Sunday, August 28, 2011

Water sports

Take me away, please - no, I mean it

Pink cow

Now we know where Strawberry Quik comes from.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

Dick, take over while I fix this thing.

August 19, 2011, 9:00 pm

Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett on his career in show business, and more.

Flying? Increasingly for the birds
“I’ll be passing the back of my hand over your buttocks and then come up the insides of your legs up toward the private parts. Is that O.K.?”

“Sounds peachy to me,” I knew not to say. You’re not supposed to joke with airport security, as people have learned the hard way.

This makes sense, but as with so much about airport security — or as someone has called it, “Security Theater” — it seems a bit silly. Are terrorists known for their tendency to joke? (Is there a paperback called “Jokes for Jihadists”?)

When you refuse, as I do, to be ordered into the big scanner with its “safe” amount of X-ray, you are made to feel like a wimp and told to “Stand over there!” And over there — with maybe one or two others who have also noted that whatever X-rays you are urged to get in life are invariably “safe” — you stand, a little ashamed, waiting until the patter gets back from the toilet.

On a recent patting (and the patters, I should say, are a nice lot, picked perhaps for their demeanor) the description “toward the private parts” had a grain of inaccuracy. The rising hands didn’t stop short, causing a slight “ow” on my part. “Sorry” was delivered feelingly (no pun intended).

Another time, after having been felt up in public, I fell into a pleasant chat with the man with the business-like hands. He’d recognized me, and there were no other pattees waiting.

I asked, “What sort of jokes are you tiredest of by the one patted?”

“Oh, you can probably guess,” my guy said cheerfully.

“Something like, ‘Hey, cute stuff, whatcha doin’ after the show?’ ” I guessed.

“You got it.”

“Any of the would-be humorists ask what sort of man would seek a job patting other men?”

“You got it again.”

“How are you supposed to behave in the face of such wit?”

“Smile and keep patting.”

I’m sure no professional patter lives in fear that an accumulation of such micro-erotic experiences will endanger his orientation. Or the passenger’s.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blasted bloody HELL

Lack of proficiency on this blasted bloody machine makes me feel miserable, embarrassed and even afraid. And it happens regularly. I click on "something", usually to try to make things better, to solve a specific problem, and nine other problems suddenly pop up. My well-meaning but SLOW SLOW husband comes into my office and hunts and pecks for two hours, then tells me, "I can't resolve the problem." I sit down and find each problem now has at least three more problems. They have grown organically, and soon will take over the already-hectic garden of my mind.

And oh, DON'T go on a "help" site, for you'll get stupid useless wads of information from "users" telling you all sorts of Byzantine, acrobatic ways of NOT solving the problem. All done in gobble-eze, so you feel even more stupid. It's like being seven years old and standing on the playground and EVERYONE else has learned a secret language except you, and the reason you haven't learned the secret language is:

(a) they don't want you to, and/or
(b) you're incredibly stupid.

So I flail around, speaking broken English and gesticulating madly while others speak fluent "whatever", going so fast I can't pick up even the gist.

The ultimate solution is calling my son, a techie by trade who has never yet been defeated by any sort of computer problem (including the time years ago when the screen was swirling like something out of The Time Tunnel. He looked at it for a half-second, said "oh, that's the bananasplitzonefurtwangler," hit a key, and all was resolved.)

But this time, some of the problems at least were things I blundered into myself. Soon my ankle was caught in a rope, and the more I pulled the tighter it got, and the stupider I looked. I put my own name down as a follower, completely by mistake, and now I can't get out of it, though I can block any other follower on my modest list. I can't post YouTube videos, and I can't post links to articles in papers and magazines. It just doesn't work, though the appropriate box comes up.

Dead boxes get me, dead icons, little dead arrows, things that are supposed to "click" and just sit there mocking you. (Oh, there's Margaret. Qulahgoinagzapadoodlefromfromjaggajagaboo.)
I wasn't born for this, except that email was a breaktkhrough and an energy-saver from the 15-page letters I used to hand-write. Manuscripts, yes, they became a lot more manageable, no more whiteout or carbon paper (yes, I do remember carbon paper, and even Gestetner stencils with correcting fluid like nail polish). And etc. etc. etc. The internet flung open a door to millions of other doors, and I revel in learning from it. Yes. All that is good. But the price seems to be my self-esteem. I feel like such a bloody idiot for not KNOWING all this stuff, for making blunders that seem to be permanently stuck in Krazy Glue. For hitting keys I, ohGodforgiveme, NEVER meant to hit, so can I pleaseplease get out of this thing now??

