~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


The Queen ~ Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Air Canada has this funky feature now (at least, on a few aircrafts, like the one on which we flew--which was virtually empty, so Tom and I were also able to stretch out a bit). On demand film that you can order up on your personal screen (fitted into the back of the seat of the person in front of you).

I ordered up "The Queen" (with Helen Mirren. Tom watched "Driving Miss Daisy" from the "classics" section). I thought it was excellent. Mirren's performance is masterful, restrained and deeply empathetic. It's strange seeing an enactment of such relatively recent events, involving high-profile, public figures, without their explicit consent. But the film itself, I thought was wonderfully done.

Elizabeth as played by Mirren is a woman who is deeply shy and reticent, shaped by public life into one who is deeply and profoundly devoted to duty and to her role and its responsibilities. One gets the sense she cannot understand someone like Diana, who is so ready to kick up the traces for personal enjoyment or fulfillment--and who is so indiscreet in her speech, so undignified in her manner.

Because Elizabeth is by nature so shy, she seems to retreat behind her facade of propriety--it's not that she doesn't feel deeply (we're not in doubt that she feels) but more that she is so buried in her role and so devoted to her responsibilities--and what she sees as the correct way of fulfilling them--that she had sublimated those emotions. She has used her passion to shape herself with immense discipline into an embodiment of what is right and proper.

I felt the portrayal was a very compassionate one--she misread the public sentiment in the aftermath of Diana's death because her whole sense of the monarcy was shaped by an outdated sensibility. But we never doubted her passion for what she had dedicated her life to. There were also some wonderfully played, cathartic moments--Tony Blair's outburst, for instance--that articulated exactly what I had begun to feel. And, too, there was a sense of genuine importance to the whole thing, even though it ended up being a flash in the pan event. During those moments, that week, for the characters involved, it felt as if the repercussions might be wide-ranging and profound. That was part of the power and urgency of it.

I also enjoyed the wry wit of the queen mother, as well as some of the behind-the-scenes outbursts of the various characters, who, despite their high status, seemed to live lives that were as routine as anyone else's--unspectacular and banal, even. The idea of the three royals (Elizabeth, Philip and the queen mum) sitting around watching the news to hear the latest about the Diana story and how it was all developing--as well as to learn about the prevailing climate among their subjects--was bizarre (one always imagines they have some sort of inner pipeline) and yet it also makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't they sit about watching the news, like everyone else?

I think the portrayals were ultimately sympathetic--Charles probably got the worst of it, with Philip a distant second. Everyone else--even Cherie Blair, despite her current unpopularity--really got a fair shake and a voice in the film. And even Charles, I suppose, had some element of sympathy to him--he seemed weak and under his mother's thumb, but he speak out for Diana and recognise what his mother could not.

There was one possible moment/motif where maybe they crossed the line into something more obvious--for thematic reasons--but even that is a niggle. All in all, a wonderful, beautifully crafted and nuanced film. Helene Mirren inhabited the role--the glamourous actress disappeared and there was the Queen in her stead. A Queen that I for one came to really care about and respect deeply as an incredibly strong, dignified and loyal servant of the people, even when they themselves didn't appreciate the depth of her devotion and her sublimation of self to the role she had to play. Assuming it's anywhere near to the truth (it certainly felt marvellously convincing--if not true, then a terribly good guess), it's a powerful and passionate portrait.

And I thought Mirren did a wonderful job as the first Elizabeth! That, I think, was the easier task because we don't have any live-action presence for Elizabeth I with which to compare Mirren's portrayal. With this, we do, and yet, she still managed to pull it off with grace and empathy.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:05 PM::::


Or rather, welcome to cloudy and 7 degrees celsius Houston. it was raining when we landed, so this marks an improvement. But still, after minus 10 or so temperatures, this is actually rather pleasant. I am typing this from the hotel "business center" workstation. It a slow connection, but I guess one can't really expect otherwise. They do offer wireless for free and a number of other amenities. In fact, I'd say it's generally a nice place. Plus, there's free breakfast, which I always like, since that means that we can stop downstairs, eat and then get on with our day with minimal side-trips once we're out the door (no need to stop somewhere or do a drive through or whatever). Also, it's a breakfast buffet, so that means one at least generally has some measure of control over what sort of choices one makes in the morning.

