Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's a Zoo Out There

72 degrees in Dallas in January. Can't let weather like that go to waste. "Ray, what shall we do?" I checked the paper and it's Penguin Days at the Dallas Zoo. The promotion is that prices go down along with the temperature. So, today was an aberation but the prices for January and February are $5 admission, $7 to park, and yes - you have to ride the monorail for $3. I've lived in Dallas more than twenty-five years and had never ventured to this zoo. I was suitably impressed. Now I didn't get up close to the lions - this female looked ready to pounce on something.

On the monorail ride, you enter the river flow habitat. It's quite pretty.
This rhino was hungry. He kept pacing back and forth in front of a door. We figured he knew it was chow time and the maitre'd was running late.

This little fellow looked perfectly content, chewing on something and surveying the land from on high.

I love giraffes - so goofy looking and yet graceful. The new Wilds of Savannah area featured elephants, giraffes, and a feel for an African safari. Well done and entertaining. This fellow knew some food was in reach, if only the kids dangling over the rail would throw it.
So, no reading or writing this weekend. Just too darn pretty to stay indoors. It's obnoxious when so many folks (hey Dad!) are shoveling snow back east. However, Ray and I felt it was our solemn duty to take advantage of the sunshine - we wore our t-shirts and absorbed sunshine and zoo atmosphere.
A few quotes - one young girl (age 7 or so) said, "Mom, I just love the zoo."
One young fellow (age 5 or so) - "This is boring."
All in all, it was fun to watch kids spot hidden creatures - nothing quite like a pit viper in the Reptile House. Yikes!
Ray and I spent about three hours wandering the grounds. Thanks Dallas Zoo - well done!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January Jolly Reads

Alice Munro is a smooth writer covering complex emotions and the unpredictability of life. If you are looking for happiness, this book might make you feel better, since her characters are rather miserable. I enjoyed the writing in these stories - descriptions, dialogue, and quirky twists of entangled lives kept me interested and yet not entertained. Each little world of thirty pages, fraught with anger, sadness, and pain, left me bereft of feelings, hollowed out inside and anxious. So, for reading pleasure, I can't recommend this book. For a master class in writing, Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness gets an A plus.
Michael Lewis' Home Game is heartfelt, well-written, and at times appallingly funny. He kept a journal as his kids were born. Instead of sunny delight and enthusiasm for fatherhood, Lewis discusses why it is parents don't hurl babies off balconies after many sleepless nights. His exhaustion, his descriptions of reality - his two girls arguing over everything, and his realization that he's more of the third string quarterback kept me chuckling throughout the book.
P. 42 At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and - let us be frank - got fleeced. The agreement he signed, foisted all sorts of new paternal responsibilities on him and gave him nothing of what he might have expected in return. Not the greater love of his wife, who now was encouraged to view him as an unreliable employee. Not the special love of his child, who, no matter how many times he fed and changed and wiped and walked her, would always prefer her mother in a pinch.

p. 108 Small children are also a mood altering substance with financial consequences
p. 109 I know for a fact that my children are insane
p. 154 I've sometimes felt that we are using the wrong manual to fix an appliance - that say we're trying to repair a washing machine with the instructions for the lawn mower. But my wife presses on, determined to find room enough for three children's happiness.
Home Game is a quick, entertaining read and Mr.Lewis' love of his three kids, wife, and life shines through. I relished his exasperation, trials, and down home astonishment at family life in general.
p.187 Like dreams, these fatherhood moments are easily forgotten, and no doubt also a lot more interesting to the teller than to anyone else.
Michael Lewis' writing will keep you interested.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A to Z Songs Galore

A New Year's project involved buying a new CD shelf system, and then alphabetizing my music collection. I had CDs strewn in various cupboards, and categorized by Motown, Broadway, 70s, et al. However, some musicians stretched borders. It was time to use A,B,C ... easy as 1, 2, 3 (so indeed Michael Jackson joined the Jackson Five and Janet Jackson under the letter J) I uncovered some moldy oldies and genuine gems. I decided to start at the very beginning (i.e. from the Sound of Music), a very good place to start and spend my year listening to my collection.

The very first CD to kick off the project was 3 Doors Down - Six Pack of Hits, then 38 Special Greatest Hits, and 5th Dimension Greatest (love Marilyn McCoo singing One Less Bell to Answer - absolutely heartrending). Onward into the As, and currently I'm at the BeeGees - how fun is that? I listen to most music in the car with my long drive (up to an hour) to and from work. Oh, I'll punch ahead on songs that aren't awesome, but I'll listen all the way through to something like Beach Boys Good Vibrations or God Only Knows.