The answer is no. I have no gadgets, barely have a thing that passes as a cell phone, don't WANT to "tweet" (and why are all these gadgets given such appallingly stupid names? What's a "skype" anyway, and COULD the name be any uglier?). My husband has a kindle or whatever it is, kindling? He reads off of it. He's ahead of me in some ways, not being so afraid. But I stumble, blunder, and feel humiliated when I make something go wrong or come up against a blind wall.

Though I suddenly can't attach YouTube videos or links, which I could easily do before, and which are the bread and body of this blog, allofasudden a couple of my gifs seem to work (?). I can't remember them ever working before. It seems like an illusion, frankly, and I know by the time I post this, they will have stopped, remembering who they are, or maybe who they belong to.

My tool bar for the internet has disappeared, and now I can't do anything. All this came about because I dared to run an innocuous-looking Windows update on my hopelessly dated computer, a Lugblunk from the early '40s. (I bought it used from the Twilight Zone Museum of Failed Technology.)

I ran this update because I could no longer play audio clips from my kiddie record site, the one I rhapsodized about a few posts ago. They just stopped. When I ran the update, they started again, along with a zillion obnoxious pop-ups for things I didn't want. When I tried to get rid of them, everything fell apart.

Oh, I know I should delete this useless rant, I am in a bad mood, very bad, because every problem I try to solve spawns so many more (worse) problems. This takes me back to the very beginning of email and search engines (I used one called Jeeves: whatever happened to it?). I couldn't and didn't catch on to anything, so I don't know how I got this far. And I don't know how I developed such a deep dread of missteps. Maybe I think it'll all be taken away from me (especially all my novel manuscripts: poof! Fifteen years of work, gone.)

If the gifs work, you'll be seeing a lot of them. But I doubt it. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away (e. g. my YouTube/all my other links), but mostly taketh away and dumps into the "hopelessly irretrievable" bin so that only a techie who never gets out of the house (the one who works for the cops, along with Criswell the psychic) can pull it back from certain oblivion.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


This is the piece that my brother Arthur told me reminded him of "roast beef and Yorkshire pudding". It took me a long time to rid myself of these dinner-music associations, when my father would put on recordings more for our education than our pleasure. And yet, and yet. . .

Because of that drilling (and I just had major dental work today, OW), I am able to detect a similarity between the anguished opening of this Brahms fourth movement and the Tristan opening, the malaise and even the anxiety in it. The two aren't brothers, but perhaps cousins. Except for Beethoven, composers could not help but hear each other and be subtly influenced.

Hermetically sealed in deafness, Beethoven was forced to be completely original. Thus he did not transform music so much as transfigure it: changed it at the molecular level so that it was almost unrecognizable to his audience. Such alchemy comes at a price, and by the end of his life Beethoven "was" his music, with little else to comfort him. 

Brahms took a long time to even try to write a symphony, daunted and half-paralyzed by Beethoven's legacy. "You have no idea how it is for the likes of us to feel the tread of a giant like him behind us!" he wailed (if you can picture such a bearded beer-barrel of a man wailing). I wonder why the giant was behind him instead of in front of him, or was it a Freudian slip?

At any rate, speaking of spiritual cousins, the music of Brahms owes much to the deaf half-crazy genius who died of drinking too much coffee (the lead in the glaze in his Starbucks mugs dissolved and killed him off,  just like the ancient Romans). A long time later somebody burned some of Beethoven's hair to prove the theory, but no such doubt exists about Brahms, who died of booze and cigars. And loneliness. We won't get into Clara Schumann. . . Not this time. I wrote about yearning, did I not? Listen to this music, listen, and I won't need to say anything at all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The lost chord

This post might be filed under the category of "lost and found". A very long time ago, a couple of decades at least, I confess I had a bad crush on someone, I won't say who or I'll feel like a complete idiot (which I already do!). This wasn't an affair or anything like that, or I would have seen the person for the total blithering idiot he was. But this was fantasyland, and I needed a theme song.

I had an old tape of Wagner favorites. You know old Wagner. Hitler's favorite composer. I don't think he'll ever live down the stigma of his close association with the Third Reich, even though his heyday was decades earlier. His work had a certain bombastic grandeur, a call-to-action/get-up-and-heil feeling, inspirational in a really awful sort of way. OK then, I've just summed up the whole Ring Cycle, 18 hours of opera compressed into a not-very-well-composed paragraph.

But I don't worry about that, not here anyway. Here, I just write.