All in all, not half bad! There's also a pool and a fitness centre, so that's nice, esp. since Houston doesn't seem much of a city for walking in. Of course, I don't think I'll be doing much walking tonight. I have a headache for some reason (might just have been how I was sitting on the plane) and am generally achy.

We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Lupe Tortilla or something. It wasn't bad--very much of a "for white folks' consumption" kind of place. The menu had items like "cheekin enchilalada". In fact, they never spelled it "chicken". It also always used the words "con" and "y" in place of "with" and "and." The food was pretty good but it was still kind of strange bing in such a "for white folk" kind of environment.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 9:45 PM::::



Maya Allusions ~ Tuesday, January 30, 2007

We leave for our trip tomorrow. I'm excited and I'm looking forward to taking in some rays. Today was the first sunny day we've had in a little while and even that is fab. It's also not as cold as it has been in previous days--only about minus 10 or so. Better still--I actually was able to get out for a walk, which has done my disposition an immeasurable amount of good. I am now going to turn my attention to finishing as much as I can of the Maya book so I can return it. Then, I'll start packing. It's funny--I love going away, but I hate packing (of course, I dislike unpacking even more!).

Ah well, a little bit o' packing and then we're off tomorrow. Houston, here we come!

Aside: a funny coincidence. I'm doing a duet with another woman who takes voice lessons from the same instructor. I suggested she and I get together to practice before the next rehearsal with our instructor (though after our vacation, of course). It turns out she lives about a block away. Funnier still, it turns out that she and her husband offered for our house! They walked through and saw it the same day that the previous owners here accepted our offer. Wacky!

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 2:46 PM::::



Exhausted and defeated ~ Monday, January 29, 2007

I'll get my book done before we go (I'm truly really in the final stretch) but I won't be sending it out. As I said to Tom, I think it would be far less professional to send out a mss with multiple, sloppy or oversight mistakes rather than to send one a couple of weeks later. I'll take a print copy with me to mark up, and if I have computer access in Houston and on the ship (only if it's free, of course--I know they charge for internet, but I don't know if they'd charge just to use the computer workstation sans web connection), I'll put the changes in there if I get time, so I'll have something ready to ship out when I get back.

Otherwise, it will be maybe a day or so after I get back to put in all the fixes--no biggie. As time before departure shortened and I still had to finish the rewrite, I became more and more aware that it would be stupid, after spending all this time fixing it up, to send out what would essentially be an unproofed or partially proofed mss. So, I'll do my usual fine tooth comb read through (and of course, things will still be missed, but far fewer that if I hadn't done that).

I feel better about this decision, ultimately. I'm annoyed that I wasn't able to get it done within my timelines (gonna have to work on that when I get back), but I'd feel silly sending this out without having been properly proofed.

Saw another silly movie (I saw it because it was silly--I wanted a break with something fluffy and mindless): BloodRayne, starring Kristanna Loken (of Terminator 3 fame). It was wafer-thin, it seemed, in worldbuilding, characterization etc. But I really did just want an action, kung-fu, straightforward, escapist film and this fit the bill. I was never deeply engaged, but then never expected to be.

In other news, I'm exhausted. I'm not sure if it's all this pressure I've put on myself with this book (it's a long one--in page-count derived word count, it's over 100K at this point. But I still don't know which kind of count they want. It ultimately seems meaningless to me. Also, I may end up cutting other stuff in my revision.) or if it's the various antibiotics and the like that I'm on combined with a long car ride with sub-optimal back support yesterday. My back was really bad last night and it seems to have transferred to my neck this morning. I can barely turn it.

Maybe it will get better as the day progresses. Now, I'm going to scare up some breakfast and coffee while I think about the final scenes I'm going to write. Mentally prepare, and all that... :-)

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 9:53 AM::::



Rhymes With Camera: On magical thinking ~ Thursday, January 25, 2007

A cool post by Tamara! I've been thinking about such things recently myself.

