Friday, May 30, 2008

The Phoenix Landing & The Martian Chronicles

They came because they were afraid or unafraid, happy or unhappy. There was a reason for each man. They were coming to find something or get something, or to dig up something or bury something. They were coming with small dreams or big dreams or none at all—Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles)

When I was but a sprite, and before I became an avid reader of books (I preferred comic books), I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It changed me, what I thought of books and what I felt about the power of stories. It made me cry. And perhaps that was when I decided to become a writer. I wanted to move people as Bradbury had moved me.

The Martian Chronicles isn’t really about Mars (though I’ve chosen to give it my Friday Feature placement as homage to the recent Phoenix landing on the red planet). True to Bradbury’s master metaphoric story-telling, the Martian Chronicles is about humanity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phoenix Landing on Mars

"It is good to renew one’s wonder, said the philosopher. "Space travel has again made children of us all."—Ray Bradbury (from The Martian Chronicles)

“The Phoenix spacecraft successfully landed in the north arctic plains of Mars today,” Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader, announced to my friend Danny Bloom. “This is the first landing in 32 years -- since the Viking spacecraft made landfall on Mars in 1976 -- that we have soft-landed a craft on Mars using retrorockets.”

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day—Lest We Forget Why…

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

For those of you observing Memorial Day today, I wish you peace.

Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (in 2008 on May 26). It commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action.

The day, not unlike our Remembrance Day in Canada, the UK and other Commonwealth countries (observed on November 11th to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. ) is typically spent visiting cemeteries and memorials and observing a moment of silent remembrance. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. US Eastern time. The U.S. flag may be flown at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers usually place an American flag upon each grave site located in a National Cemetery.

It is certainly a time to think of those who gave their lives for freedom and their country. It is also a reminder of the atrocity of war in all its forms.

War is a paradox. It is both tragic and an opportunity. The very action of being at war, seems to galvanizes us and polarize us. War heightens contrast, increases pitch, and resonates through us in ways we have no inkling. It brings out the very worst but also the very best in us; for, as some of us sink into despair and debauchery to help ourselves, others heroically rise in service and humble sacrifice to help others. War defines us, perhaps like no other phenomenon.

Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities” of a violent and turbulent time during the French Revolution:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of
wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the
epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything
before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were
all going direct the other way…

Memorial Day is a time to remember the past and to realize our future. Sometimes that means finding peace amidst calamity; balance amid chaos; grace within turmoil ; light inside the darkness; and joy from sadness.

Let us remember, so that those who follow us have a chance to remember too…

Now, please indulge me by going back up to the top photo. This is an amazing and stirring photograph by Daniel Wood. I was first struck by the sepia-tones of the graveyard contrasted with the red blooms of roses in the foreground (appropriately suggesting the bloodshed of war). It suddenly reminded me of the little girl in the red coat in Spielberg's film Shindler's List. The girl's coat was the sole item in an otherwise black and white film that had a colour. It singled her out, a “real person” in an anonymous sea of atrocity, a sea so large and horrific we cannot comprehend nor want to even think of and therefore ignore. Schindler could not ignore that little girl once he’d set his mind (and heart) to single her out. That was the turning point for him and he could no longer deny his compassion for those oppressed people.

The red rose of courage, passion and true love blooms in front of the dark graves of men and women who died for freedom, justice and honour; a symbol of everlasting peace and hope and a reminder that we must remain vigilant and honourable.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Illustrator, Emma Biron--Friday Feature

Before I dashed off into the science program on registration day at Concordia University, I was signed up in their fine arts program; I was going to be a commercial artist and go into advertizing. Then, I decided to save the planet instead (big grin). I'm still doing it...

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a cartoonist. I created the first "Get Smart", a spoof on James Bond. I called my cartoon, James Back, 000 (triple O). My recent graphic art piece was a cartoon, The Adventures of SF Girl, which you can see below. Well, my constant fascination for this medium led me to today's Friday Feature, Emma Biron, a fascinating illustrator from Vancouver, B.C.