So in the throes of my hopeless longing, I discovered in my dusty tape library a recording of "the" Wagner romantic-yearning passage, the Liebestod, love-in-death. In the opera, Tristan and Isolde are sitting around singing like mad because they can't have sex, then somebody bursts in and says "hey".  But the instrumental version is the one I love - get rid of all those nasty, unnecessary voices, please!  The tape didn't run at quite the right speed because it was about to turn to ferrous oxide or something, but I listened to it incessantly. It was the only thing that helped me survive the crush.

Fast forward about a jillion years, and something comes on Knowledge Network (yet another of those 90-minute documentaries that they have razored down to 53 minutes). It's called Stephen Fry: Wagner and Me. A nice humorous little diversion, an exploration of the zany British comic's love for the glorious-if-overblown music of Hitler's favorite composer. 

I always think Fry has a face like something you'd see on Easter Island (see my little ditty, Stephen Fry, Stephen Fry). He doesn't get his hair cut too often and is known to be disshevelled (how the hell do you spell that word anyway?). In this one he was eager and animated, unlike some of the other shows he did (see the bipolar one - no, don't, it's depressing), maybe even a touch manic as he explored his lifelong passion.  At one point he played one chord on Wagner's own piano, called the "Tristan" chord for its tender dissonance, melancholy, and weird way of throwing the listener off-balance.

It was an interesting show, if a bit "golly-gee-I'm-turning-the-door-handle-on-the-theatre-where-Wagner-actually-rehearsed". It came out that Fry was Jewish, making his passion for music so closely associated with the Master Race a little disturbing.

Anyway, all this reminded me of things I hadn't thought of in years. The hunt was on for the "lost" version of the Liebestod, the version on the tape I'd chucked out years ago, the one I listened to over and over again, a piece so full of aching and longing that I can't even approach it unless I am in a certain frame of mind. Its eroticism is beyond question, with great simultaneous ascending and descending lines that gradually lift the listener to higher and higher altitudes until the air is dangerously thin, finally erupting in one of the few great orgasms of classical music.

I listened to many different versions of this piece on YouTube, but none of them remotely satisfied me. Most were played too slowly, sounding dragged out, which I hate. (This is my biggest beef with conductors. Pick it up, pick it up, will you?). Then I found this one, the one I've posted here, with Eugene Ormandy, and thought: gee, that sounds just a little bit similar.  Then on about the third listening, ding ding ding ding ding, I suddenly came to the conclusion that this WAS the original version, the one that was taken at the right tempo, the one that expressed impossible erotic longing in a way that had scored a bullseye in my heart.

Why didn't I recognize it right away? It's funny, but if you've been away from someone for years and years and see them again, they, well, look, um, ah, different (though of course YOU don't).  I think this is why I didn't immediately realize it was "the" piece, the lost chord. Or maybe it was like Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection. . . they didn't know who he was, maybe because he'd changed a little bit. Death and resurrection will do that to a person.

The Liebestod is embedded in this very long piece, and begins at 11:30. (Not 11:29. That's his lunch break.) I think it represents all the best of Wagner, a tenderness and excruciating longing which can't be separated from the composer's awful sins against humanity.  Unlike Stephen Fry, I can't sit there for eighteen hours with a numb bum, so I am left with excerpts like this which a purist would say are bleeding chunks.

Come to think of it, Fry is not the only Jewish person I know (and for some reason we can't say Jew any more:  why is that?) who loves Wagner and has commented at length on the Ring cycle, which makes the Lord of the Rings look like a Smurf story. I just thought of something else (then I promise I'll stop - I know I am going on and on): back when I took violin lessons from a Polish-born teacher, not Jewish but a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto (and in fact imprisoned in a concentration camp with his mother when he was just a tot), I would occasionally stumble upon a simplified Wagner piece and want to play it.

My teacher would sort of look away and say,  I don't like Wagner. It was like saying I don't like axe murderers. Another time I had an extra ticket for a Renee Fleming concert and no one else was available, so my teacher paired me off with a Polish musician I'd never met before. One of the first things he asked me was, "What will she be singing tonight?" "Oh, Mozart, Puccini. . . " "Not Wagner." "Not that I know of." "Good. I won't go if she does."

I don't like Wagner either, except that I do love what he wrote here, how it hang-glides over such fiery, dangerous territory, then takes us right up to the sun. 

