
  1. I'm an adrenaline junkie and action movies are the best way for me to get my fix.
  2. Since I'm a writer I'm always taking everything in like a sponge.  I'm always looking for the story in art, music, movies (of course), books, in our day-to-day lives.  The writing mind is always on and can be difficult to turn off.  ACTION movies are the one place, the one kind of story where I don't have to think about these things.  Who needs to think about story or characters when you're watching two guys kick the shit out of each other?  I don't. Who needs to think about dialog or even depth when all the characters are firing at each other? Not me. At an action movie, I can completely relax and allow myself to be entertained.
  3. They're evidence that I'm not a snobby, high-minded, elitist movie bitch.  At least not all the time.
  4. They're super fun.
I'm sure you all know I take movies very seriously.  I watch film surveys and have seen my share of "deep" movies but it's nice to relax for a couple of hours; it's nice not to have to THINK about being entertained for a little while.

UPDATE:  Oh yeah, just so we're completely transparent, I did get a thrill from seeing Arnie back with a big shotgun.  Back when he was making all those action movies in his prime, he was my favorite movie star.  I will confess I have seen something like 99% of all his movies, including movies he only made cameos in and Pumping Iron.  I could qualify this confession by stating that one of my exes is a bodybuilder but fuck that.  The truth is I enjoyed Arnie while he was making action movies and I still own a few from those days (Terminators I, II, and III, Predator, Total Recall).  As for my views about his tenure as the governor of my state, well, I'll just say the dude is a republican and I'm not, BUT that's not going to stop me from going to see his upcoming movie, The Last Stand.  In addition to being Arnie's "debut" movie it's also directed by one of my favorite Korean directors, Kim Ji-Woon.

All right.  I'm sure there are going to be some people who won't like these views.  *gets into combat stance*  Come at me with your offended ass, I'ma ready for ya.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Writing Life: The Long Sentence

One of my friends from my writing group posted the following article on Facebook:

The Point of the Long and Winding Sentence, by Pico Iyer (L.A. Times)

Since it was after midnight when I read this article, I just had to try my hand at a long sentence.  My writing has been described as having short sentences, to the point.  Here's what I came up within a few minutes time:

We went out with a bang, with a squeal or a big noise but regardless of the noise and the clamoring and tripping over stones and piles of neatly cut two by fours, we paused, over-awed and amazed, staring up at the sky at the impossibly perfect vision, an inhuman light shining above us, otherworldly, occult, insane to some eyes, for there above us, by only a few feet above our heads, hovered someone in ghostly white shimmering robes of almost fiery intensity, glaring out from its own light source, spreading and pooling itself into the diamond-laden midnight sky. (99 words)

Writing in this way for me feels unnatural.  I can't tell you how many times I wanted to lay down a period but I kept going linking words and phrases.  Commas too.  I like the sentence and I like that it could be used for the opening of a novel or story.  As I read it now I wonder about it.  Who is "we"?  And why are "we" making so much noise?  What is the "impossibly perfect vision"?  Ghost, UFO, Angel, something else entirely?  Are these people even on our planet and does Earthlogic even apply?

Maybe I'll write about it someday.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Writing Life: The Wrong Novel

The backstairs at Fembo House in Nuremberg, Germany
I'm using this house, the City Museum, as a model for the house in my story

I'm flailing again.  This is not a surprise.  Another story is out being reviewed by a friend right now and I've happily turned to my historical novel again.  Well, I happily turned to it last week but I'm feeling unhappy about it now.

My usual refrain:  I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

I've been working on this novel for years.  I crossed the Atlantic to research the setting and I have laid out scene after scene.  I've also written back stories for the two main characters...and the back stories are more cohesive than this huge mess of a novel I've been staring at.  On the bright side, I have an embarrassment of riches will which serve me well later.  But it's not later, it's right now, and I have to figure what to do with the current story.

In a way this is a really good place for me.  The historical novel was my first real novel and the first draft was a complete story with character development, a comprehensive plot with twists, and a story arc.  It was also the wrong story.  How does that work, you ask?  How do you write at least 125 pages of a novel where everything fits and there's plenty of suspense and character development, and it's a complete story?  How can that story not be the right one?  Another writer (most likely an inexperienced one) might also say "But you have a novel!  What's wrong with it?"