Emma met me at one of my book signings and immediately caught my attention when she mentioned that she did animation. What follows below are a few examples from her recent comic book, MITMOL, which I'd describe as funky anime-style, with something else. Not sure what to call it, certainly an Emma-signature. Emma tells me that she draw s"everything by hand, using fine liners for inking."

When I asked her to elaborate on MITMOL, Emma told me that it "is set in outer space and follows the characters April, Neko, and a few others. The one with purple hair and blue skin is April. Right now I’m still working on MITMOL, which is an acronym that is not really worth figuring out (it has something to do with the meaning of life)." Okay...

"I love drawing," she continues. "But I think eventually I would like to become a writer. I’m especially looking forward to the comics exhibit (KRAZY) that will be coming to the Vancouver Art Gallery." Me too, Emma! See you there!

I asked Emma to describe her pictures shown here.

The first cartoon, about talking to a container of milk, is a dream sequence from MITMOL. Says Emma: "Perhaps it has a slightly religious subtext, but that’s entirely subjective."

The next cartoon describes a scene with women in burkas and masks who are interrogating a police officer. Says Emma: "This page was rushed sadly, but I liked its subject matter."

The blue girl is April. Says Emma: "I was inspired for the pose by Egan Shiel paintings. Some comic artists have sexy main female characters, but April usually isn’t, so I was joking when I drew her like this and named it 'trying to raise viewership' ".

The illustration at the top is, according to Emma, "a self portrait I drew when I was feeling sick after eating some cheap food. My friends said my sweater looked weird in it, but it honesty looked like that... I was leaning weirdly!"

There you go... lean weirdly and you too might draw something that awesome.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Novelist: Common Pitfalls of the Beginning Writer—Part 1 (Characters)

Have you ever wondered how an editor decides not to read your cherished tome past the second paragraph of the first page and has pegged you as a beginning writer? This used to really bug me… Well, as a published author and occasional mentor, I do from time to time read manuscripts (please don’t send me any unsolicited ones! This isn’t an invite). Well, I now recognize what these editors do. Most beginning writers commonly do some things that unfortunately identify him/her as a novice; these can work against you when a busy editor (who wants nothing better than an excuse to stop reading) reads your precious work.

So, I’d like to share what I’ve learned over the years (some of the very same comments that have been made of my work, I am sharing back with you).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aeon Flux: Motion Picture & Animation--Review

When I was first tantalized by the high-speed trailor for the 2005 Paramount motion picture, Aeon Flux, directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), I was blissfully unaware of its history: that it was based on the darkly irreverant and raunchy 1995 MTV Liquid Television animated SF series created by Korean American animator, Peter Chung. The series achieved cult status among a select audience of imsoniacs (it played at midnight on MTV, if that tells you anything). This may have worked in my favour. I had no expectations or preconceptions, except for a hair-flying ride. As a result, when the content (written by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay) had merit as social commentary, I counted it as a bonus.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ishmael—Friday Feature

Ishmael, the allegorical novel by Daniel Quinn, examines mythology, its effect on ethics, and how that relates to sustainability. This story’s premise and its relationship to sustainability intrigued me so much, it appears in today’s Friday Feature. I found the discussions on evolution and ecology fascinating, particularly as they related to human ethics.

The novel starts with a newspaper ad: "Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person." When a man responds to the ad, he finds himself in a room with a telepathic gorilla, Ishmael. The story continues as a socratic dialogue between Ishmael and his student as they discuss what Ishmael refers to as "how things came to be this way" for mankind.

Ishmael uses the example of Nazi Germany to show how the people of his culture are in much of the same situation: either held captive with the mythology of being superior, or "an animal swept up in the stampede" of the captivity of those around them.

