Monday, September 30, 2013
This is truly one of the great motion pictures of all time. That's because, at one point, it was the ONLY motion picture of all time. It fascinated me so much that I just had to make a gif of it (an easy task, given the length).
This is about 2 1/2 seconds of film, just a couple dozen frames, but it attempts (valiantly) to tell a story. The woman in the long grey dress walks in one direction, abruptly turns around and heads in the other direction. An old lady on the right moves forward a step or so, then suddenly disappears. We see the back of a man in a long overcoat who looks to be walking around the old lady, but then he disappears into a blackened unexposed bit of film on the right and emerges for a billionth of a second, having changed direction. People are changing direction forever in this thing.
The only person really doing anything is the fellow on the left, who walks purposefully off-screen from left to right. But he too appears to have just walked around the woman in the long grey dress. Everybody is walking around everybody, maybe to create maximum action with only four players.
Who were those players, and did they know what they were doing? "We're creating film history today". But what is "film"? Wasn't this just another contraption for people's amusement, kind of like Bell's hand-cranked telephone which turned out to be such a dud? In 1888, women still wore long skirts, corsets and heavy, elaborate hats, their hair piled up with combs. Even breathing must have been difficult. By 1920, clothing would be loose and covered with bugle beads and fringe, with hemlines above the knee.
I don't know who shot this film (now titled Roundhay Garden Scene), why it was so short, why it survives to this day and is still all over the internet. Maybe SOMEBODY realized the significance of it, even in 1888. Now that I look at it for the hundredth time, I realize the "old lady" is probably an actress, someone pretending to be an old lady for effect. Why do I say this? The way she walks (if it IS a she) is stagey and exaggerated. She rocks back and forth like a ship in dangerous waters.
I am full of questions: who directed this thing? Who was the cameraman? Was this the only take? Why an old lady in the first place?
If she's really a fake, she must be the first film actress ever, or at least the first actress ever to appear in a 2 1/2-second film. She should have earned a microscopic Oscar.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
First of all, the entire premise of this thing is bullshit. This is NEVER the oldest motion picture ever made. The real oldest motion picture ever made is a few frames from some garden in England somewhere. I'll try to find it, but I know I have seen it. Who knows who this is, but he looks like some guy from the Civil War spinning around and around, which I guarantee you they did NOT do during the Civil War.
And the recording, that's bogus too, though it's a pretty old one, made before Edison came along. It was recorded by Thomas Lambert in 1878 on a lead cylinder and has some barely intelligible human speech on it, somebody counting and missing a few numbers. That's why Lambert never became an Edison, see.
The REAL "oldest sound recording" is a phonoautogram, which is a tracing of lines on sooty paper that somebody folded up and used as a bookmark. The name of the guy is too long to pronounce, but he was French, like all these innovative guys. He yelled into a horn and a little stylus etched sound wave patterns into the paper as it revolved around and around on a drum. Then he put it away, experiment over.
For you see, this guy, de Martinville or whoever he was, did not even intend to play the sounds back! He wanted to see what sound waves might look like if they were traced. I don't think it even occurred to him that sound reproduction might be possible.
Today we can feed that creased-up black paper into a computer and light beams read the bumps and scratches and turn them back into music. So you can hear this wobbly, wavery singing of the first two bars of Au Clair de la Lune recorded in 1857. Hey, it ain't exactly the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhauser, but it's a start.
Things of beauty come in many forms, and are usually the works of a mind that can leap over conventional beliefs, such as, "Youcan'tdothatyousonofabitchitain'tpossibleitcan'tbedone".
Somebody decided to make a record player out of a chopstick, a plastic cup and a pin. The result sounds a bit freaky, but what can you expect when the recording is the sound of canaries singing?
This is technology pared down so far that it barely exists any more. We should pay attention. It could come back, once the power grid shuts down forever when the whole earth melts down and comes apart because WE HUMANS are so evil and have put so much plastic into the water. When that happens, you won't just have anarchists with tattoos and rags around their heads like in Revolution. It will also be a resurgence of all the geeks who could never get anywhere while the computers were still running.