Here's the thing, at least for me:  just because you write a story with characters and setting and stuff and you manage to write a story (beginning, middle, end) with some decent elements doesn't mean it's the right story.  What's important to note is that this particular story, the wrong one, isn't wasted time.  You've learned something about your characters and the world you've built and hopefully you can take some story elements and use them when you draft the right story.

I attribute this "write an entire novel but not the right one" as a combination of my formidable imagination, innate ability for telling stories, and simple writerly inexperience.  I will note that I have not had this problem since.  Usually my first draft is pretty much on par with the story I want to tell.  I may have to do some major expanding of certain story elements or add some scenes to flesh things out but I'm generally right there with the story.  The current novel is not right there. I knew the story I drafted wasn't right but I didn't know why and tried many things (and many tangents) to figure out what was wrong with it.  I wandered around in the desert of my novel for a good long time before the characters did something to scare the hell out of me and everything came to standstill.  I was so freaked out that I didn't know what to do and attempted to write myself out of that particular situation but that didn't work so I finally made peace with things and moved forward in that direction.  Or rather I ran to catch up with my characters.

And it's the right direction BUT I now have all these bits and pieces from laying down so many earlier scenes.  Some might work, some definitely won't but I don't even know how to start the clean up.

I signed up for a revision writing course online (Holly Lisle - How to Revise Your Novel) which is comprehensive and a ton of hard work.  This past week I've been debating about whether I should continue to work on this novel by working my way through Holly's course or if I should continue to flail.

Right, so I've obviously answered my own question there.  By the way, the course costs money but in my opinion is money well spent.  I recommend checking out her website for tons of free writing articles.  Her methods may not work for you but I like her nuts-and-bolts approach.

I made a comment earlier about this being a good place for me.  What I meant is I can see that I've progressed in my writing because I'm not writing entire novels where the story is completely wrong anymore.  This is a gratifying thing to notice about yourself as a writer.

So what am I going to do now?  How am I going to stop wringing my hands and wondering where to start?  I suppose I'll get my money's worth and finish Holly's very intense but I'm sure exceptionally useful course.  All six months worth of lessons and more of actual work.  I keep telling myself I can do it faster on my own but that's just bullshit.  I can barely write a 100 page story in less than a friggin' year much less something that's more than double that page count.

Everything takes so damn long.  Oh well.  I guess I better get cracking...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Old Blog: All That A Person Can Remember

Note:  This is from my old blog.  I published it on 16 March 2006.  I thought I posted up here for you guys to enjoy but can't find it anywhere.  Here's the original post, unaltered.

My opinion has always been that memories make us who we are. Without them, we are no one.

(i am on my first plane ride. i am looking out the window and staring in amazement at the scene below: manhattan. the sun is blazing and bright and i am wearing my purple dress, little white socks and my black patent leather mary janes. i am something on the order of 2.5 - 3 years old.  other than the dinosaurs at the natural history museum, i don't remember much else about NYC, not the subway, not the statue of liberty.)

In the movie Blade Runner, Deckart makes the discovery that replicants have a four year life span because of the accumulation of memories. With that accumulation, replicants tend to develop minds of their own, specifically the desire to control their own destinies and to think for themselves.

(i am sitting on a cold linoleum floor in a bedroom. my brother is on his bed. the light on his nightstand is the only light in the room. it seems unnaturally dark, probably because I am around 3 years old and sitting on the floor. against the wall, there is a cardboard box. my dad is there and he and my brother are laughing. inside the box is a duckling whom we christened "goose goose." she is small, yellow and fuzzy. she is peeping. there are some old rags in the box with her so she stays comfortable. i am fascinated by her.)

What happened next, I don't remember, but my Dad tells me I reached out and grabbed the little duckling by the neck. She passed out because she couldn't breathe. My Dad thought for sure I'd broken her neck. She regained consciousness and was fine. I do not remember almost killing her.

When I was four years old, we moved into the house where my parents live now in San Jose. I remember Goose Goose was full grown. All perfect, white with orange feet and bill. She lived a good long time. I never tried to grab her neck again.

I read somewhere that if you can go back to the house you grew up and you crawl around on your hands and knees all these memories you forgot about will come flooding back to you.