Great tunes often connect to others. One of my favorite songs is Eagles Best of My Love, and then there's Mamas & Papas California Dreaming.

So many songs bring back memories of places, good times, and friends and family. There are a lot of current musicians with great lyrics, catchy tunes, and hooks. Ce Lo Green's Forget You (yes, that's the "clean" version) is a toe tapper - I have the Gwyneth Paltrow Glee cut of that song in a compiliation. Jason Mraz, Bruno Mars, and The Script are young artists with talent.

Sometimes I want silence when I write, other times - crank the volume to 11 and write along to the muse.

Oh yeah, The Muse, opened for U2 on their tour and they have a unique sound.

What's your inspiration? Confess to your fave corny tune. C'mon Bee Gees Night Fever, Abba Dancing Queen, George Michael Faith, Hall & Oates Rich Girl, Wizard of Oz Soundtrack Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I can go on and on ...and yes, I like that song On and On by Stephen Bishop.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Silent Courtesy

Reflecting on a column in the WSJ (1/15/11 Eric Felten), I agree that we have "this tendency to careen from extreme to extreme - either allowing and enduring behavior ungoverned by the slightest scruple or enforcing ridiculous regimens of hypercorrectitude. Missing is the virtue that sits in the middle, the common sense of common courtesy." In his article he discusses Amtrak's Quiet Car concept and how its use has gotten blown out of proportion. It is a place for no cell phones, no music thumping from headphones,etc. However, it is a "cauldron of simmering rage" where silent scolds frown upon a rustle of paper or a quiet conversation.
It's daunting, this fine line between life and technology and humanity. We participate in everyone's public cell conversation. We can't tune out the bleed of headphone tunes. Everything is louder, and there is no privacy. How can we restore order and common courtesy?

Roped off space to restore manners seems ridiculous.

I stand vigilant, shushing talking movie-goers and hating texters. I appreciate service counters that request a patron not use a cell phone during a transaction. For goodness sake, talk to the checker and take care of your business. There has to be some order.
I shall use Trinity Writers' Workshop as an example. A writer reads a piece, has fifteen minutes. A timer buzzes, then listeners are called upon one at a time to critique. Oh, enthusiasm sometimes allows a few blurts, but in general everyone gets a turn to speak. It's all handled in a dignified fashion and much is accomplished.
Silence is the universal refuge ...our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail
Henry David Thoreau
Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creation: Scumbling Vitality

Jane Wilson changed painting directions in the 1950s, shifting from abstract to realistic landscapes. I read about her in the Wall Street Journal (11/28/10) and was struck by her style, manner, and creativity. She starts each new work "with a horizontal line near the bottom of the canvas to orient myself. My subject is really atmosphere and the quality of air as we live it. That's what I think about: the vitality in surrounding spaces."
This process could be used in writing. Start with a key sentence, then the quality of life for the characters. So much of a really good read is the atmosphere - the vital world created by words.
Ms.Wilson "relies on scumbling - layers of paint are built up to create a shimmery effect, to give her work its depth." Great writers do this - I'm often struck by layers of written images. Think about it.
She works on many paintings at the same time, constantly reworking and editing. She does not paint from photographs. "What I do is remember what it felt like to stand there. Take a breath and be there, and then I know what to do."
Jane Wilson, age 86, has her place in the art world and is still refining it. This brief article offered a fresh viewpoint on creativity.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Read: The Rembrandt Affair

2011 Resolutions (WSJ 12/31/10) Author David Wroblewski (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle) says "FTFN. You're familiar with the acronym RTFM (read the f - ing manual). Same idea, it's Finish the F - ing Novel instead."

He's talking about writing and finishing, of course, which is on my list of things to do. However, on our first snowy January Sunday (white death predicted by weathermen up to six inches, actual Bedford weather occurrence - a light dusting), I hunkered under an afghan determined to finish Daniel Silva's latest thriller The Rembrandt Affair.

Mission accomplished and the book is a doozy. Once again, Gabriel Allon - art restorer/Israeli super agent - retires, determined to enjoy his wife and a peaceful life. Unfortunately there's been a murder and a Rembrandt stolen, and only Gabriel can uncover the full mysterious connection between a Holocaust surviver and a Swiss industrialist selling parts to Iran. The book covers a wide territory - Amsterdam, Argentina, Israel, and Switzerland - and includes Silva's usual heroes, Gabriel's team of ragtag brilliant Israeli agents. Fast paced, well researched, The Rembrandt Affair is an exciting read for a gray hot chocolate day.