I guess I'd better go to bed. . . I don't know, I shouldn't write when I'm in this state. But I just love these things, have waited all my life to have a blog so I can celebrate them. I'll never be that clever.
Just when I think I've seen it all.
ANOTHER photo of Harold Lloyd that unsettles me, both thrills and makes me a little bit uneasy, because in that gaze, that gaze I've tried so hard to capture in my novel The Glass Character, there is that slightly unmoored quality, the compelling, disconcerting eyebeam/high-beam of a genius.
And other things. Lloyd telegraphed superbly with his eyes. Hurt. Seduction. Goddamn ferocious intelligence. And in this one, it, yes, I confirmed something I've denied for a very long time, something I've seen and seen in his lovely gorgeous movies, something I cannot deny now and which undoubtedly added to his cockeyed charm:
Well, only a little. Half a bubble off plumb, he might call it, with his wonderful earthy Midwestern way of expressing himself. Just a tinch, but enough to give him that quality. Can't even describe it. That, and the hair, are what make him so devastating. The hair, well, I don't mean when the hair stood up, magnetized by some sort of electric charge (imagine electrocuting your lead actor just for a gag!) - it's the uncontrollable bushyness of it, the forest. In many of the early ones he's slicked it back with half a pound of pomade, as men did then, but when there's a chase scene or a rough scene or even a love scene of any note, his hair springs out into wild black waves, and we then see the other side of him.
The side I wrote about the other day, that fierce erotic clinch with Jobyna Ralston, that - who knows what to call it! When lions make love, which they do for days on end, the male lion grasps the female by the back of the neck and holds her there. Not that she tries to get away, but if she tried, she probably couldn't. It's no doubt like the grasp a mother lion would use on her cubs to carry them around - not meant to draw blood, but still, firm enough that they can't escape.
So what's the point of all this? God if I know, but I do know I am captured, perhaps for good.
Multiple Webster Award-winning CTV News reporter (and daughter) Shannon Paterson has a taste of the high life, all week long! This is the week she got to ride in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Ghost and a private Lear jet (the perks of buying a condo in the not-yet-built Trump Tower). . . and then, in another story, drive a Lamborghini! As Coleen Christie remarked after the piece aired, "I don't think I've ever seen Shannon smile quite so broadly." Oh yeah.
(Note. These videos may or may not play. They ARE live links, I know this, because sometimes they DO play. Other times you get a black screen. Other times you get an ad, but no video! Keep trying, maybe something will work.)
Friday, September 27, 2013
My new Facebook cover. OK, it ain't much from here, but it feels like a find to me.
My favorite Harold Lloyd film of all time is a relatively obscure one called Why Worry?
This is the only Lloyd film I know of that ends with a truly passionate kiss. It just goes on and on and is very convincing, making you wonder if the rumours about Harold and his sultry co-star Jobyna Ralston might have been true. Up to now, this is the only photo I have ever been able to find of that memorable clinch.
But today I found this. At first glance it looks like the same picture, but look a little more closely and you'll see that it was taken a few seconds earlier. Jobyna has yet to do the subtle "leg pop" which may in fact have started the fashion. She also hasn't yet hooked her right arm around his neck, but appears to be resisting him (rather feebly). In the next shot her body is subtly closer to his, NOT at a decorous distance which is the usual silent film rule (along with hiding behind a screen). The camera pans away for a second during this sizzling kiss, perhaps for the sake of modesty, then when it returns its gaze, they are STILL KISSING in that same furious way.
I haven't been able to find a video clip of this breathtaking scene, and it puzzles me that so few film people even mention this picture, as if it's somehow inferior. To me, it's Lloyd's funniest and most quixotic, with some of the best gags he ever accomplished. But the kiss is what makes is all worthwhile. The clip may not exist. . . but then again, it took me four years to find the first picture, and another two to find the second one!
I won't re-write about this at length because I'm suddenly caught up in a deep edit of The Glass Character, my novel featuring Harold Lloyd, which will be published by Thistledown Press in spring 2014. Believe me when I say, the initial writing of a book represents only about 15% of the work. But here's the link to a long piece I did, quite a long time ago.