Rhymes With Camera: On magical thinking and using Sabian Symbols for inspiration

I think that I've lately been moving more into a kind of nexus that makes use of certain forms of magical thinking. It's a fascinating--and, I daresay ubiquitous--notion, though it's interesting to see it articulated in this way. Certainly, I think myths and patterns help us to parse reality. Whether there actually are underlying patterns or not is (arguably, of course) secondary to the notion that by uncovering those patterns (even if they are artificially imposed), we are able to derive meaning in our lives. Storytelling is, in one way, about precisely that--uncovering patterns of event and happenstance and drawing them together into a meaningful narrative arc. A fascinating notion.

More to ponder on this later. For the nonce, another deep breath--and back to revisions!

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:54 PM::::


Again, not too much reading of late, though I have been dipping into 1491 during breaks in my attempts to revise the final pages of my novel.

And indeed, I am in the final stretch. I've decided that my Susan Deefholts blog will document my writing travails. In other words, it will be where I post all my angst-ridden rants about how I'm stuck, or hitting a road bump and unable to continue. For now, it will be stuff that's of less interest to anyone else, but may be of some interest to me.

It's interesting--Tom raised the question a few days ago about whether my blogs had now supplanted my journals. It's true, in a sense. I still journal from time to time, when I'm at a cafe and without a computer. I also find that paper is often necessary for making notes about books, characters and plot points when I'm trying to break through a block.

But, between my various theme blogs (reading, writing and general--the latter being this one), it seems as though it has, indeed, supplanted my journal in certain contexts. It just seems cleaner and better organized to be able to air my musings on a given topic in a blog than it is to jot them down in a journal. It's also so much easier to find past comments on a given subject when the headings are conveniently posted in the archives, sorted by date and accessible via a searchable index.

All those advantages, I think, have ultimately led to a gradual migration on my part from journaling to blogging. It certainly wasn't overnight, since I had issues with the question of how public I wanted to make my thoughts (I still have "secret blogs" and instances where I just save my posts but don't actually publish them, if they're a way of keeping my own counsel). But ultimately, this particular form of technology has prevailed--in part because it makes it logistically easier for me, and in part because I can then air my thoughts on a given topic and subsequently direct a friend (for instance, my brother) to a post, and move into discussion from there.

Cool stuff. It feels almost Elizabethan (they way they used to circulate manuscripts and then discuss them). Make it "Elizabethan for the techno age" then and we'll have done.

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::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 1:06 PM::::



La Neige ~ Friday, January 19, 2007

Well, winter has, indeed, arrived. I'm housebound for the day, but it hasn't dimmed my capacity for procrastination any. Alas...

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 4:11 PM::::


Well, having spent far too long setting up a new layout for m'blogs, I'm now posting an image to test how it works on this particular blog layout format. If you enlarge the post and notice Loki's eyes look a bit odd, don't worry--it's completely artificial. The flash made them look even stranger, so I popped the image into Photoshop and retouched her eyes. It was a quickie job, though, so they don't look natural when the image is full size. And now, of course, anyone who sees the pic will want to enlarge the photo just to see how odd her eyes do indeed look...

I'm liking this new format, though. Thanks to Blogskins and the talented designer of this layout! I wanted something simple but different from the standard templates that you see on most blogger websites. I.e. I wanted a personalized look, but didn't want to have to design it myself.

Thence did it become an idee fixe for me, and so instead of working on my book--which I'm about to start doing... I promise--I ended up personalizing all the blogs from downloaded skins I found there. *Sigh* So now all my blogs look cool and personal and my book still isn't any closer to being finished. Perhaps I'll report back on this issue again later today.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 3:06 PM::::



Good Omen: No Titanic ~ Thursday, January 18, 2007

I didn't get into the Titanic, but I figure that's likely a good omen, since we're going on a cruise in a couple of weeks. It might be inauspicious to be cast in a show about the most spectacular shipwreck in history just before leaving for a nautical journey of our own on a luxury liner...