Bundled up for a few icy photos. We had almost two inches of rain, a few sleet pellets, snowflakes, and now bitter cold temperatures. Hooray for living in the sunbelt.

Then again, I never need an excuse to read, but blustery January weather begs for book sessions and a nap. No guilt necessary.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011: Saddle Up Hodgepodge

Author Lee Child's goal: To write another book. The way I try to do that is to make it as if it is the first and last book I'd ever write. Since this is the only evidence I'll leave behind, it had better be good. (WSJ 12/31/10)

A poem by Joanne Faries:

Post Christmas

stockings, bows, paper
tucked away
red splashes erased

New Year

Quicken spreadsheet opened
red bottom line smear

Saw lots of movies over the holiday, so I shall post another movie review excerpt that I wrote for The Little Paper of San Saba:

Jeff Bridges has to be declared an American treasure. He won an Oscar last year for Crazy Heart. Now this year he turns his laconic speaking style, grizzled look, and command of the screen to True Grit. The Coen brothers did not remake the John Wayne movie. Instead they reinterpreted the Charles Portis book and lavished it with a great cast, superb filming, and a lot of grit indeed.

True Grit is not a western per se. It takes place out west in a hardscrabble land. It involves a chase on horseback, snow, rattlesnakes (both the real kind and evil men), and plenty of fancy shooting. There's some whiskey drinking, cooking beans over a fire, and well, okay ... this is a western. The Coen's capture the sense of American adventure, property, pride, and revenge. Jeff Bridges, behind the black eyepatch, gives a master class in acting. Effortless and smooth, Rooster Cogburn's our flawed hero. Hailee S. - her clear eyed youth and wit energizes the Mattie character and at fourteen, she's a power to be reckoned with . Matt Damon's LeBoeuf is the comic foil and yet valuable to the good guy team.

Saddle up and mosey to the movies soon. True Grit is a treat.

First week of January and I'm pleased to report no rejections yet. Ever hopeful, I shall write, edit, re-edit, and submit.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

King's Speech Kick-off for 2011

I have joined a gym, where I have lifted as much as 6.5 pounds. Let's see what happens next. Author Gary Shteyngart

To improve my painting, a recent hobby for which I have no natural aptitude whatsoever. Author Tom Rachman

Go to the movies and create reviews. Writer, Joanne Faries

Resolutions and goals for 2011 - nah! I've decided this year to just roll with it. Write, edit, write more, send it out, accept, reject, edit, send it out again. Poetry, flash fiction, short stories, work on my (I think) crappy novel (obviously there is a goal to improve the garbage). Enjoy the process, and the happy brain dance when some words flow and you do think, "Hmm, that ain't bad."

Plus, attend movies and write reviews for The Little Paper of San Saba. I'm not paid. I'm barely edited. I only see what I want to see. Thus generally the reviews are positive because I've proven myself correct in choosing something decent for my two hours and four dollars. Let's kick off 2011 with a winner:

No, you don't have to adjust your ears. Your first encounter with actor Colin Firth, as the Duke of York, is painfully awkward. He's assigned a speech to a huge audience and his horrible stammer is excruciating. You wince, you cringe, and you wonder how the duke could ultimately become King George VI, the man who carried England through WWII and inspired his people with ...yes, speeches.

Well, go see The King's Speech, and witness what I consider an Oscar worthy performance. Firth plays Prince Albert who's happily married and father to Princess Elizabeth (now the current reigning monarch) and Princess Margaret. But his stammer keeps him in the background of royal life. The movie presents various doctors' suggestions for a cure. All to no avail. Finally his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) finds a peculiar Australian, Mr.Logue, who seems to have a knack for speech therapy. Played by Geoffrey Rush, the odd man offers a fitting contrast to the pompousity of royalty. His methods work and a friendship grows.

The movie slowly taps into the childhood struggles, the overbearing father - King George V, and the shining star of a brother who renounces the throne to marry Wallis Simpson (twice divorced American - shocking). No wonder poor Bertie stammered. Amidst the backdrop of history, we share Albert's torture and pray for him to succeed. We see how much he cares for England and its peoples, and how fate got it right. Albert becoming George VI was absolutely perfect for the times. His stammer actually kept him a bit humble, and he grew into his leadership.

The King's Speech is not action packed adventure. It's character driven, well written, and superbly acted by every well known English actor on the planet. Each performance is a gem. This is why I go to the movies.

And now I roll up my sleeves, open a fresh page in Word, and blast any roadblocks hindering my progress toward my lack of goals/resolutions. Happy 2011!