And I will keep looking for that video clip.
Post-blog note. Just dredged up this gif from the sumptuous romantic dramedy A Room with a View. It sort of portrays the kind of lip-lock these two enacted for the cameras. Come to think of it, the more you look at the photos, the more obvious it is that they were "seeing each other". The body postures, the way he seizes her, the way she melts into him. . .His character has been sort-of asexual up to now (not that we're buying it - he gets palpitations every time he sees her, and not just in his heart), so it's like a jack-in-the-box jumping out. . . in a manner of speaking. God, I wish I were Jobyna. . .right now. . .
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
It took me years to write, will you take a look. . .
David Gilmour is verbose. When he's not telling us all that he doesn't like to teach novels by women, that he doesn't go for writers who are gay or from cultures other than white-bread, and that he hates hanging around Canadian writers (assuming he isn't one himself), etc. etc., he is vigorously denying that he made any such statements, claiming he was "misquoted".
So here's your chance to get it right: three gifs you can caption which will clarify, once and for all, what he really means when he says women, gays and people from diverse cultures aren't worth bothering with! You'd better jump in right away, however, because it looks like he's prone to repeating himself.
"How much do I hate Canadian writers? Let me count the ways."
"If I talk fast, it's because I have so much important stuff to say."
NOW IT"S YOUR TURN. . .
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Would you have a little trouble believing this is k. d. lang? I do. It's from her infamous Ingenue album, which still ranks as (I think) the best of its kind (as if there is anyone else in that category).
Here she looks like an unusually attractive man in drag, or maybe a transsexual. She always did have aspects of beauty that she played on, like great cheekbones and a smile like the sunny slopes of her native Alberta. She could flip back and forth from exotically androgynous to just plain butch.
Here she reminds me, bizarrely, of January Jones in Mad Men, girl-next-door with a bit of sultry glamour thrown in. She could almost pass as Audrey Hepburn's aunt.
And here she is playing Loretta Young, probably the only time she has ever worn a prom dress.
Now comes the hard part. Here is k. d. performing the same song, Miss Chatelaine, a few years ago in Dublin. The raucous crowd sings along with her as she camps it up in a baggy white suit that really does resemble Wayne Newton's pajamas.
Turn, turn, kick, kick! k. d. has always danced during her songs - if you can call her boisterous knee-lifting and uninhibited little-kid-on-the-playground twirls dancing. But here she looks like a whole thundering herd. It's unfortunate.
I don't like to see great performers become parodies of themselves. All that thudding around barely resembles the girlish whirling-dervish moves of fifteen years ago. We don't expect time to stand still, but couldn't someone (for God's sake) dress her once in a while, or at least show her a video of herself? Beyond the screams and catcalls from the audience, I was deeply dismayed to hear that she wasn't singing very well. She was flat. This was something I hoped I'd never hear.
OK. So maybe she's Wayne Newton's. . . great-nephew?
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Kind of a crap day, got nothing done, can't win 'em all. Then there was that entire bag of Sweet n' Salty popcorn. Scarfed it in five minutes. Why do I do these things?
But then, this.
I remember this from an old VHS tape I used to watch to distraction, called Harvest of Seven Years. It was, well, the harvest of the first seven years of k. d. lang's illustrious career. I could've seen her, see, I mean I could've seen her live, but I didn't because I didn't know who the hell she was. She came to Hinton, Alberta while I lived there, and as with the Supremes coming to Chatham in 1963, no one knew quite how to respond. This was Something Different, a strange boyish figure in a cowgirl skirt and cutoff boots. And without the voice, I suppose she would have odded herself out a long time ago.
Here she plays a demented crimplene-clad housewife proclaiming the virtues of a bread called Pollyann. The thing is, I know this was real. Because I lived in Hinton in the '80s, I knew about Pollyann white bread, squishy enough to be a pillow (except it didn't bounce back). It came in a plastic bag, like every bread did by then, but somehow the bread tasted more like the plastic than it was supposed to. Pollyann in its poly bag was advertised on the radio, and I remember it being sold at the Tom Boy store, 3 for $1 or something. The Beach Boys Greek chorus is a bonus.