(There is a very odd post-script to this story. Looking for a CD the other day, I unearthed a Wagner compilation that I didn't even know I had. The cover art was bizarre, a map of Europe with a red bullseye over Poland. I looked on the back, and yes, there it was: the Liebestod, but not just any Liebestod. The Ormandy one. The lost chord had never been lost.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

life isn't like an essay

idon'tknow what it isinmybrain that makes me

oops whatsthat ihearsomething that'sthelaundry, the new shirt looks like it's ruined after one wearing? the one that made me look like a bird of paradise oh shit oh well

god. then have to just turn around and, oh the bird, he's hungry, so have to scrape up bird shit and jeez make that dental appointment, have to have a new crown put on have the old one jackhammered off takes about 90 minutes is all and the cost

raining hard out there, today seems fresh and grey-green, like someone has turned on a hose or a sprinkler god can't stop worrying about some things like what if someone hit me or igot run over or the kids, the kids, what if they

and things like dementia how would i know i had it if i had it how would it be to see my partner slowly incohere into inchoate mush

(so will turn my mind to other)

and what's all this stuff about god anyway, anne lamott writing about this guy who has a church of 80% sincerity, think it's bullshit, think we need to aim at 100% to get 80 and if we aim

thinkiamlosingmymemory. talking to my best friend, kept blanking on things. was embarrassing and the more i did it the more i did it, also stumbled on the curb and swore at a bus driver ithinkshewasreallyshocked

but he was a fucking loser anyway

mail is here with a chunk/clunk, paper on metal, steel myself no there's no letter not yet no rejection from those people who are - not yet, it's coming, it's coming, then what will i try next,  have to try something because

thoughts of depression descendingtoruinmy world. rain supposed to be "bad". not wanting to be outinit but minding how it forms a liquid curtain between the layers of cedar branches, my office curtains, patiently standing for their showery silver bath

my brains, my brains

god when will i get it together i can't see. all type is suddenly smaller and room has gone grey. have to write something this afternoon and it's well i took it on didn't i? a process of mental martialling and people learn how to do it and it's total bullshit because NO ONE REALLY THINKS THAT WAY

a ruse. Way to assemble a ragged spaghetti explosion of simultaneous thought

not dressed yet and it is 9:45 a.m. and if something like a parcel comes to the door, can't answer it which is maybe good so the fucking manuscript can't come back to me today and knock my front teeth out and push in my face

all my life told not to care so much by people who have no idea and don't care enough. People who think we get to engineer ourselves from the ground up. come from good families not my family.

anne lamott has a sort of sense of being dishonest but getting away with it. i see her slip through cracks that are of course there for all of us but if we aim at 80% we might just hit 60%:

honesty on our tax returns
marital fidelity
truthfulness with friends

can't see it, people are bad enough as it is as far as iam concerned, especially people who claim to be holy when

jesus! what to have tonight, have to unthaw something, don't want to fix anything but we always always have to EAT. last night my husband laughed at me for being angry one day this could lead to disaster it came very close/do not like being laughed at for being angry am not trying to be entertaining once made a psychologist laugh when very very angry. must be very very entertaining then why doesn't anyone pay me.

if i don't clean up within a year i think i will just

will just

I think I hear a doorbell

Father Abraham and the Smurfs - Do Smurfs Cry

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Lost Penny: Shatner, pre-Trek

You don't have to watch all of this episode: in fact, you don't even have to watch all of the excerpt of this episode to get my point. Pre-Trek, Shatner was a good-lookin' dude by just about anyone's standards, though not particularly cocky about it. Not rugged, mind you: a little softer around the edges, a little androgynous, like Elvis or Tony Perkins. And he didn't overact, not here anyway. All the swaggering came later on.

My point is, if it hadn't been for Captain Kirk, Shatner might not have turned into the hulking ham-o-saurus he is today. But then again, he might have vanished, gone the way of Tony Franciosa and guys like that. Ah, the cost of fame! Something about Trek or Kirk or the '60s or SOMETHING made him explode into the kind of gut-busting histrionics which soon became his trademark.

Now he just plays on it endlessly, getting older and larger and showing up in ever more places, three or four series at a time it seems, plus ads. Every once in a while the nearly-reclusive Nimoy (who now makes a living taking pictures of fat women) shows up, shrivelled as an old matchstick, and I get the feeling that if you averaged the two of them, you might just have something like a normal human being. But still they dwell in their parallel universes: Obla-Di and Obla-Da.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Glass Character: yearning

Do you know what it is to yearn?

Have you ever yearned, I mean really yearned?

Yearned for something you wanted so badly it scared you?