I'm also not surprised, given my previous comments. I get the impression there was not shortage of auditionees, and so a flubbed audition in which they wouldn't have gotten a particularly good sense of my singing etc. couldn't have been a big draw.

My only disappointment is that I held off on registering for bellydancing and drumming because of this, and now I suspect it might be too late. But I'll look into it and see. Of course, I'll be away in a couple of weeks, and then Mum's out visiting, so it might not work out. But we'll see. Or I noticed they had a drop in option, so I might see about that...

And I'm sure I'll contrive to keep myself busy regardless. I have masses of articles to write, now--with another review slated for February 15th. Fun! I also have Carolyn's poetry book project to edit and I'm excited about that as well. I think she's pulled together a really strong selection of pieces and I'm looking forward to spending more time with them.

Back to the Regency... I'm in the middle of the big scene between Julian and Sophie where they're basically going to discuss one of the central conflicts of narrative. It's pretty heavygoing--and after this, they'll have a few, halcyon days, having negotiated a short-term compromise. And then, the next incarnation of the conflict will rear its ugly head and I'll have to work out a good counterbalance of external conflict to go with this internal issue so that it all comes together in one climactice finale. Ahem. Did I mention I want to send this out by the end of next week and I'm basically rewriting the latter part of the novel because I've realised it doesn't work? On the other hand I did write 50K words in a month... so there's no reason this shouldn't be do-able!! Unless, of course, it isn't. Or my muses decide to head off for an early vacation (please, please don't do that!!)


::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:57 PM::::



My First Review for the Record ~ Monday, January 15, 2007

Here it is, in all its newsprint-formatted glory (complete with an obligatory mispelling of my last name, of course! ;-) But of course, I know those folk have a deadline, and they probably just went for it really quickly... It's not really a biggie--though hopefully it will be correct next time). It's the article with the photo of the actor beside it, entitled "Reader's passion gets us battle-ready." I was tempted to suggest "Muse of Fire visits KWS" as the title. Perhaps I should have done so--though it's a bit cheesy, I think it reads better than the one they decided on.

But hey, we're all still learning, right?!

If the above link no longer works (not sure how long it's available before it goes into the archives and is accessible by subscription only) then here is a link to the .pdf version at my website.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 1:44 PM::::



The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of my weekend... ~ Sunday, January 14, 2007

Well, it has certainly been an eventful weekend!

Friday night, Tom had a gig--and so did I, in a sense! I was off to a concert for which I was slated to write a review for the Record. I knew that it would be a test of sorts--so the editor could see if I was capable of writing something appropriate to their needs.

So, off I went. Lucky me, I was close enough to the front that I could actually see my page as I made notes, so they remained reasonably legible afterwards. The concert itself was great! I had a fab time--though the latter portion was a little nerve-wracking because it was less programmatic and so it wasn't as easy to figure out how to write about it.

I went home and tried to stick to about two hours in writing up the review because I understand that that's often how long one has before submitting the story. Since I had the luxury of time in this case, I didn't submit it right away, so that I could tweak it a bit once I had some distance. I sent it in the next day and then waited. The editor liked it!! Yippee! So hopefully I'll be doing other reviews in the future. That's exciting.

Another cool thing we did this weekend was see the opera "the First Emperor" by the Chinese composer Tan Dun. It's part of this wonderful undertaking by the Met and various partners: they broadcast a Met production every week in high definition to movie theatres around the world. So, we went to the local Galaxy cinema and watched a wonderful Met production! The show itself was really engaging for the first half or so. I was drawn in by the music and it really held my attention. I found the second act (it was only two acts), post Intermission rather static--it really dragged, unfortunately. It also felt repetitious and a little slapdash, as if he was in a rush to finish it, and so kind of threw things together. The final climactic twist seemed a bit of an anti-climax to me, and not much of a twist--at least not one that most people wouldn't have seen coming even without reading the synopsis. But still, it was thrilling, and the calibre of the first half made it worthwhile for me.

