Archive for July, 2012

The Great Race (DVD Review)

Cover, The Great RAce

This is one of the three 60’s comedies I play when I want a good laugh. Unlike Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines or Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies it does not really have an international cast, and is clearly a satire of movie stereotypes. It was based (very loosely) on a real event, an auto race from New York to Paris via Alaska.

In the real race, the first car to Alaska made it to Alaska via steamboat and was stopped by mud, not drifting sea ice. (Having driven the south end of the Richardson highway even after its paving, and knowing that there is still no summer overland access to Nome, where the cars were supposed to cross the sea ice to Siberia, I find it incredible that cars actually finished. The race was rerouted after the first car found the Alaskan “roads” impassible to allow steamship passage to Asia.) The geography of the movie makes no sense at all, especially drifting across the Pacific on an ice floe.

The movie version features three principal characters, all extreme stereotypes. Tony Curtis plays the Hero, the Great Leslie (cheers!) always in spotless white, with sparkling eyes and teeth, always succeeding in his daredevil stunts. Jack Lemmon is the mustachioed villain Professor Fate (boos and hisses), always wearing black, always failing in his daredevil stunts, and hating The Great Leslie. Natalie Wood is the suffragette newspaper reporter Maggie DuBois (wolf whistles) determined to cover the race start to finish, even if it means planting herself on one or the other (she switches off) of the contestants.

The hero and villain have sidekicks, of course. The Great Leslie’s is Horatio, a strong, silent, mechanical genius who is very much not impressed by Maggie. Professor Fate’s is Max, whose loyalty is somewhat surprising under the circumstances and whose obedience all too often leads to disaster.

The movie is full of things that, like cartoons, seem reasonable but are not — like the rocket-propelled railway carriage that goes so fast it starts flying. Or the “iceberg” that stays comfortably horizontal. I still wonder how the director managed to have the polar bear climb into Professor’s Fate’s car.

I think my favorite scene (though it’s difficult to choose just one) is the great and carefully choreographed pie fight. Choreographed? How else can you explain how The Great Leslie’s clothing stays spotlessly white in the midst of cream pies flying in all directions?

This is by no means a serious film, but it’s still wonderful satire.

Supernova 1987A (Hubble)This is a continuation from last week, still from War’s End. End of the war, maybe, but not of the complications it has caused! Coralie is able to hear the others who were with her on the ship, but the jungle is too dense for her to see them, or even to be sure of the direction of their voices.

Kelty sounded disgusted.  “I’m hung up in a tree.”

If Kelty couldn’t move from wherever he was, they’d better try to find him. “Bounce,” Coralie said, “find Kelty.”She held the image of Kelty in her mind as she spoke, hoping the dog wold be able to lead her to the pilot.

The little dog turned in place, nose high.

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They bury their dead.

It seems terribly messy and unhygienic to me, leaving their bodies to be eaten by burrowing animals and worms, but they dressed Storm Cloud in all her shamanic regalia, wrapped her in a tanned antelope skin, and lowered her body into the pit they had dug. Then each of her descendants filed by the pit to add some small offering—mostly foodstuffs—before they filled in the pit with earth. I gave her the shell I had found by the sea.

By their beliefs, they are honoring her, just as we honor our dead by teleporting their bodies into our sun. It seems very strange to me, but our ways would clearly be impossible for them, and they must dispose of bodies in some way.

I teleported back to the shelter when the funeral was over, both to update this journal and to think. Does it make sense to stay here? I know now that this is beyond the range over which the People normally wander, even in good years. Would it not make more sense to move the solar panels and the computer to the vicinity of the lake? It is not quite as stable as here; the lake is in a rift valley. But I can perceive magma rising, and surely I could avoid eruptions.

Rain Cloud has told me that while they very the exact site of the gather, it is always somewhere along the shores of the lake, and if I chose to have a place there, they would find it much easier to locate me. He even suggested that Meerkat, who no longer has a group and cannot live by herself, could serve me. I am not so sure about that.

Here are some of the books recommended during the Summer Arts Festival creative writing class. This list will be added to in the future. Participants: if you have books that should be added, contact me.

Books on Writing

Writing Brave and Free  by Ted Kooser and Steve Cox
The Pen and the Bell by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes
The Mindful Writer by Dinty Moore
Turning Life Into Fiction by Robin Hemley
The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
The Writing Habit by David Huddle
Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan
The Mind’s Eye by Kevin Clark
Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
Bone Deep in Landscape by Mary Clearman Blew
Writing the Sacred into the Real by Alison Hawthhorne Deming

Other Books (Alaskan, Instructors, Participants)

Leaving Resurrection by Eva Saulitis
Steam Laundry by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell
Double Moon by Margo Klass and Frank Soos (Creative Writing instructors in the past)
A Measure’s Hush by Anne Coray
The Poet’s Guide to the Birds Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser
The City Beneath the Snow by Marjorie Cole
The Rabbits Could Sing by Amber Flora Thomas
The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife by Joan Kane
Just Breathe Normally by Peggy Shumaker
The Farther Shore by Rob Davidson
Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark
Gorrill’s Orchard by Jeanne E. Clark
Field Observations by Rob Davidson
Bicycling Beyond the Divide by Daryl Farmer

Note that the deadline for the Ode to a Dead Salmon contest is approaching!