(For some reason my Giffinator isn't working very well today and is rejecting most of my videos. These were the only k. d. lang ones it would spit out. Here the youthful k. d. strongly resembles Tobey Maguire.)
Compare and contrast.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I have a ton of beautiful photos from my grandkids' vacation in California (in which they did seven theme parks in seven days!), but I haven't had time to sort through all of them. Meantime here's one of California girl Caitlin, looking particularly radiant, the sun bringing out the hint of red in her hair. Caitlin, the eldest grandchild, whom I watched get born, will soon turn ten. I remember ten. . . The Beatles had their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, my tenth birthday. A couple of months earlier came the Kennedy assassination (a post in itself, I think, because my memories of it are both distinct and very bizarre.) And Grade 5, now there's a topic: I was involved in one of those infamous educational experiments of the '60s in which there was no curriculum and children were supposed to learn everything at their own pace, according to their own inclinations and interests. Needless to say, no one learned anything all year.
The world this California chestnut-haired girl is growing up in is so radically different. Better and worse at the same time. There's a lot I can't help her with because I don't know what the hell it means. I often feel I'm falling farther and farther behind, but behind what? A bullshit system I want no part of. Sometimes I think that if it weren't for the grandkids, I'd turn into a sour old crank.
Not much has turned out the way I thought. Dreams have come true in fragments, fractions (and I was never very good at those). Most haven't come true at all. And I'm not even sure what I did wrong.
Against the odds, in spite of a rotten and sometimes horrific childhood full of every conceivable kind of (completely denied) abuse, I have co-created a wonderful family that now spans into the next generation. This isn't supposed to happen. It's yet another one of those homilies I hate, beliefs or sayings people swallow whole without thinking about them: "You can't give away what you never received."
Horse pucky! You can so, and I am living proof. I'm the best grandma in the world, and I was a pretty good mother considering I had virtually no mothering myself, nil experience, had never held a baby, and disliked children.
I have however had that hideous experience of "friends" somehow replicating the most soul-destroying aspects of my upbringing, in full knowledge of how devastating their behaviour is. Then acting as if they don't know what you're talking about.
So this is my life? I guess so. God, that rain out there is hard.
Friday, September 20, 2013
This is one of those oh-my-god-i-never-thought-i'd-get-to-hear-this-again moments. This re-finding, rediscovery of buried treasure. The video goes back to 1989, and I had it on an old VHS tape, which of course eventually became unplayable.
k. d. lang kind of goes around in my life in one of those huge orbits, like hair styles, types of Purdy's chocolates, weight fluctuations, breeds of dogs, belief in God. Keeps changing and evolving and rounding the dark side of the moon, but somehow never quite goes away, because it can't. Try to throw it away, and it will boomerang and hit you in the face.
I figured something out as I watched and listened to this incredible performance just now: it's Muriel, the protagonist of my novel The Glass Character, and her hopeless longing for the silent screen superstar Harold Lloyd. "I thought that I was over you" is the heart-cry, the howl of the unrequited. Just when she is sure the rend in her heart has healed, well, he just shows up again, not unfriendly - as a matter of fact, he always seems glad to see her again - but he can't, won't love her. Never has loved her, and even if he did, couldn't possibly love her as much as she loves him.
This song is about the unattainable. I've always had a feeling lang's artistry springs from early abandonment: her father left the family when she was a young girl. Compare this to Streisand, whose father died when she was only a toddler. It leaves some trace on a voice, if the instrument is already exceptional. A something extra, ruby-dust and blood, and it makes for that subtle escalating, the reaching, each time she sings "crying. . . crying. . . crying. . ." , the hopeless anguish mounting and mounting until her voice soars and fills the hall and makes the audience burst into applause when she isn't even halfway through the song.
I wrote about this in The Glass Character, the same feeling, and I just realized it now. Goddamn it, I must tell you the process: I am only partway through the editing, and I don't know who wrote this! I don't even like parts of it, hate other parts, and put check marks beside others. I don't know why this is, and I don't even remember writing it, but Muriel cries too much. I'm having to ruthlessly reduce her tears, because I for one am sick of hearing her sniffle and bawl.