Before proceeding, Ishmael defines:

  • Takers as people often referred to as "civilized." Particularly, the culture born in an Agricultural Revolution that began about 10,000 years ago in the Near East; the culture of Ishmael's pupil.

  • Leavers as people of all other cultures; sometimes referred to as "primitive."

  • A story as an interrelation between the gods, man, and the Earth, with a beginning, middle, and end.

  • To enact is to strive to make a story come true.

  • A culture as a people who are enacting a story.

The premise of the story enacted by Takers is that they are the pinnacle of evolution (or creation), that the world was made for man, and that man is here to conquer and rule the world.
Ishmael explains that life is subject to immutable laws and it is possible to discern them by studying the biological community and an evolutionarily stable survival strategy for all species called the Law of Limited Competition: "you may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war." Species follow this law or go extinct. Takers believe themselves exempt from this Law.

Leavers take what they need from the world and leave the rest alone. Living in this manner (in the hands of God), Leavers thrive in times of abundance and dwindle in times of scarcity. The Takers, who practice Totalitarian Agriculture produce enormous food surpluses. "When you have more food than you need, then God has no power over you."

"Takers are 'those who know good and evil' and the Leavers are 'those who live in the hands of the gods'."

According to Ishmael, by living in the hands of God, man is subject to the conditions under which evolution takes place. According to the Takers' story, creation came to an end with man. "In order to make their story come true, the Takers have to put an end to creation itself."

"The premise of the Takers' story is 'The world belongs to man.' ...The premise of the Leavers' story is 'Man belongs to the world.'"

As a writer, I enjoy allegories for their metaphoric narrative descriptions of subjects under the guise of another having similarities to it (e.g., Pilgrims Progress, which describes life as a journey). The socratic, polarized imagery of Ishmael counterpoints humility with hubistic endeavor; self with others; compassion with greed. I'm sure it wasn't lost on Quinn that the Ishmael of the Bible was a rather troublesome and quarrelsome character, who lived in the wilderness and according to God "shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." Both the biblical Ishmael and Quinn's Ishmael were "outsiders" and, as such, more likely to be in the position to make commentary.

Ishmael, from the Hebrew word meaning God hears, was the son of Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian maid of his wife Sarah. When Sarah found herself not having children, she arranged to have a child with Abraham by Hagar acting as a surrogate mother (Genesis 16:1-4), even though God had specifically stated that a child would be born to Sarah in due time. The result was bitter conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and their descendants, that has gone on right to the present day. Ishmael was born at Mamre, when Abraham was 86, 11 years after Abraham's arrival in what would become the land of Israel (Genesis 16:3). He grew up to be a man of the desert wilderness, with a wild and hostile attitude toward people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dreams or Nightmares

My journey in Paris provided only one of several epiphanies I experienced since my initial encounter with a tornado in Louisville, Kentucky, last January. Challenges that thrust my comfortable bloated self toward an edgy lean cliff of awareness. Soon after the tornado, I had that climate change nightmare. It prompted a spate of blog posts on climate change (Tornadoes & climate change; human health; solastalgia). Posts dedicated to our culture’s headlong hurtle toward a “speed of life” that may result in a collision with disaster if we aren't careful.

Paris showed me another culture; a culture who’s reflective gait lies more in step with Nature, a walk that embraces a pace in keeping with life’s cherished sensual qualities: to see, hear, smell, touch and taste all one can… Taking the time to converse with a friend over a quality coffee or wine; waiting contentedly in line at a local boulangerie or patisserie for their favorite loaf of bread; stopping at the metro station to listen to a local chanteur singing a French love song.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Life began with waking up and loving my mother's face
--George Eliot

What is a mother?

Before I had my son, I harboured doubts about being a good mother. Even after my precious son was born, I experienced (and no doubt will continue to experience) moments when I wondered if I'd done the right thing...pushed him hard enough in this or that pursuit...encouraged him enough in his interests...imbued him with enough but not too much independence...provided him with the right example to pursue integrity and honour in his life...given him the opportunities to grow into the young man he can be...