And next week is Julie Taymor's Magic Flute!! I'm so excited. I love her work and I'm reasonably fond of the Magic Flute (I probably wouldn't see it again at this point--unless it were being done by someone like her or Robert LePage). It's the same day as the Cafe Conversation meeting, but that's at 11 and the show is at 1:30, so I figure two hours should be enough at the cafe. Plus, I'm going to see if anyone there is interested in joining me for the show (though of course, it has little to do with French).

The Bad (though ultimately good in a makin' lemonade kind of way) was my performance at the Dream Auction. This was the first time that I actually had some kind of "set" that I was doing: five or six songs. And I think for that reason--because I had more than one piece to do--I got nervous. Also, I think it was because I didn't start off quite where I wanted to be with my voice, and so that eroded my confidence for a couple of subsequent songs. And man, I gotta practice more with a mike--it always sounds so different that I have to get used to that shift. Note to self on that one: practice with a mike at home if I'll be using one in a performance. At any rate, my voice cracked a couple of times and--worse, IMO--I didn't pass it off with bravado, but actually winced a couple of times and in one case, broke off during the song. Another factor was that I didn't rehearse enough. It was pretty last minute and I had heard it would be background music--but then everyone sat and actually listened as if it were a show! All the same, it was a great learning experience, and the audience was both forgiving and appreciative--which is the best kind there is for such significant "first times!"

The Ugly!! My audition for a community theatre production. Yes, it was ugly--a miscalculation on my part. I should have done it a capella. Instead, I brought the music, and since the accompanist seemed fine with the prospect of playing it, I thought it might be okay. It really, really wasn't. It was very noble of her to make the effort and I give her full kudos! But, it was unreasonable of me to expect anyone to read that piece totally by sight (she was also great with the other pieces I heard--just as another testament to her skill and the difficulty of my piece).

So, while I think I sang well enough (not quite in the right place--I wanted to sing it in my head, but instead I sang it in my throat and chest. A typical reaction when I'm thrown off or nervous, and something else I'd like to work on)--and I wasn't even all that nervous (more thrown off), it ultimately sounded awful because the piano was doing something rather different to what I was doing. I could see it in the faces of the auditioners and almost wanted to laugh. After all, they had been warned it was Sondheim, and they had these frozen, polite expressions on their faces as if they were thinking something along the lines of "Is it supposed to sound like this because it's Sondheim or has something gone terribly wrong?"

At any rate, because I didn't freeze up and felt pretty good about my own performance there, I'm not devastated that I'll likely not get in. In fact, it was pretty funny and I'm still chuckling as I think about it--and about their expressions as I was singing.

I can just chalk this up to experience and figure that if I use this song again (I likely will because I love it, it's unusual, a great character piece and demonstrates a knowledge of musicals), it will be a capella, with perhaps just a starting note to get me going.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 7:04 PM::::



Audition... And the Tipping Point ~ Friday, January 12, 2007

BTW, I am auditioning this weekend for a community theatre production of Titanic: The Musical. Colour me freaked.

In fact, it's a busy weekend all 'round: a concert tonight and a review to write for The Record, the Dream Auction at UU tomorrow, at which I'm singing and Tom is playing, and then the audition on Sunday.

And I'm still frantically working on the mss. ACK! Freaked indeed. :-(

Time to go meditate.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:39 AM::::


Thus far, The Tipping Point is interesting. As mentioned before (in my other blog), it appears to be about those memes that reach a certain stage of saturation, so that an idea, phenomenon or trend suddenly goes from being the domain of a small group to being a widespread social reality. He essentially argues (as is the case, I believe, with the meme argument) that these ideas or social phenomena behave in the same way as do epidemics, following a similar pattern of transmission and spread.

It is also interesting to contrast this book with Gladwell's next work, Blink. Although I was complaining a few days ago about the sense of slick packaging and catchiness that seems endemic in this sort of popular non-fiction, it would seem that The Tipping Point was on the leading edge of such packaging trends. It therefore only has it in to only a minimal degree (in the form of the catchiness and intrigue of a concept like "the tipping point"--far more interesting-sounding than "Memes: Survival of the Fittest" or something like that, IMO). It's funny to realise that the past six years (or so) have seen such a sea change in the way that popular non-fiction has been packaged and marketed.

