Tuesday, January 27, 2015

First snow of the winter

Mere overnight dustings that are gone before noon don't count as real snow. That's all we've had until last night. The warnings were for a blizzard named Juno -- since when did they start naming blizzards?  I've missed something.  I was not really convinced. 24 hours later I am convinced. This was a blizzard, it blew all  night and all day. Often I could not see across the street. The blowing is confusing because a lot of what is blowing has already fallen and is not adding to the accumulation  I think by now it's 12 to 15 inches.  Happily the blowing kind of storm sweeps the snow off the cars -- the top, the hood, the windshield. But it allows some drifts to accumulate between parked cars. I don't intend to survey the situation until at least tomorrow afternoon when it is supposed to be sunny.  I don't really need to go anywhere until Friday so I can be relaxed about the whole thing.

I was very relaxed until about a quarter of four when the electricity went out.  Oh-oh, it was getting a bit dark and I thought having something for dinner is no problem except it won't end with hot coffee. But after dinner I'm in limbo because I cannot read by mere candle light. I can do a little writing in long hand -- but am so unaccustomed to doing that that about all I'd dare try to write would be a poem and I had not sense of a poem coming on.  So I'd do some very slow tai chi and go to bed quite early.  I was accustoming myself to that plan while being hopeful. Then hope was fulfilled about 4:30 when the electricity came back on. I did have hot coffee at the end of a warm dinner.  And it's still on and I'm hoping for it to last.  When I was in the post office yesterday as the snow was just beginning, the pleasant clerk said to me as I was leaving, "may power be with you."  This wasn't about sci-fi. 

Photo above is from last year. Perhaps tomorrow will be clear enough so I can take a walk in cliched "winter wonderland" and get some up to date photos. We'll see, for now, I'm going to get into cozy PJs and settle down with a throw over my lap and the current book in my hand.  I know just where the candle and matches are and where the little flash light is too. Eventually both will be on the bedside table.

I wonder when they started naming blizzards. This one being called Juno it must have been nine storms again, unless they're suddenly very random or following the Roman pantheon instead of the alphabet.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dersu Azala

Dersu Azala is an Oscar winning (best foreign film - sometime, I think, in the '70s) It is by Okiro Kurasawa. Set in the forests of Siberia, not far from what was then the Chinese border, it is a beautiful movie, possibly the most beautiful and wonderful I've ever seen. A movie that could not be made by an American because we expect more action, less goodheartedness -- we expect a musical sound track which this doesn't have.

Dersu Azala is a Goldi tribesman whose wife and children died in a small pox epidemic. He has lived as a hunter in the forest for many, many years. He knows the territory and its denizens.  When a Russian surveying team come -- and are mostly lost -- he meets them, agrees to be their guide and becomes very close the captain, a thoughtful and good man himself.  Dersu saves his life more than once.  One the whole group of soldiers save Dersu's life. The shots of forest, rivers, sunsets, a blizzard are beautiful.  The captain keeps notes and later writes a memoir and when Dersu's eyes go and he loses the ability to shoot an animal needed for food, he becomes irrasible and eventually takes the Captain's offer to live in the small town in the forest, but he cannot standing being indoors and can't comprehend the rules and laws and ways of the city.  The friendship and the basic way of caring for the forest anc its animals, including the tigers, is rarely talked about anywhere and I've never seen it so beautifully done in a movie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Film Festival

The midwinter event for ACademy for Lifelong Learning is a mini-film festival.  It began yesterday with Smilla's Sense of Snow which I had never seen and really knew little about although I attempted to read the book when it first came out.  The title intrigued me as did the idea of  movie partly about Greenland with some Inuit people  So it was but I was bothered when it turned into an action film with our obsessed heroine taking impossible chances and getting into a variety of physically difficult situations and the discovering the plot was around a fictional power/explosion producing "meteor" in an ice cave in Greenland. In other words this was a snowy action film with a lovely heroine who never put a hat on her head in the most frigid weather.  Ugh!