(i'm wearing a white dress with red checkerboard trim and leggings. i seem to be trying to stand up and feel very unsteady on my feet. my brother's dog, who is a year older than me, is standing next to me. i reach out my hands and grab his fur to steady myself. i stand up, tottering against him. he is huge with his comforting white fur and trademark brown spot on his backside.)

As I finish writing this last paragraph, I realize with a small shock that this is probably my earliest memory. I've gone through my life thinking that looking down on Manhattan from the plane window and going into the Dinosaur Halls at the Natural History museum while being carried by my Dad are my earliest memories. This one, however, takes the cake for it is here that I am learning to stand up and walk.

My brother's dog, Tinkerbell, was part cocker spaniel, part poodle. He looked more cocker spaniel than anything. He always seemed so big to me until I got older and I realized he isn't much bigger than my current dog is now: medium size. He died when he was 18 and I was 17. Although he was my brother's dog, we had a special bond since he was there when I was born and during all my growing up years.

(the door to the garage in my parents' house had this curious spring loaded feature which caused it to slam shut. we haven't been living in the house for very long when i get my finger caught in the door. the pain was so bad that i don't remember the rest.)

My mother tells me that my finger broke and they took me to emergency room. She tells me that I had stopped crying and had actually watched in fascination as the doctor put a couple of stitches in my finger. My mother got sick and dizzy and had to leave the exam room. I still have the scar from that incident. I do remember being at home later with a splint on my finger and watching my Dad angrily remove the spring from the door.

During our first phone conversation, a friend of mine asked me what my happiest memories were. I couldn't tell him because they involve two people I haven't seen in over two years who were very dear to me. I can't pinpoint one memory. There are several and they all run together as my favorites. They involve watching three movies in one day, the Tactile Dome, A Midsummer Night's Dream, watching The Ring and reenacting the Fish Slapping Dance. Sometimes when I look at my friend he reminds me of them. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the hair color or his eyes that bring them to mind.

Last night I dreamed of these two people. I was so happy I was finally seeing them. I recall hugging one of them and I could smell her skin for a moment. When I woke up, I was heartbroken that it was only a dream.

The human search for immortality or at least the desire to make an impact and/or leave a legacy in the world is immensely strong. For some people, leaving behind a family who will continue on is enough. For others, making an impact is the only way to go. For me, all I want is that the people I love and the people who move and shake me to my core remember that I feel that way about them. This is all I have ever wanted.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pray for Shackleton*

I labored through the cold, clutching my scarf closer to my neck.  Why I ever thought that snow would be flat is anyone's guess.  I am crawling in and around sharp hills and soft valleys of deep snow.  Cold. I stood outside the Castro Theatre the other day, line wrapped around the corner, and my friends bitched endlessly about how cold it was.  They don't know cold.  And I don't know endless.  Not yet.

The sun tinged everything blue and clean.  My eyes are either in a state of white blindness or immersed in oily darkness.  Either way, I can't see clearly.  As I labor along I wonder if I've ever been able to see at all.  What have my inadequate eyes beheld?  My eyes could never be a scientific instrument, precise and objective.  The damn things don't even work on a normal basis, take too long to focus.

My breath drifts before me in milky clouds.  The tip of my nose hurts.  And my quads are screaming.  None of this matters.

I am walking away from this place and I don't look back.  Not at my previous companions, not at the place where I came from.  I'm moving forward with my blinders on, reaching out with both arms for something not in this world.  Ahead of me the orange sun, which looks so warm and restful, sits on the horizon.  The sun is the pause, the nanosecond before the nuclear explosion.

At least I will be warm again even for a few moments.

The water, all frozen (ice)bergs, stretches out around me.  I feel the ice shift as the bergs move.  Winter is here so everything should be frozen solid and there should be no danger of falling into a crack and into the watery grave of the Weddell Sea, or rather watery grave for me.  It's not a grave for the creatures that live there.  I think about this for a while.  One person's grave is another creature's heaven and home.  Perspective?  Natural History?  I don't know.

The most important part of this post is not the next paragraph.  The important part is the end.

Sometimes the only way changes are going happen is to have your goddamn heart broken.  And sometimes, sometimes nothing happens.  Your life just keeps going on with you as a speck and even with all that insignificance, your heart breaks anyway.  Sometimes you feel like you're dying from pain (and maybe the cold) but maybe that's the time you feel most alive.  Maybe that's when you feel like you have the most clarity.  In your insignificance.