And yet... here it is. The Tipping Point is far less readable. It plods somewhat. It has neat ideas, but few personalities. It stays within the realm of stats, ideas, discoveries and (so far, at least) doesn't put faces to names or images to places mentioned. Blink, by contrast, demonstrates a major change in Gladwell's style and method of presentation. It very much falls into the category of "creative non-fiction." Usually, each chapter or section in which an interesting experiment or breakthrough is discussed begins with a description--either of a place or of the person associated with these experiments (e.g.--not an excerpt--"John Doe is a retiring man of slight build. His eyes glance away when he shakes hands, and so his voice comes as a surprise: rich, deep and commanding." Or "on the surface, it seems like the kind of playground you'd find in any neighbourhood that had once seen better days. But this place is different.").

Of course, the latter style is far more compelling. He also tends to insert more direct quotes into his explications, breaking up the presentation of concepts through this sort of variation. Lastly, he dramatizes. So for instance, in The Tipping Point, he'll make the point about epidemics by saying (again, these aren't direct quotes cause I'm too lazy to go and get the book, but this is the general idea), "X number of people used this clinic and it was determined that of those people, only Y number of them were actually in a position to transmit the disease."

In Blink, he'll begin his point about how, during states of heightened tension, we move into a more reactive, less reflective mode that is dangerous and mistake-prone in high stakes situations like this, "When Joe Bloe arrived home that night, he was exhausted. He ate a weary meal and then decided to step out onto the front stairs for a breath of fresh air. It was a beautiful, clear evening..." etc. Eventually, the anecdote winds around to, say, a tragic shooting--but we still don't know where he's going with it. The pages that follow explain why--according to his interpretation--the shooting took place (e.g. what the physiological and psychological reactions might have been under the circumstances), and now we begin to see why he began with the story, how it all ties in and so on. We also have higher stakes in understanding how this phenomenon works, because we're emotionally engaged and horrified and eager for insight into how such a terrible thing could have happened. It's undeniably effective.

So yes, though I feel irritated--and often manipulated--by some elements of the "creative non-fiction" approach to packaging and promotion, in the case of newer non-fiction trendy reads ("Rogue economist" working at the University of Chicago, hey?!), I have to admit, I do like the greater degree of readability. I'll give 'em that, at least. ;-)

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:53 AM::::



Doesn't taste the same, it is the same: Syrup and Blink ~ Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A while ago, Tom read a book called Syrup by Max Berry (Barry?). It's about a bunch of marketing people at Coke. After he told me a bit about it, I decided to read it as well. Kind of a Gen X but even catchier, more sound-byte oriented and, IMO shallower. I haven't yet decided whether I felt the book was shallow or simply the characters (including the first person narrator). Certainly, the book is satirical, but my internal jury's out on whether it's fluffy and superficial satire or whether there's some remote chance that there might be some depth hidden in there. I'm tempted to conclude that there isn't.

Still, it's an amusing and clever read (though many of the bigger resolutions are of the "we have an insurmountable challenge so we'll just do [list of impossible to accomplish tasks, presented as if they're the easy part of the scheme--a mere twitch of the nose] and then everything's good" variety). It's about the advertising industry.

A few examples of clever dialogue:

Guy invites his style-conscious dream girl out for dinner at a dive-y joint in the uncool part of town:
Her: Isn't that a country and western bar?
Him: Yeah, but it's secretly ironic.

When discussing a new product put out by Coke, called Coke White (IIRC. Btw, this was before Coke released their product Bl:ak):

Her: It's the same product, but in a white can--for our upscale market, so it costs twice as much.
Him: So it tastes exactly the same?
Her: No, I didn't say tastes the same. I said it is the same.

Which gave me a chuckle. Still, I didn't devote a lot of time to this idea, writing it off as a flippant half-truism. But then today, while reading Blink, I was reminded of this point because Gladwell talks about studies that have been conducted that seem to show that this is precisely the case. The packaging of a product actually affects how we perceive it tastes. So, when they changed the shade of green (adding more yellow to the dye) on some "test market" SevenUp cans, people who were given it to taste in its can actually said stuff like "No, this is more lemony--I like the old SevenUp better, so don't start messing with that like you did with the New Coke."