Have I ever lived through anything like this? I won't talk about it now, for it did not happen the way you might think. Well, actually it did. When you read the novel (and you WILL read it, won't you?), you might discover the dynamics of how it happened for me. It lasted five years, and for most of that time it felt like someone was steadily grinding out cigarettes on my heart.
No sex took place. Sex does take place in my novel, but not with Harold. So it's disconcerting to Muriel, who really doesn't get a lot of satisfaction that way. Just pining, endless pining.
I used to say, about the greatest singers, if *I* could sing like that, I'd never have to see a psychiatrist again. Maybe a simplistic view, because God knows most of the popular singers of the day are melting down at a frightening rate. k. d. still sings, but I don't like her voice as much. She has always had certain mannerisms, and I call them "swoop, yodel and groan". She bends notes too much, or far more than she used to, and begins nearly every phrase with a groany little sound. Her "attack" is off and should be cleaner, saving the groans as an accent. The yodel, more of a half-yodel or deliberate use of the break in her voice, sometimes shows up a bit too often or is too pronounced. I think she'd do just fine standing on an Alpine mountain with a goat. But never mind. We still have her recordings of when she was in her fiery prime. My favorites are still this song and Pullin' Back the Reins, a hairstanding wail of controlled grief and - yes, again - loss.
I did see/hear lang in concert, quite a few years ago now when she was still singing exceptionally well. She is overwhelming. It reminded me, strangely, of going to a Renee Fleming concert and hearing the most extraordinary operatic soprano voice I can even imagine. When the audience was filing out, most of us still surreptitiously blowing our noses, I overheard a woman say, "If it had been any more, it would have been too much." That's how I felt about k. d. lang.
I know everyone talks about her sexual orientation and her look and her butchness (and this video is probably the only time you will ever see her in a dress). I'm not keen on her look, to be honest, but I don't care about it. She has gained weight and become stolid and, according to my husband who saw her sing at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics, "she looks like Wayne Newton." Yes, the baggy suits and Elvislike stance are beginning to seem alarmingly Vegas, and one hopes she doesn't pull a Celine Dion and glitz herself into oblivion.
Never mind. The song, the song! Artists express, not just what we all feel and can't say, but what is not supposed to be happening to us. That's an awful lot. The culture is a narrow box. Sex is everywhere, seemingly, but how embarrassing is it when you come right down to it? How awkward? How often does "the act" (always, always referring to penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse and nothing else) match up to the dream? How about never?
Which leaves me crying.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
This can either be seen as a sociological treatise - and God knows, I've written more than my share of those - or just a headshaking, gasping peek at life in the mid-1960s.
I don't for a minute think this song was meant to be serious, and the video is even less so. Most likely it was a sendup of Roger Miller's huge hit King of the Road. Never mind the sexy and semi-glamorous images in the video: the lyrics bespeak domestic drudgery, shabbiness and unquestioning self-sacrifice. (I was sort of hoping they'd dramatize all that, rather than go with all this bustier/leg-lifting stuff.) The acrobatic flips of - who is that guy, the ice man? - help jazz it up a little, and to me the guy looks uncannily like a pre-Star-Trek George Takei.
This song/video sprang from a specific genre, probably beginning with the jaw-dropping 1950s TV program Queen for a Day. Four broken-down housewives would come on the show each week and pitch their tale of woe, after which the audience would determine who was most worthy of financial rescue using an applause-o-meter. This always looked rigged to me, but it was considered sufficiently accurate to determine which horror story was ghastly enough to warrant an array of Lovely Gifts.
There are snippets of this horror on YouTube, jerky, smudgy old kinescopes that look like something out of a bleary dream. People actually took this show seriously and wanted to be on it, desperately. No doubt many of the sob stories were fabricated, but the point is, the show proved to us all that, just like every dog, even the everyday housewife could have her day.