Of course, there's a fine line between masochism and awareness but truly that line and the places where I regularly cross over are my business.  I chuckle as I stumble around some ice.  This little mental exercise would probably fall under the pain-lover side of things.  The ice is both soft and jagged in places.  I should pray for Shackleton but I have gone on alone and left both man and beast far behind.  I am exposed and it's getting colder.  The sun is almost gone and the deadly night will come.  If it starts to snow I am done for.

Hell, I'm already done for and I'm glad about it.

*On 14 July 2012, I saw the silent film "South" which is a documentary of one of my favorite true  stories, The Endurance Expedition.  I've read "South" and seen many of the photographs but had never seen the film.  Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men went on an expedition in 1914 to become the first team to cross Antarctica from one end to the other but their ship, The Endurance, got stuck in the ice and had to be abandoned.  The men, having been marooned on the ice in the middle of winter, had to work together to survive.  One of the centerpieces of the story is when Shackleton picked five men and made a 800 mile journey by sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island to get help.  The men used a 22 ft wooden lifeboat from The Endurance to make their voyage.  When the sea water hit the boat, it was so cold that it froze.  It took them four weeks and during the voyage, they were caught in a gale with massive waves.

"Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."  -Attributed to Raymond Priestly.

Since I first learned about this true story, I have literally at times in my life prayed for Shackleton for the most amazing thing about this survival story is no one died.  These men were marooned in the most inhospitable environment possible and managed to stay alive.  And Shackleton, nicknamed the Boss by his men, never gave up.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Five Tom Waits Songs That Always Make Me Cry

Tom is one of my top three favorite musicians.  Many people don't like his gravely, just-swallowed-a-broken-beer-bottle voice and some of his music can be difficult to pin down but he's a superb songwriter and storyteller.  His lyrics are rich with descriptions of down and out people, seedy places, and the night, just to name a few of his favorite subjects.

There aren't many songs that make me cry, much less cry every time I hear them.  Below is a list of such songs:

5.  Invitation to the Blues - Small Change (1976).  This song doesn't make me cry each time but it's one of the few songs that when I hear it, I can't believe I'm alive.  It's about a man who walks into a drug store/diner while on his way out of town and falls in love with the beautiful waitress working there.  The song is an entire story capsulated in little over 5 minutes.  This isn't a sad song but it's marvelous storytelling and the narrator is a wonderfully fleshed out character who comes up with a comprehensive backstory for this woman who looks "like Rita Hayworth" as he watches her go about her job.

4.  Jersey Girl - Heartattack and Vine (1980).  I know, I know.  This song is strongly associated by Bruce Springsteen but Tom wrote and performed it first.  I like The Boss' version but it doesn't come close to this one.  Tom perfectly captures all the longing and tenderness that goes with being so much in love with someone that he can't help but shout it out to the world.

3.  Soldier's Things - Swordfishtrombones (1983).  The meaning isn't entirely clear in this song.  It's about a yard sale where a soldier's things are being sold.  Some people think the soldier is the one selling the items but I've always thought the seller was his mother or wife and the soldier is deceased.  A quiet song, very moving, with a beautiful piano accompaniment.

2.  Martha - Closing Time (1973).  Tom was in his mid-twenties when this debut album came out but Martha is one of the truest, most perfect love songs I've ever heard.  An old man, Tom Frost, calls up Martha and asks to meet her for coffee.  They haven't seen each other in 40 years and spend time getting caught up, talking about their spouses and kids, and their lives in general.  Tom and Martha were lovers all those years ago and he is still desperately in love with her.  You can practically feel the old man trembling as he sits at that tiny wooden table in some coffee shop, staring at the women who has haunted his days and nights for so long.

1.  Fish and Bird - Alice (2002).  Alice is my favorite Tom Waits album, not surprising for its Alice in Wonderland elements.  This song is a KILLER!  It's about a small seabird and a whale who fall madly in love but can't be together because of their inability to live in each other's environment.  The story is told by a sailor.  The first time I heard it, I bawled my head off and after the second time I couldn't listen to it for a long time.  This little fable of a story consistently grabs my heartstrings and practically tears them out.  Obviously, it speaks to me on a very deep level.