It was exactly the same recipe in the can, yet for some reason, it seems that packaging imagery and style gets conflated with the product within. Doesn't taste the same indeed.

My two-sentence summary of Blink: Your eyeblink impressions of people and situations often have a lot of validity--except when they don't. So, trust your instincts, except in those circumstances where they're leading you up the garden path.

A lot of interesting little notes and experiments, but not quite what Gladwell promised in the intro--which was something a little more useful, like how to make those instincts work for you.


I notice that this is the latest trend (part of the catchy packaging of non-fiction)--the "teaser" introduction, following this approximate structure:

1) outrageous, mysterious or puzzling anecdote or trend

a)"how is this possible?"

b) quick hint of why, with promise of deeper and more profound enlightenment later

2) second, diverse but similarly astonishing anecdote or trend

a)"how is THIS possible?"

b) a further hint about central idea.

3) a couple more hooks and tantalizing ideas to keep you reading.

I suppose this works well enough, but I have to admit, I found Bevin Alexander's old-fashioned "here is my central thesis and approach" introduction, followed by his book's worth of specific examples quite refreshing by comparision. My feeling was "THANK YOU for getting to the point, rather than trying to keep me dangling with these irritating and catchy little tidbits." But presumably that's just me, because books like Blink and Freakonomics have spawned countless memes and are chart-topping bestsellers, while few people have heard of How Great Generals Win.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 2:55 PM::::



Sketching and Syriana ~ Saturday, January 06, 2007

I took a class in sketching today. It was neat. It once more showed me that I am not necessarily gifted with the patience and devotion to the craft that would be required for me to get somewhere with it. It underscored that it really is just developing that skill--learning to eyeball distances and perspectives and to measure them in meaningful ways that will serve as useful shortcuts for transposing life into image. I suspect I will still dabble. I did realise that if I applied myself I would, at least, be not too bad and possibly even pretty good at it. Perhaps not an innovator, but technically proficient and able to do a few decent piece to hang on my wall.

But, I also realised that at this point, I'm not willing to commit the time that I'd need to developing that skill. I'll try for five-ten mins per day, for a slow progression, but that may be it for the nonce. It did, as I otherwise hoped it would, further add to my respect for those who are accomplished with such things--and underscored that the reason someone like Carrie Greber can toss off a saleable canvas in a day or so is because she spent years working on colour, line and image. Years, developing her eye and her sense for how one shade of colour blends into another. It always seems so effortless and therefore so inaccessible to me as a skill, and so today for probably the first time, I could see the stretch of work and self-application required to reach the stage of apparent effortlessness. I might even be able to get to that point, but it would take a while.

Not that I hadn't been aware that this was the case--just as my ability to formulate sentences or write a short story in a day (or several hours) isn't a skill that has been just as diligently acquired from years of work. I know that. But today, for the first time, I saw that I might actually have the potential to get there, if I'm willing to commit a stretch of hours comparable to what I spend with the writing stuff. And honestly, I cannot imagine having as much fun with the drawing (it's hypnotic to be sure, but feels limited to me) as I do with the writing. Ergo, until I start thinking about it in a different way, writing will be my primary commitment of that sort and drawing a very very distant second.

We also saw Syriana today.

It was kind of neat; kind of confusing. It wasn't a big revelation to me and I thought it could have been more clearly and suspensefully done. Ultimately I liked it, but didn't love it. It's not like unmasking the corrupting was some deep insight, but I did like that there was no one specific villian of the piece, and most people were shown to be acting in what they felt was a reasonable way, in the context if his situation. It wasn't one of those "heh heh heh, what evil can I wreak today? I know! I'll scapegoat some lackey as a sleight of hand gesture in order to consolidate my big business and lotsa money position--and just cause it's a rotten thing to do." Each of the characters really did feel he was the hero of his own story and we saw them walk that tightrope of moral compromise (or even fall off) all the while believe that he did so for a bigger, better cause (family, country etc.). Nice to see that balance without any kind of attendant glorification.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 9:28 PM::::