The genre of the downtrodden yet celebrated matron of the house took many forms, including the dreary Loretta Lynn song, Pregnant Again:
Pregnant again oh where will we go
Pregnant again it just can’t be so
But I never could count when the lights were down low
And I’m pregnant again (pregnant again)
There goes the new washer we needed so bad
There goes the vacation that we never had
There goes the new TV I thought we’d enjoy
Oh honey who cares I hope it’s a boy
Now THAT'S a save, embracing noble martyrdom in the very last line (in case anyone thought for a minute she was considering
the last refuge of many an overburdened mother-to-be).
The other one that pops into my head is even more melodramatic. I think Glen Campbell sang it. I remember my mother being quite angry about this one. "What does he mean, 'the good life'?" she would cry. "This IS the good life!" Obviously, her conditioning, positively Orwellian in nature, had taken, and taken completely.(I don't think it's a coincidence that she was also a heavy user of those little yellow pills.)
She looks in the mirror and stares at the wrinkles
That weren't there yesterday
And thinks of the young man that she almost married
What would he think if he saw her this way?
And thinks of the young man that she almost married
What would he think if he saw her this way?
She picks up her apron in little girl-fashion
As something comes into her mind
Slowly starts dancing remembering her girlhood
And all of the boys she had waiting in line
As something comes into her mind
Slowly starts dancing remembering her girlhood
And all of the boys she had waiting in line
Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife
You see everywhere any time of the day
An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me
You see everywhere any time of the day
An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me
The wrinkled old drudge who stares into the mirror like something out of that bleak Auden poem ("O look, look in the mirror/O look in your distress") once was a fair flower just ready to be plucked by some handsome young man, a man of class and means, and instead - ? He doesn't spell out how ghastly her life is now, and what kind of loser she got stuck with, probably by getting pregnant.
And nobody really talked about what a bomb pregnancy could be for a young woman then, an explosive that could blow her life and her dreams to bits. The expression "she had to get married" used to puzzle me, along with an even more incomprehensible term, "shotgun".
(Blogger's note. I made these gifs from an old YouTube clip from Queen for a Day. The winner, looking morose even in her supposed victory, was a clear choice because her husband had been paralyzed in a hunting accident and had to lie on his stomach, completely immobile. She won some sort of fancy bed that cranked up and down and a week's stay in a luxury hotel, a dubious prize for someone forever chained to a man who couldn't move.)
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
These ads are from a simpler, yet stranger time, a time when people must have said to themselves, "Oh surely not." People were much more likely to take things literally, advertising in particular.
The text that goes with this blowup doll is pretty incredible.
"Made of soft, smooth, pliable vinyl. Judy looks and feels amazingly lifelike. INFLATABLE - just add air and instantly you have a Life-Size beauty.
GUARANTEE: This is the ULTRA deluxe model, there is no other inflatable doll as LIFE-LIKE as Judy. You must be 100% delighted or your money refunded.
"I'm Judy, the Life-Size inflatable London doll! You can dress me up for any occasion. Take me riding, or to a party, boating or swimming (I float!). Around the house I'll be the ideal burglar deterrent; prowlers will see that someone is home - me. Just let your imagination go and you will see that I can be the most exciting thing ever invented for party gags. Your (sic) bound to find hundreds of exciting and unusual uses for me."
And so on and frickin' so on, as if blow-up dolls were nothing but flotation devices or burglar deterrents, as if they weren't used for "other" purposes, purposes we can't even name here because this is a Family Blog! And I can't even picture going riding with her, even if you could get her legs apart.
This is, uh, er, just not something we'd see today, though Moms in desperate circumstances are still known to put Coca Cola in baby bottles (not to mention a shot of Red Bull in the Mountain Dew - but that's reserved for child beauty pageants.)
This is from a time when men could be in song-and-dance teams and not seem gay (or supposedly not), when Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby could mince around and pretend to be girls, when men sang in two different languages (I think they were called Sandler and Young) on Ed Sullivan. It's a weird dynamic, because being gay was surely more frowned-upon than it is now. So what the frickin' hell is going on here? What is this guy trying to do exactly? It seems inappropriate to me to WANT to lift up five guys with your penis. You'd have to have the woody of all time, and this was long before Viagra.