Whew!  *wipes eyes*  Really enjoyed writing this post.  Hope you enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Art Post: The Merode Altarpiece

Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

How about an art history lesson?  The above piece is the celebrated Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin (or more accurately, his workshop).  Painted in 1427-1432, this rather small but thoroughly captivating masterpiece is my second favorite Annunciation.  Robert Campin is one of my favorites of the so called Flemish Primitives, that is painters from the low countries (in and around modern day Belgium) who were active in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Let's start with the subject.  Paintings were commissioned and the only folks who could do that were wealthy patrons (individuals) or institutions.  Consequently, many of the paintings depict religious scenes or were portraits.  This altarpiece was commissioned by the two wealthy individuals on the left side panel called "donors."  Donors would commission works of art as a way to increase their chances of getting into heaven.  No lie.  Hmm.  Makes me think of Martin Luther and his objections to indulgences.

Right Panel - Joseph
The central panel is, of course, the Annunciation.  An Annunciation depicts the archangel Gabriel showing up at Mary's house to tell her she is going to bear the Christ child.  In most Annunciation scenes, Mary is seated in a domestic setting, often reading a book.  There are usually lilies, which represent her purity, sometimes Gabriel's wings are rainbow colored, and there's usually a tiny crucifixion near the window to symbolize the immaculate conception.  Sometimes Gabriel's speech is shown as latin phrases upside down, a kind of early speech bubble, but not in this painting.

The panel on the far right is very, very cool.  That's Joseph and he, being the carpenter, is building a mousetrap.  The mousetrap symbolizes how Christ will "trap" and defeat Satan.  This kind of symbolism isn't used very much and we are very lucky that Campin chose to include it.

These types of religious paintings are packed with other symbolism which I'm not knowledgable enough to write about but most everything depicted in the painting usually has some kind of meaning or reference.

When I was in NYC last time, I was by myself and determined to see many of the things I missed on previous visits.  One of them was going to The Cloisters, a branch of the Met, which is located at the north tip of Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park to see their splendid collection of Medieval art.  I was really looking forward to seeing this painting in person and doing some sketching.

When I saw the painting for the first time I was struck by how small it is.  Barely four feet across and only 2 feet high.  The second thing is all the marvelous details in the painting.  Flemish Primitives are known for their almost microscopic details and this lovely domestic scene is packed full of them.  I was also struck by how fresh the painting the looks.  The paint still looks like it's wet!  Shimmering, luminous colors with layers of depth.  The photos don't do it justice.

After staring at it for a while, I pulled out my sketchbook and began to draw.  I was intimidated as hell about drawing anything from this incredible piece but had settled on her hands.  I'd never drawn hands before but I was determined to do it anyway.  Sometimes great art inspires you to try crazy things.  You can see my efforts below.

A screen shot of the original so you can see what I was aiming for.

Drawing The Virgin's hands was not easy.  See that small but exuberant note on the bottom left of my sketchbook page where I mention how happy I am?  I was so excited to be seeing this piece of art and I was excited that my sketch actually looked okay.  I mean, it's not anything close to the original but it kind of looks like it.

The other thing I was learning to sketch during this trip was folds of fabric.  It took a while to get comfortable with drawing heavy drapery but I enjoy such drawings now and sometimes fall back on drawing folds of fabric when I've worn myself out at the end of a museum/sketch visit.

Sketching parts of paintings has been really instructive.  When you try to copy a masterpiece you learn so much about the artist and yourself.  You have to really look at it and you learn about line, shading, and color.  You can sometimes spot small details that aren't immediately apparent such as this one:

See her eyes?  You can see how they've shifted ever so slightly because Gabriel has just landed in the room.  This is the moment of transition which symbolizes the shift that's coming.  In her life, in the world, and in most religious lives.  A monumental moment captured so subtly by this master.

I spent a long time staring at this altarpiece and pondering what it would be like to be able to see it all the time.  Must be amazing.  As it is, I have my sketch to remind me, and now this blog post.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Movie Musings: Opening Sequence to The Testament of Doctor Mabuse

How about if we spend this post taking a look at one of my favorite film opening sequences of all time? Opening sequences are a lot of fun to look at and can set the stage for a great film.  Some other favorites:  1) Raiders of the Lost Ark, 2) The Matrix, 3) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, 4) Star Wars, and 5) A History of Violence.