Peggy ShumakerA very quick post today, as I have to take off at noon tomorrow. Our first teacher this morning was Peggy Shumaker, the state poet laureate and for many years in charge of the creative writing program, which she initiated. She passed around a number of books by Alaskan authors. She then handed out a poem, “Forms of Love,” by Kim Addonizio, and challenged us to write a poem using the words “I love you” and making them fresh. Peggy will be giving the sampler class tomorrow afternoon, where we will have a number of additional students for a single afternoon. She will also teach for an hour Friday, but I won’t be able to make either. If I have time, I’ll add her additional book recommendations to the list that will go up Thursday.

Rob discussed the importance of titles, pointing out that they may supply a hook, give information, location, or theme, establish tone or create expectation. He handed out a poem by James Wright, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” as an example of a poem where the title give information critical to understanding the poem. He listed a number of other Wright titles that do similar work.

As an in-class assignment he gave us a number of titles, and challenged us to write a poem fitting the title. His list was:
Can You Feel It?
Don’t Think About it Anymore
Family Mistakes
Guys Like That
How to Hurt Them
I Am Born
The Kindergarten Teacher
Little Sister
My Father’s Women
No Sleep For You, Baby
Places I Might Be Going
Rainy Morning, September 17th
Something to Remember Me By
Thank You For Saving My Life
Ugly Children
Where Are You Taking Me?
You Must Relax!
The Zodiac

Jeanne revisited the Viet Nam poem from yesterday, and handed out a new one: “the Unwritten” by W. S. Merwin. She had us take the objects we brought as part of today’s assignment, get inside the object and let it get inside you, and write a piece in the present tense.

Home Play assignments in all cases were to complete the drafts started in class.

In the afternoon, we each read something we had written and then, in honor of Bill Kloefkorn, met at Hot Licks for ice cream..

Cover, Horn CrownThese are the quotes tweeted from @sueannbowling over the past week. The first four are from Horn Crown, by Andre Norton; the next two are from The Crystal Gryphon, also by Andre Norton.

“Go in peace, though that is not what you will find, for it does not lie within you.” The dryad speaking to Elron.

“All things must balance in any world.” Gathea, trying to explain the Horn-Crowned One to Elron.

“We must fight fear lest we vanish into nothingness.” Elron, facing dark evil.

“You cannot compress years of learning into a few words here and now.” Gathea is saying that she cannot teach Elron what he needs to know, but it strikes me that our politicians try to do it all the time.

The Crystal Gryphon, Cover“Knowledge is what every man should seek, and knowledge of himself most of all.” Riwal, the Wise Man, speaking to Kerovan when Kerovan seeks him out as a child.

“They are afraid of that which they cannot touch, see, taste, hear or otherwise clearly perceive.” Abbess Malwinna, speaking of her occasional ability to foresee the future.

“Had the near-breakdown of society gone hand in hand with the elimination of pets?” Bowling, “Death of a Dog.” The protagonist is a retired scientist who believed — and published — that dogs helpd humanity evolve.

Today was Deryl’s last day, as he is leaving for a conference tomorrow. Peggy is back, and will be taking his slot.

Deryl  Farmer whacking a mole.

During the break.

He read several of our “stories” from yesterday, with five people each adding a line.

He then handed out three short-short stories for us to read. Ever have one of those moments when you are sure that particular piece of paper must be with the rest, and it isn’t? That’s me, today. In fact all of my handouts seem to be missing. I’ll have to borrow the handouts from someone tomorrow and put in the exact names of the stories and poems.

As an in-class writing assignment, he then had us write a short piece on our first job, including a single incident and a surprise turn. (I’ll put mine in comments.)

The session ended with what has become a tradition at the creative writing class: a game of Whack-A-Mole.

Rob talked about openings. I learned a new word: profluence, or moving the story forward. He pointed out that dialogue is one thing that moves at the pace of the story, neither speeding up nor slowing down. But we were cautioned to avoid “talking heads;” dialogue needs to be interspersed with action to put the reader in the story. He used as an example “Westland,” by Charles Baxler. As homeplay, we are to write a scene between two characters.