The afternoon film was Dr. Zhivago which I saw way back in 1965 after having read the book a few years earlier. It, like the former film, was actually shot in Canada and Spain.  I suppose all the Russian history was a bit more relevant back then in the Cold War but Zhivago was an impossibly good man, Lara an inpossibly good and lovely woman and all cavalry action was ugly and brutal and unfortunately believable. It was ridiculously long -- three and a half hours.

I came home emotionally drained.  I don't go to action movies -- hate the unreality, do not ever go to movies simply to be entertained, excited by danger, or impossible romances.  I was deeply unhappy about this first of three days with two more to come.  So I'm skipping this morning's movie, Joyeux Noel -- more war, albeit with a heart-warming hiatus  for the French and German soldiers of WWI to show some Christian love on Christmas Day before they go back to murdering one another.  No! I can't handle more war at all. 

I will go in the afternoon to see Dersu Azala which I saw only two years ago in the foreign film series and loved.  More cold Russian forests but a story not told through the American sensibilities rather by Kawabata. It's not Japanese but about the eponyous tribal man who helps Russian surveyors in the forests of Siberia.  It's a noble savage story with Dersu being the one who is wise in the ways of nature and kind to the lost surveyors who, of course, eventually lead to his death.

I will miss the Thursday morning showing of Snow Falling on Cedars which I've never seen and never tried to read the book because it seemed hopelessly saccharine from the reveiws. But I will go t the afternoon show which I've seen only clips from, Groundhog Day and feel I should see the whole thing since it's become a comic classic. So much for the festival which I think was a good idea.  The first week of February the spring free weekly foreign film series will begin and that's always fine. I don't watch TV, I don't do any of the various ways one can watch films on the computer -- I would always rather read than watch  (especially on a very small screen -- so these series attract me, partly for what I've missed that's become  part of the lore of our period.  Of course I go to the new films at the nearby art cinema when they attract me.  By this age I've honed my tastes and tend to be careful with how I spend my time.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Have I Become a Canadian?

I have occasionally gone to a web site called "I Write Like". One simply copies into the site a page or two of something and immediatly it spits out who your writing is like. It's a fun site but it's come up with such oddities for my writing as Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, and Stephen Crane.  I feel no affinity to any of them and am unsure what about the samples an algorithm could have selected.

However, I've just finished writing a longish short story with five different characters, each in segments of their own. I was wondering if each has a specific "voice" or style. So this morning I input a segment about a couple, he with PTSD and she a dental hygienist.  What was spit out at me was "I write like Cory Doctorow". Who? I never heard of him. But Wikipedia tells me his a living Canadian who blogs, writes essays and publishes current topic books as well as quite a few YA sci-fi novels. I went to his blog and liked what I read. I do not read YA novels or sci-fi either. Perhaps we have a somewhat similar attitude toward people with psychic problems and caring spouses. Who knows?  Not me.

A short while ago, finishing off a punctuation directed reading of the short story, I copied into I Write Like a section about an elderly woman and her care taker planning their day.  Comes back, in a blink of the computer's virtual eye, "I write like Margaret Atwood."  Another Canadian -- one whose work I am happy to be compared to but I see no similarities.  I can only wonder if I'm acquiring a Canadian mindset, or maybe it's phrasiology.

I think the moral of this story is don't believe anything one tells you about your own writing whether you are flattered or not.  I have my quirks and they have theirs and if there are similiaries, nice! We writers have to take an ounce of flattery anywhere we can get it.

Note: I am distraught that Wikipedia no longer lets me copy their photos of famous people onto another website, i.e., my blog. I don't believe for a minute that they're in the privacy business.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Imitation Game

In the historic biography film genre we sometimes get the subgenre of misunderstood genius. The Imitation Game fits that definition. I didn't see the recent film about Stephen Hawking but I remember A Beautiful Mind and the one about Alfred Kinsey and there are others of course. The Imitation Game which I saw yesterday is about more than Alan Turning, a mathematical genius, but about cracking the Enigma code of the Nazis and about inventing the computer. Coincidentaly it's also about England's institutions of public schools where so many boys turned to one another for affection and so many were later prosecuted for being gay (and many more had unhappy marriages). And the persecution probably lead to Turning's suicide.