Something Cool.... ~ Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Under Tuesday, November 28, on Robert J. Sawyer's blog. I actually got a mention. I'm rather chuffed about that. :-)

It's like the time I found out that there was a link to my article about Angela Carter listed right after a link to Salman Rusdie's piece about her on The Modern Word. I figured it was the only time my name would ever appear in any proximity to Salman Rusdie's. Also, I'm a big fan of The Modern Word website from back when it was the Libyrinth--so it was way cool to learn that someone there knew I existed, too.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:18 PM::::


An interesting film--made all the more interesting after viewing the short documentary about the actual Capote.

Hoffman (sp?) played Capote as a petulant, self-absorbed egotist who managed to gain entree into the lives and confidences of the people of the town by virtue of his previous writings as a novelist (the main investigator's wife was star struck). There didn't seem to be a strong rapport and Capote didn't seem to have a lot of compassion for anyone except himself.

It was difficult to see why people would like him--why he would have an attractive and likeable lover and why Harper Lee would voluntarily spend any time with him except on those occasions when he paid her to be his P.A.

As a film in itself (rather than something based on real events), there were a number of interesting elements that made it intriguing. First was the parallel between Capote and Perry Smith, one of the murderers. Capote at one point says that he and Smith could have been brothers, growing up in the same house, but "Smith left the house from the back door and I left from the front" (pardon any misquotes--unlike Capote, I do not have anywhere near 94% recall of conversations--nor have I tested myself).

And this is carried through. If Perry Smith's actions in murdering the family seemed to be in cold blood on the surface (but something darker and far more complex once one looks deeper), then the same could be said of Capote's actions in manipulating everyone in order to get the information he needed to construct his narrative. There is a calculation to him that feels almost sinister. He feels like an anti-hero.

There were a few really great moments--the big turning point between Perry and Capote during the latter's interviews. Also, the final face-to-face encounter between Capote and the killers, in which Capote faces his own monstrosity (based on his previous acts or lack thereof, and his desire for a clean resolution) in the face of the killers' understanding and compassion of him. It was powerful, IMO.

All the same, it was difficult to understand how a man like this fictional Capote could have won over the confidences of all these people and then have transformed those confidences into the ground-breaking, insightful final product (as described in the film; I'll confess I haven't read the book, but now am intrigued to do so--in fact, aside from having seen the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, and knowing Capote existed, I knew little about the man going into the film). He seemed far too self-absorbed and self-obsessed to be able to develop any insights into anyone else, as played by Hoffman.

But, this presented an interesting contrast to the vivid portrait conveyed of Capote in the brief documentary that was included as a bonus feature on the dvd. That Capote, while sharing some of the physical traits and peculiarities affected by Hoffman for the film, was an altogether different figure, as described by those who knew him.

Also self-absorbed, egotistical and undoubtedly sullen at times, when the peculiarities were placed in the context of the man himself, suddenly they made sense (in a brief clip of an interview with him). Suddenly, the charm became visible--a kind of likeability in his manner and quirks, he seemed like someone who would make you smile, even if you might think him a bit of a self-absorbed jerk at times. There was also an earnestness and a vulnerability to the man that Hoffman's portrayal didn't include.

And though his books might have gained him some initial sort of entree into the community, friends and biographers alike seemed to feel that he was a man who was deeply interested--and indeed fascinated--by people. That he was one of those people who, when you caught his interest, was so engaged that he made you feel like you were the only person in the room. They also seemed to agree that he became deeply attached to everyone involved with the case--that he genuinely cared about them.

Very little of this came through in the film, though I bought the idea that his fame and his manipulations were what allowed him to learn things, whereas the glimpse provided by the documentary of the real Capote seemed far more intriguing--a blend of self-absorbtion and kindness or compassion.

And so, I'll be adding Capote's work and perhaps his biography to my "to look into someday" list. :-)

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 12:44 PM::::


P r o f i l e

Anduril Elessar
Susan Deefholts

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