Of one thing I am certain: I have loved him entirely and unconditionally.
And he has grown into a wise and beautiful human being. Wiser than his mother, I think. I am so proud of him. And I am learning from this incredible miracle of God (giving birth is truly a miracle) who is less than half my age; this young man who sees the world through the open eyes of quiet compassion and the wisdom of an angel. My precious son...

What is a mother?

I think automatically of my own mother, who was loving, kind, gentle and inspirational. She devoted herself almost entirely to raising me and my brother and sister, almost to a fault; certainly to the detriment of her own pursuits and identity (like many women of her generation). I am happy to say that she later pursued her interests as a professional landscape artist, botanist and naturalist prior to succumbing to a stroke.

The role of a mother is probably the most important career a woman can have--Janet Mary Riley, Lawyer and writer

According to Francis Cardinal Spellman:

A mother is a font and spring of life,
A mother is a forest in whose heart
Lies hid a secret ancient as the hills,
For men to claim and take its wealth away;
And like the forest shall her wealth renew
And give, and give again, that men may live.

What is a mother?...

She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to the children, who ate with avidity.
"She hath kept none for herself," said the sergeant.
"Because she is not hungry," said a soldier.
"Because she is a mother," said the sergeant.
--Victor Hugo

What is a mother?
We are all mothers. Every woman is a mother, whether she gives birth to a child or a movement; whether she nurtures a family, a corporation or a nation.
--Nina Munteanu - author, scientist and mother

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Pearls Before Breakfast

After hearing my laments about returning from Paris, France, to “the speed of life” in North America, my good friend, Margaret, passed on to me an interesting article in the Washington Post; something I’d like to share with you:

In it, staff writer, Gene Weingarten, asked the question: Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Falling for Paris

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast
—Ernest Hemingway

It’s been a week since I left Paris and came home. My heart aches like a lost lover. You could call it jet lag, but I prefer to believe that I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love: dazed with haunting visions of a city that opened me like a bracing wind sweeps open the shutters of a window to light my soul with wonder.

To fall in love is to open oneself completely and be changed. Paris changed me.

When I returned home, several people asked me what struck me the most about Paris. I was challenged to provide a single highlight and realized that everything coalesced into a larger phenomenon that encompassed the attractive people, neo-classical architecture, quaint cobble streets, complex fragrances and ambience that is Paris.

Paris is a beautiful, complex city that cannot be described or defined without giving oneself totally away.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shakespeare & Company in Paris

In the current historical fantasy I'm writing (which brought me to Paris to do some research) my two main characters, Vivianne and François, pass a rather famous bookstore located in the heart of Paris on Rue de la Bucherie, on the Left Bank just opposite Notre Dame Cathedral: Shakespeare and Company.

Shakespeare & Company is situated in the Latin Quarter, which for centuries has been the centre of bohemian Parisian creativity and intelligentsia. For over fifty years, the bookshop has housed numerous writers and hosted readings by published and unpublished authors. Run by Sylvia Whitman, daughter of the legendary George Whitman, the bookstore looks like something in a Harry Potter movie, with stacks upon stacks of all sorts of literature.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Getting Lost in Paris

On my third day in Paris, I got lost. I didn’t mean to; it just happened.

I’d started early and joined the morning crowd at the Musée d’Orsay. After a breathtaking journey through the visions of French Impressionists, I ventured by bus to the Champ du Mars and climbed the Eiffel Tower to see Paris from the perspective of the Gods: a wheeled mosaic of art, magic and scene. Then I decided to walk home from there. I thought my adventure was over; in truth, it had just begun…

As I wound my way down a tree-lined street, the flower blossoms rained down with the fragrant breeze, painting the cobblestones in pale shades of diaphanous pink. A young couple sat wrapped around each other on a bench, kissing.

It suddenly struck me that I was in Paris in the springtime; and I was alone.