About the Film

The Testament of Doctor Mabuse is a 1933 German film directed by Fritz Lang and was the penultimate film I watched during my Weimar Cinema film survey.

The film was scheduled for release in March 1933.  Hitler acquired power in January and appointed Joseph Goebbels the Reich Minister of Propaganda.  Goebbels viewed the film and banned it, stating the film "showed an extremely dedicated group of people are perfectly capable of overthrowing any state with violence." (Wikipedia)

The story is the police inspect a series of crimes that fit the m.o. of Doctor Mabuse, a criminal mastermind who is in a catatonic state in a mental hospital.  Trouble is, he's in solitary confinement so they don't know how he's able to communicate with the criminals to carry out the nefarious deeds. Inspector Karl Lohmann, who was also the inspector in Lang's brilliant film M, must wind his way through insane asylums and the criminal underworld before finding out the disturbing truth behind the crimes.

The first time I saw it I was struck by how timely this film was. 9/11 was still fresh in my mind and this film is not only about the difference between criminal violence and violence for the sake of inflicting fear and subjugating people for a specific purpose (terrorism), it's also about how the ideology behind such acts can be kept alive and, therefore, continue on even if the originator of that ideology is no longer part of the equation.  Powerful stuff.

The Opening Sequence

Hofmeister (Karl Meixner), who isn't even the main character in this film, is trying to get out of a dangerous situation:  He's been found out and is trying to exit the building without being seen. There's no speaking in this part; the only sounds are the very loud, regular percussive sounds of printing presses making counterfeit money.  We don't see the machines at all.

I love the way he moves through space with a kind of deliberate grace that belies his scruffy appearance. There's a slow-fast rhythm and echos in his posture that tie the sequence together which are  further enhanced by the regular pounding of the unseen machines. The camera moves into the room, taking care to move slowly enough so we can see the objects shaking from the vibrations of the presses, runs smack into the wall then shifts suddenly to the floor where we see him hiding behind the large wooden box (1st picture). After some men come into the room, notice he's there, then leave, he slowly comes out from behind the wooden box (2d picture), walks deliberately to the door (LOVE his slumped posture! 3d picture), quickly turns and leans against the door in one motion to listen (4th picture), pauses for some refreshment before quickly opening the door and pausing in case someone is standing there (5th picture), then looks to his right, steps forward to look to the left around the door, walks out, turns around to face us, then leans very slowly over the side of the banister (6th picture).  Contrast his slightly slumped posture in the third image with the upright, foot forward, shoulders back posture in the fifth image, and the leaning against the door in the fourth image with the leaning over the banister in the last image.

I'm a big fan of parallels and enjoy using them in my writing as well.  This opening sequence shows the movement parallels that Hofmeister goes through, all without saying a word.

You can watch the entire sequence here.  It's over four minutes long.

The DVD and the Images

I have the two-disc set from Criterion which is marvelous.  The film has been beautifully restored as you can see from the images above.  The commentary is outstanding and the documentaries are excellent.  I created the images above by taking screenshots and then painstakingly arranging them in my Notebook program.  I then took another screenshot of the entire sequence and uploaded it here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Art Post: My First Canvas!

My department had a work-related event put on by Art Uncorked which involved all of us going out and learning how to paint a picture.  The medium was acrylic on canvas.  I've never painted before with the exception of adding a touch of color with a watercolor pencil to some of my sketches.  We started with a literal blank canvas and the instructor taught us how to find measure it out and find the horizon line.  From there we followed him as he explained how to do each part of the picture.

What a blast!

The group had picked Morning on the Seine Near Giverny by Claude Monet.  I'd wanted to do Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh but I was glad we did this picture because it was fun to play with the effects of water, sky, shadow, and light.

My version of Monet's masterpiece.
The instructor asked me if I'd painted before as he watched me paint the background trees.  I told him no, but I do sketch and I have looked at a lot of art and enjoy learning about it.  He kept saying I had to have watching a painting show on tv because I was using some good brush techniques.  I haven't since I don't watch television.

We learned to mix and layer colors and learned how to overlay the picture with some white to give it that misty, impression-y look.  He taught us about how to paint reflections in the water and how to paint trees.  I struggled to some degree with painting the right shapes but I found the acrylic to be easy to work with as long as it's still wet.  It also helps that Impressionism is inherently forgiving since nothing really has to be that precise.