This is a wonderfully acted movie, one feels often that scenes have been a bit over dramatized for the sake of action. The scene in which a coincidental secretary gives the clue that finally makes it possible to break the code with the huge computer is so obviously invented (even if it was just such a casual remark that  lead to the answer) one cannot believe it. Kira Knightly is so incredibly lovely she always steals scenes from the geeky, up-tight math geniuses and I continue to wonder if there was a woman in the group at all or if that was needed by the scriptwriters.

The basic story of breaking the code is the action part, the added on flash backs and flash forwards that are plot devices are awkwardly obvious. But the moral story is to be pondered long after the writing is dismissed as what they do to make movies. Once the code is cracked Turning realizes (with startling immediacy) that they must not use it to save a convoy in the Atlantic, they must use it statistically to determine how to keep it secret from the Germans that they've cracked the code. If they allow many German victories. We are told in an afterward note that they may have shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives. These are statistics and not facts. We also get a hint of the extent of the Russian spy network in England's intellectual classes and of the odd sort of paranoia that spying organizations maintain (everywhere it seems).  The government did not admit they had cracked the Enigma code until 1998. And Turning, dead in the 1940s was then knighted posthumously.  It's a movie  to ponder on many levels.

Monday, January 12, 2015

An odd and creative sort of vest

This piece of textile -- a soft sort of fleece, printed on both sides, same design  but with colors reversed -- looks quite odd as a circle with two holes in it. Putting arms through the holes, flipping the excess material over the shoulders makes a shawl collar. The back part dips into a rounded hem. This was a choice use of a gift certificate to the Sea Breeze shop on Hyannis's Main Street, a store Rachel and I browse maybe once a summer, ooh and ahh over the the interesting fabrics and colors and cuts -- clothing with an individuality we have not found in other stores -- but a wee bit above our financial comfort zone. However with a gift certificate I browsed all the sweaters which were 20% off but, having many sweaters. I decided this was the one-of-a-kind garment I wanted from that store. It can be worn with the turquoise background out or the black -- it needs to be worn with black sweater and pants.  No problem, as I have several of each,

I may have been doing a mini-rant about the younger fashions a few days ago, however I think this is fashionable, quirky and my kind of thing. My shoes were my usual flat ones.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Getting Old and Set In One's Way

The phrase "getting old and set in his way" is something I've heard, it seems, all my life.  Usually it means someone resistant to new ideas  -- for instance no computer, still using a typewriter or even a pen to write; still eating Wheaties and horrified by sushi -- that sort of thing.

I think some "set ways" have me in their grasp.  For a few years now I've been horrified by four inch high heels.  Long slender legs are gorgeous but walking around tip toe seems masochistic to - and I notice here, far from the centers of fashion, not many people wear any kind of high heels. I'm glad I live here and can always wear flat shoes.

Lately especially, I've been thinking about hair -- because I need either a cut, and soon! or about two inches more so I can do an old fashioned French twist or a bun of some sort -- now THAT is old fashioned! I've also always sort of wanted a long white braid laying neatly along my spine. In the lsat week I've noticed two of my most fashion conscious friends are doing their collar length hair with that straight, wispy-ends waif-like style. It's fairly subtle on them and note unattractive -- they are very attractive women in the first place -- but I'm appalled. That wispy, sometimes uncombed look (my friends look combed, I must say) seems unkempt and childish. And unless the wearer is very attractive, women look messy.  I can't wait for this style to disappear and for more women in more parts of the country to rebel against those high, high heel (and I hope there are a lot of orthopods being graduated from medical schools because they are going to be needed).