Just the idea of a one-reptile circus is intriguing, but it must have involved a serious suspension of disbelief. I assume all the rest of the pieces were made of plastic, but some toymaking genius must have thought, hmmmm, SOMETHING should be alive here, some component, and it can't be too big. The text is as follows:
"Now - for the first time ever - you can have a real live circus of your own. Just dozens of fine toys, each wonderful in itself, make up this circus set for "The Greatest Show on Earth". You and your friends can have hours of fun setting up the props for the circus, placing the Ringmaster, clowns, performing animals and wild animal cages for the many exciting acts. You can even put on a real live trained animal act with the live performing chameleon who will walk a tightrope, swing on a trapeze and change color right before your eyes from bright green to brown and back again.
"Chameleons are real fun. They love to perform. You'll laugh with delight as they run with delicate balance along the tightrope or swing on the trapeze. They are harmless, clean and no trouble at all to keep as pets. Your friends will really gape with surprise when they see him riding on your shoulder. Your parents will be charmed with this small, clean pet. You'll love him." Etc. etc.
My personal experience with this "clean, harmless pet" came when I bought one with my allowance and attempted to hide it from my mother. It was a difficult matter because I didn't know where to keep him. Since my older brother had a clarinet case with a green velvet lining, I thought that might be the ideal place, since he'd come out of there bright green. It didn't work out too well when my brother went to band practice. Then my mother discovered a brown paper sack in the refrigerator. It was full of live meal worms, which is the only thing chameleons will eat. She screamed and threw the bag on the floor and stomped on it, then threw the whole mess in the garbage. The chameleon soon died, solving my problem. Later I was to learn that these things aren't even real chameleons, but anoles, a cheaper, less-vivid version who barely change color at all.
But maybe they can walk a tightrope, swing on a trapeze. Maybe, as the ad claims, you can walk them down the street on a leash. Who knows? "Can I have one, Mom, can I, can I, huh?"
A few weeks ago I announced, giddily, like a bride-to-be announcing her engagement, the acceptance of my third novel The Glass Character by Thistledown Press. The elation lasted maybe five seconds. Like the song says, “I’ve seen that road before”.
Those who haven’t done it don’t realize. Writing the book is about 15%. There was great joy in writing this one because it’s centred around a subject I came to love – Harold Lloyd, one of the master comedians of the silent screen - but that’s just the trouble. Being too close to a subject can get in the way.
I haven’t done a really close reading of this thing for some time. When I re-entered it for the sake of editing, which will be a long and winding process, I honestly wondered who wrote it. That person does not exist any more, but if that weren’t true I might be worried. I know am not the person I was in 2008.
This isn’t good news or bad news, but it’s news nonetheless. In five years I’ve moved house psychologically, and in doing so I have had to leave many things behind. The shell is outgrown and constricting; the lobster must shed it and grow a new one or be crushed to death, not by outer forces but internal ones.
One of my favourite quotes is the Bob Dylan philosophy-in-a-nutshell: “He not busy being born is busy dying”. I have known people who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to push back on the forces that try to flatten them, the forces that bear down on all of us whether we know it or not. They surrender, but not in the sense of letting that mysterious grace we can never understand work its magic.
The result is either stagnation or martyrdom or sour carping or just giving up. Their world gets smaller and smaller, and dealing with them is exhausting. A kind of blindness sets in, and a “them, them, them” mentality which abdicates responsibility for anything. I’d rather walk through the minefield, myself, though more than once I’ve come close to being blown up.
Anyway, enough about all that, I’ve re-entered Haroldland, and this time it is very different. I see things I want to fix or change on every page. And I have not yet really looked at my editor’s notes, which I know will be another round, or rounds. Will it come out perfect? It can't. I hope it will glow more, have fewer contradictions or inconsistencies and a surer voice. And I hope readers will be willing to come along with me.
The road isn’t just long and winding. There are switchbacks that make you think, “Why must I go through this again?” New Agers might say “life presents us with the same lesson over and over again until we learn it. Then we can move on.” Like a lot of ready-made, freeze-dried philosophies which have never been tested, this one is somewhat lacking.