Jeanne mentioned several mindful writing books brought by Peggy. I’ll post the list to go live on Thursday, since I won’t have time to post Thursday or Friday.  As homeplay we are each to bring in an object that has an interest or value to us. We spent most of the session discussing a poem by Yusef Komuyakaa, “Facing It,” about the Viet Nam War Memorial. (No, I can’t find that handout either, but I googled the poem.)

Afternoon was individual conferences. I gave Rob the first few pages of each of the three books of my trilogy. The one I’ve worked hardest on he said needed more grounding—i.e., I’ve cut too much. I think I see how to fix it.

Our first class was with Deryl, who discussed structure as five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. He illustrated with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As an exercise, he had us reach write an exposition in one sentence, pass it to the person on their right who then had to write the rising action in one sentence, and so on until we had a number of sheets, each written by five people. The results will be read (cringe) tomorrow.

Jeanne Clark and Rob Davidson

Jeanne and Rob in our classroom. This was not flash, hence the blur.

Rob had us read things we wrote out over the weekend. For home play we are to write an opening paragraph.

Jeanne read us “5th Grade Autobiography” by Rita Dove. She then handed out two poems: “Catching Songs,” by Robert Childers and “Elegy Ending in a Dream,” by Patrick Phillips. She had us tell her as many things as we could about the second poem and got almost a board full of responses. This was a “call and response” poem, with the first line of each couplet starting with “I thought” and the second line showing (usually rather obscurely) some difference in feeling now. The second lines are in present tense, the first in past tense. Our home play assignment is to take something or someone you have been unable to write about and write 5 or 6 couplets about it, using the call-response format with the first line of each couplet starting with “I thought.”

Sheila Sanderson

Sheila Sanderson in class. Again blurred because I was using available light in an underground classroom.

We had a guest for the afternoon session: Sheila Sanderson, editor of Alligator Juniper and author of Keeping Even, a collection of her poems. She read us a number of her poems: “Never and Always,” “The Stopping Place,” “High Desert Arizona,” “Barefoot along the North Atlantic,” “Rift Valley,” “Conspiracy in White,” “Keeping Even” (the title poem) and “Only One Place to be: Hell or Kentucky.”

She then gave us “Ode to the Maggot,” by Yusef Komunyakaa, and as an exercise had us write either an ode to the unlovely, or to think of something for which you have a particular fondness and note details as to why you are fond of it, and then use those details to write a piece “In disgust of_____.”

After that she gave us two poems allegedly written on odd things: “Written on the Stub of the First Paycheck,” by William Stafford, and “Poem Written on the Back of Bad Directions to Your House,” by Jason Fitschen. A third poem, “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams, was an example of an apology for something you weren’t really sorry for. As a second class exercise she had us write either a poem supposedly written on some strange thing or an insincere apology.

Tomorrow afternoon will be our individual conferences with the instructors, and the afternoon after that will be class participants’ readings (6 to 8 minutes each.)

9:27 pm: Don Gray just e-mailed me and asked me to include this link: which refers to anaphora as a technique in rhetoric.

ZucchiniThe sun rose at 4:22 this morning, and will set at 11:30 tonight for 19 hours 8 minutes of daylight. At solar noon, at 1:57 pm today, the sun will be just halfway up the sky, at 45°. It still don’t quite get as dark as civil twilight, though that’s only going to be true for about 4 more days. As cloudy as it’s been lately, it actually gets fairly dark.

Yesterday it cleared off and actually got fairly warm – my sister in Sierra Vista, Arizona said it was warmer here than in Sierra Vista! They must have been having a cold wave. I still don’t think we made it to 80 yesterday or in fact on any day in July. At least the garden is getting watered! Today is supposed to be cloudy again.

Delphinium spikes

My tall delphiniums. The two salmon heads are lynchis, and the lattice is 7′ high.

What with the creative writing classes and the rain the garden has been pretty much left to itself, but I did get the beans and the zucchini picked yesterday. I think I’ll take the excess to class today, and if any is left over take it to the food bank.

I swear the delphiniums grow taller every year. This year the base of the flower stalks are mostly above my head and the tips, not yet open, are a good foot above the 7 foot lattice. It wouldn’t surprise me if some reached 9 feet. The lilies are well budded, and the lynchis is blooming. I’m pretty sure the lighter shade is a hybrid with the salmon lynchis, though the flower heads look quite different.

NGC 1512 in visible light (Hubble)Once again I’m posting from War’s End, a continuation from last week. Coralie has now heard most of the others from the ship, but she can’t see them, and she still has no idea of where they are or how they got there.

Cautiously she [Coralie] got to her feet.  The ground was soft, but felt solid underneath the surface goo.

“Madame Irela?” Kelty called.

“Here.  Is everyone else in this bog, too?”

“In or over, I think.”

Over? Where is he?

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