Here's Monet's original so you can see what we were going for.  I'm no artist but at least it kind of looks like it.
One of the coolest things was seeing everyone's interpretations.  One guy's painting was darker than the others and he added a white blob in the sky so it looks like the moon on the water at night.  Another painting was more dashes and dots so the entire picture was alive with movement and color.  Still another painting was completely different. She'd used the same color palette and there were some trees and some blue for the sky and water but hers looks like a massive storm with 75 mile an hour winds.  It's a wonderful picture!

Of course as soon as I got it home I could see places where I wanted to do more work.  The water reflections need better blending.  I need to add more pink to the sky.  And I wish I could do the trees over again.  Oh well.

I'm thinking I might take an oil painting class later or at least do another Art Uncorked event though I can just see myself filling my apartment with all these canvases.  Might not be a bad thing, actually.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

City Life: 2012 LGBT Pride Weekend

LGBT Pride Weekend is a major deal in San Francisco as you might imagine.  June is Pride month which culminates in the two day celebration Pink Saturday/Pride Parade on the last full weekend in June.  The Parade takes place on Sunday morning/early afternoon.

Usually I only have time to attend Pink Saturday but this year I was able to attend both.  I went with a couple of friends who moved here not too long ago.  I don't think they had any idea of the scale of the festivities even though I told them it would be really crowded.

Dolores Park (that's Mission Dolores in the background)

For me, Pride Weekend starts at the Dyke March in Dolores Park in the Mission.  As you can see many, many people gather here until we line up at 18th and Dolores for a nice stroll to The Castro.  Usually there's a stage in the park but there wasn't one this year.  Lots of people watch us from the sidelines and cheer us on.

Pink Saturday in the Castro.  It's still early so the crowds really haven't begun to arrive.

I look pretty damn happy, don't I?  I always feel that way when "in community."

My friends made these lovely shirts for us to wear which said "Pink Saturday" and had a rainbow on them.  They also made a white shirt for Parade day.  We ended up in a wine bar (to my left in the picture) for most of the evening.  It was a nice way to spend the celebration though I'm usually jumping around to all the thumping DJ music and fighting my way through the vast crowds on street.

Parade Day!  I managed to secure a front row vantage point at Market and Jones.  A good portion of Market Street is closed off, from the Financial District to Civic Center.

The Dyke March, Pink Saturday, and the Parade allow for outstanding people watching including some scantily clad men and women and amazing costumes.  Tutus on both men and women figure prominently as do wings.  And bright colors, of course.

Don't ask me what contingent these guys are from.  There was a long delay between contingents so these guys took a nice stroll down the entire parade route

Every local politician and many corporations and non-profits take part in the parade.  From Willie Brown to our Public Defender's office and their infamous "Getting you off since 1921" t-shirts to Dykes on Bikes (who always lead the parade) to Genentech, Google, Safeway, many elementary schools, PFLAG, churches, banks (and their protestors), animal rescue groups, dance groups, and the Leather Contingent with its iconic flag, all of them have a place in the Parade line-up.

Marvelous dancing and costumes are expected.

The Glide Memorial Church float (preceded by the Rev. Cecil Williams in a separate car).  Glide is one of the most prominent liberal churches in the country, considers itself "radically inclusive," and is known for its wonderful Gospel Choir.  Attending a church service there can be moving experience.

I managed to get a decent shot of Celebrity Grand Marshal Sarah Silverman

It was a cool day in San Francisco which was nice if you're standing for hours in the sun.  By the time I left at 2:30 pm, the parade was still going on.  After the Parade everyone convenes at Civic Center for a massive festival/party.  There are stages, music, booths, demonstrations, food, etc.

It was good to see the Parade after many years of not being able to go.  Hopefully, I'll be able to go again next year.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Note about "Lucky"

I put up this post then took it down again.  I can't exactly remember why but it had something to do with sharing it on FaceBook.  I think I was afraid some people would be offended by it.

As it is, I don't think many friends on FaceBook read my blog anyway unless I post pictures.  I re-read it just now and I'm still pleased with this post so it's going back up.  Apologies to those of you who have already read it.