Life is a sexually-transmitted, terminal condition with certain inescapable rules. Or truths. The culture has it all wrong, as far as I am concerned. It demands “triumph”, “victory”, a once-and-for-all conquest of all adversity, especially things like illness (and, God help us, mental illness, which is still seen as an embarrassment, a moral failing and a horror). If you don’t conquer whatever-it-is, if it doesn’t stay conquered, then there must be something wrong with you.
Few things are conquered, because life is ambiguous, complex, a chronic condition. It’s just something you have to live with (like the pompous assholes who always insist, “Oh, I’VE never had that problem. I’m just so sorry for you that you don’t have the strength to deal with it.”) If life-threatening challenges do return, everyone looks away, embarrassed for you, convinced you just don’t have your shit together or this never would have happened.
Aside from family, the fountainhead of my life, writing has been the consistent theme, and while some of my early efforts make me wince to think about, I am still glad I did them, glad I put it out there. The alternative is to let your dream die, and dead things begin to decompose after a while, to blight the soul, to stink. To put it out there is still sometimes harrowing, but necessary, and because this life is made up of switchbacks and great hills that prevent us from seeing past the horizon, we can’t determine the results. Achieving goals doesn’t make people happy in a lot of cases; they either want more, whatever that is, or become convinced the world owes them a kind of adulation.
I have always been convinced The Long and Winding Road is a spiritual. I love this original version, which sounds pared-down compared to the sudsy Phil Spector wall-of-sound version that appeared on the Let It Be album. Paul sounds best on his intimate acoustic songs like Blackbird and Mother Nature’s Son. (The exception is the hair-raising Helter Skelter, the song that inspired Charles Manson’s act of carnage: strange that the Beatles’ most violent, harrowing song was written and performed by choir-boy-faced Paul.)
Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. Those annoying little Facebook homily-cards or whatever they’re called always say things like, “It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make, so long as you keep getting up and trying again.” And so on. The only problem is, we live in a culture that DOES keep track of mistakes and often punishes people far beyond the extent of their missteps. We’re told to make lots and lots of mistakes, because that’s the only way we’ll learn. But there's only one problem. Our careers or marriages or friendships or families can be brought down by only one serious, central mistake.
I’ve written about this before because with few exceptions, nobody ever says it. It isn't popular and is seen as "negative" and somehow party-pooping. “Make lots and lots of mistakes” means – what? Take somebody’s pencil? How about having an affair with your boss, being caught taking office equipment, slapping your kid (just once, ever!), saying something really embarrassing while tipsy at a party, forgetting your seatbelt, forgetting your child's seatbelt, texting while driving, texting while WALKING, looking at porn "just once" on your computer at work, sexting “just a little” with a co-worker and being caught in the act. . .
I could go on.
These are mistakes, are they not? Serious, full-bodied mistakes, but things that people do every day. Should you welcome and even embrace these “because it’s the only way you learn”? Is losing your job or your marriage or even your child worth it? "Oh, but we don't mean THAT kind of mistake," some might say. Only "honest" ones. But the most serious mistakes aren't honest. And even forgetting a deadline or losing a file can mean the end of your career. It can, and it sometimes does. The workplace is no longer a very generous or hospitable place, and it isn't only the security cameras that are watching you.
As usual, this piece is long and pretty winding. So what’s the conclusion? Should we stay frozen in one place to avoid mistakes? I'm going to squeeze out one more homily here: "One must look, but one must also leap". It's a two-part process. Even the original, less-daring version, "Look before you leap," still assumes the leap will take place. And the "look" part means using your brain and not trying to do something that’s just goddamned foolish.
I still find it hard to put my work out there, and I still do it, or I wouldn’t be sitting her clacking away every morning. Who reads it is, to paraphrase my favourite e. e. cummings quote, “none of my immortal business”. When you have a story to tell, you’d like to think someone will some day hear it. To that end, but also due to sheer fascination with the process, I have to stay on the serpentine path, bloodhound-like, often with only my nose to tell me what’s hidden in the brambles.