Style is mainly for the young, always has been, I think, but even the fashion magazines do their token issues displaying styles of various decades although after 60 all fall in the same category: old and very conservatively "stylish". I suppose that's how it should.  We want to look nice and at least a little stylish, but, gee whiz, so many other things are more important and most of us know what's comfortable for us. Often it's very short hair, flat shoes (too often sneakers, but that's my prejudice), soemtimes bright colors or interesting jewelry, one friend has a signature pearl necklace, a few have signature bright red lipstick.  We have style -- although it may reflect how we've become set in our ways.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Laugh Therapy

Who was it many, many years ago who was very ill in the hospital, who then discovered that watching TV comedy shows was the medicine that made him well?  I think I read it in a Reader's Digest and I know I haven't read a Reader's Digest (not even a  doctor's waiting room) for at least 35 or 40 years.  Laughter does wonderful things to the brain chemistry and apparently to the body chemistry too. Oh, I remember, his name was Norman Cousins.

A newish writing group to which I belong kind of whittled down from 12 to 6 members at the end of summer, has proved to be both a welcome, sometimes challenging, writing assignment every two weeks, but also a laughter-as-therapy session.  We are not deeply seious writers trying to help one another produce publication worthy stories and essays.  We write for the love of putting words together, not always on the prompt but always for the pleasure of writing itself.  Before, during and after taking turns reading our work, we talk. So what else is new? Six women sharing, sometimes joking, very often laughing.

I leave feeling refreshed and "up" -- not from compliments about my wonderful writing -- we all enjoy each other's writing. We don't criticize, that's not the intent. The exercise of putting something on paper, or computer or IPad, making a form in which to tell a story, whether true or fiction, is a personal release and a discipline of a congenial sort. I came away yesterday thinking to myself,  here it is 2015 -- a year I once could not imagine living in. Once 2000 seems an impossible goal.  Yet some of the very best years of my life have occurred since 2000.  It sounds a bit silly to say I think I was always growing into being a mature woman. And now that I'm there, I see only more possibilities ahead of me. I expect to do a lot of laughing along the road ahead.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Journals, Diaries, Lists

When daily writing has been a nearly life-long habit, keeping a diary, or (as it's usually called today a journal) comes naturally. I also keep lists, in particular the little book to the left in the photo which is my list of books I've read since I graduated from college. In 2014 I read 75 books -- which doesn't include magazines (and I'm a magazine junkie).

At 12 I began keeping a diary -- a very dull diary, I had no literary leanings. My mother kept a little diary which had short lines like "planted peas." "Thunderstorm, no limbs down." I got a little more verbal when I began having crushes on boys and became concerned about clothes and appearance.  My high school and college diaries were somewhat more detailed --but far from literary. The diaries continued with variations up to this day.  When I moved from upstate NY to NYC, then divorced and getting rid of all the detritus of suburban life, I took a big old trunk in which were nearly all my writings to that date: diaries, prize essays, beginning plays and old penpal letters.

Not long after settling in NYC, using the trunk for a cocktail table, I read a classified ad in NYReview of Books asking for diaries from women who had been in high school and college in the '50s; they were wanted by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. I sent them a letter about my diaries, they said they wanted them. I did not reread them -- by then I was literary enough not to want to know just how dull and plodding my writing had been. So diaries from age 12 to 21 are in the library and I've been pleased in the last 8 or 10  years to hear from students that they dipped into my diaries and found a few tidbits that bolstered their theses about education or life of young women of that period. In fact, a couple of years ago a senior from Harvard drove down to Hyannis to interview me. It was disconcerting to realize that she knew things about my highschool self that I had managed to forget.

After some trying and confused years in mid--life I destroyed several years of diaries without reading them and I do not regret it. I've kept journals of the various foreign travels but I have not reread them either. In a time crunch, I reverted to my anything but literary style of writing and merely recorded where I was and what I saw. In fact, most of my diaries are of that sort.  Without the advantage of an early example -- I actually had a very un-literary education and so have not been one to agonize as it seems the famous diarists did over literary ambitions.

However the year I turned 65 I kept a very different daily record -- a visual "journal" in the form of a daily 4x6 inch quilts that recorded something essential about that day (10 or so actually are different ways to show visually that it rained). I do believe that daily writing about what you do or are thinking is a way to keep your feet on the ground and appreciate that each day is different even when a series of days could be considered borningly the same. I think I have a  sense of the importance of each day that many people do not although I can't say it has helped my memory for what year I did such-and-so.