I write, not so much for a living but as a vocation, or devotion. Maybe even a covenant. I can't get away from it, it nags and drags at me, it will have me no matter what. Writers often have dry periods or times when they wonder if they will write again. And I've had them.

I've also had times when the desert suddenly flooded, the cracked earth dissolved into fertile soil and life sprang up, seemingly in seconds: abundant life, green, floral, almost prehistoric in its lushness.

You have to wait for it, for sure. No matter what the how-to-be-a-writer manuals tell you, it can't be forced. But then comes the next part. Real writers want to be published, because - logically - they want to share their stories. The storytellers of old did not sit by the fire alone, and if they had, we would have no myths, no fairy tales, maybe not even language as we know it now.

And oh how hard it is.

Just put out an ebook, everyone tells me. I could maybe figure out how to do it (did someone say prehistoric?), but how many readers would I have? The market is flooded with ebooks right now. There is no quality control that I know of: anything can be slapped up there, like a Facebook post. And that scares me. Might I get 200 readers? 300? . . . 20?

Would I be eligible (because hope springs eternal!) for the Giller, the Governor-General, the B. C. Writer's awards, and even the Booker? No, because it's a bloody ebook and, in spite of what everyone keeps telling me, not considered the equal of a paper book.

I've had paper books out twice, and though it didn't quite match up to my extravagant dreams of publishing, I felt proud of them and still do. You can't delete them, though you may have to go to the library to actually find one.

When I wrote about Harold Lloyd, I committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love with my subject. This is a bad thing to do. Maybe it makes people uncomfortable, I don't know. But I have that awful feeling right now of one of those drill-bits slowly penetrating my chest. A yearning, the way you'd yearn for someone who is dead, or a lover who has spurned you and moved on.

Summer is so beautiful right now, it took until mid-August to get here, and it will slip away in a couple more weeks. Meantime I can't forget about this. I want it so badly. And everyone, but everyone is trying to talk me out of my feelings. I guess you don't get to feel this way: or does it just make people uncomfortable?

When I fell into this novel, I was transported, and could not wait to get to the computer each day to see what would happen next. It was the most magical writing experience I have ever had. Now comes a kind of hangover. I feel cursed, sometimes, as if the thing I want most will always be just brushing my fingertips, like a balloon that bounces up and out of reach.

I've been told: if I don't care about it, then maybe it will happen. If I don't think about it, then maybe it will happen. This is magic penny thinking, also designed to make me stop doing this, stop stop stop. I am not much good at indifference, in spite of the fact that it accurately describes the atmosphere in which I grew up.

Harold, listen, I want to see you in print because you deserve it. You deserve to be a household name again. I am scrambling on the side of a mountain, losing ground, and something has been stuffed into my mouth.

"But writing should be its own reward! Can't you just enjoy the process?" What if someone had told that to Dickens, to Tolstoy, to Hemingway, to. . . all right, my work bears about as much resemblance to theirs as a lion to a mouse. But you get my drift. Don't you? Don't you?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I am an elephant actor

GO ON THIS SITE! Go. If you are anywhere near my age, which is 106, give or take a week or so, you will love this.

If you were ever an introverted little kid who lived for stories, if you were ever a kid who incessantly played cheesy but beloved 78 r.p.m. records on an old Seabreeze, you will love this site because they are all there. Travels of Babar, Slow Joe, Build me a House, Pan the Piper, and (perhaps most astonishingly) Dick Whittington and his Cat, in which he calls the cat "Ripple-dee-dee": surely I had imagined that, and so many other things.

But no, here it all is. Not only that, this site is clear and pristine and EASY to navigate, unlike the atrocity of Stephen Fry's blog which seems designed to make me feel like a technical dinosaur and a clumsy, out-of-touch loser (not to mention old). There's nothing more unfriendly than a bunch of kids standing in front of someone in the playground speaking a secret language. It's puerile, guys. 

But I digress. For years now I've been trying to track down Children's Record Guild recordings, which made up maybe 75% of the records I had as a kid. These were record-of-the-month-club things that covered standard fairy tales as well as oddball music, as in Pedro in Brazil:

"What's the difference between a donkey
And a man who sings too long?
The donkey is born braying,
But the man has to learn his song."

At the time these were seen as "quality" recordings, the stories serving as a delivery device for great indigestible wads of culture (i.e. Sleeping Beauty had the Tchaikovsky ballet score moaning away in the background). But what had happened to them? Did they still exist in a dusty, scratchy heap in someone's basement? Could I get them on eBay?

The only sites I found offered the original 78 r.p.m. records for $50 and up, w