Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Desktop Travelers

They say you should be careful what you wish for.  A while back I expressed a silent plea to the universe to send me more work--not the tedious, mind-numbing data input kind but something I actually enjoy--like transcription work. A few weeks ago a client found a box of old cassette tapes of conferences from 30 and 40 years ago, converted them to CDs and has been sending them, small batches at a time, ever since. 

Today a new client queried about my doing a lengthy, two-part interview, to be transmitted by a DSS file.  And so I'm spending a lot of time at the computer listening to voices and keyboarding speeches, dialogues, anecdotes, historical reports, ruminations, etc.  It's a mezmerizing world, where time passes so quickly: one minute you sit down with a morning cup of coffee, to begin; next thing you know it's supper time and you've somehow missed lunch.    I have to remind myself to go outside and, as they say here, "take the air".  Get some sun.  Walk or bike the stiffness off.

In the meantime, I've been doing a bit of traveling--vicariously, that is.  Yesterday I was at the beach. It was deserted and the sky and water and sand were just right.  I have no idea where it was.  I downloaded its image from the Google Images page and set it as my monitor's "wallpaper".

Today I'm in the little town of Llandudno in North Wales.  I'm changing my visual wallpaper every week or so now.  I have always wanted to go to Wales.  This is probably the only way I will ever be able to do so, seeing as how even wild horses couldn't drag me onto an airplane, nor could I afford the ticket.  I thank whoever it was who gave me the gift of unrelenting imagination, though. That you can look at a digital image and mentally put yourself there, be in the scene, not just observing the landscape but imagine feeling the brisk air, warmth of the sun, hear the sound of the rainfall on a tin roof, people talking in a language I can't understand.  That you can go anywhere, into the past, even. 

This happens also, from reading words in a book, or pulling some cherished memory out of the place it's stored in your head, and re-living it.  What I find amazing is that it's sometimes so vivid, you almost don't want to 'come back.'

Meanwhile, back to the grind, so to speak.  Voices from the machine are calling.  Keystrokes to go before I sleep (apologies to Frost).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reconciliation before Annihilation

 The Big Snit (1985) written and directed by Richard Condie and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

From the wonderfully wacky imagination of Winnipeg animator Richard Condie comes this tale of two simultaneous conflicts – the macrocosm of global nuclear war and the microcosm of a domestic quarrel – and how each is resolved.

The Big Snit won seventeen international awards, including the Grand Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival and a Genie Award for Animated Short Film. It was also nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Short. [1]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yesterday, out walking

Half sun-half cloud day, we decided to take a walk
down by the waterfront. 

I had seen this sign outside the library downtown Friday night.  Which is why we went yesterday - to check out the Festival de Contes et Légendes Traditionnel, a 3-day event celebrating the tradition of oral storytelling. [Those panels in the distance behind are part of an outdoor art exhibit in front of the library, titled "Code 7".]

This painting was on one of the panels,
by Québec artist Fontaine Leriche

In the lobby of the entrance to the library, 
suspended from the ceiling by near-invisible wires,
dozens of dancing stones 
[click to enlarge]

A short walk down Boulevard de Forges 
and you're at the Parc Portuaire.
Come on in, he says.

Making a carpet, the old-fashioned way, by hand.

Along the side (not in the picture), a row of animal skins
amid authentic artifacts from periods long past.
Sunglasses a modern addition to the costume.

How to hang a skin

Baking bread in an ancient (by today's standards) oven
What's a festival without cookies!

"I recommend these."

No, this is not a mini guillotine.
It's a kind of public stockade. This gentleman opted to try it out.

As did this one, except I saw his wife walking away, laughing.
You can't, of course, get out of this thing by yourself.
I think she came back.  But not right away.  :)

His little rug finished, he's now sculpting an axe handle.

Charlatans, vagabonds, and sinners alike,
a place just for them.

This transported portable 'confessional' (minus the priest) was next to a coffin being tended by this fellow, who said his name was "Baptist" (followed by four other family names I can no longer remember).  I asked him to pose inside the box, if he would be so kind, and he responded with an actor's flair, promptly kneeling, staff in hand (it was actually a broom), exhibiting an air of feigned remorse (and not a little pretended fright -- at what penance the invisible priest might dole out).  But these confession boxes are hardly a relic of the past.  They still exist.

A storyteller, spinning a tale.

She brought her drum to accompany her stories.

Going back out the way we'd come in,
exiting the entrance.
(like 'up-the-down-staircase' people.  :)

At the far end of the dock

 Dinner-cruisers on the St. Lawrence

On the way back to the car we spotted a new (to us) restaurant (formerly a church) called Le Sachristain.  It was closed. We stopped to have a peak at the menu.  They have a combo soup/salad/sandwich called "The Trinity."   Very reasonable prices.  They even share their recipes (on their blog, such as for Spanish tortilla tapas and the "perfect" rhubarb pie. Inside was a cosey dining room, a book-filled bookcase to the side by the window.  Have made a mental note to return, when it's open.
Near the big central post office, where we parked --
this statue.  I snapped the picture before I realized there's
something stuck to the soldier's gun.

I didn't have my glasses at the time, so couldn't read the sign but noted the FTQ in the upper left-hand corner (Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, representing the workers' union.  Canada Post is in lockdown after a series of strikes by postal workers.  We passed a mailbox on our way back; it was bolted shut.  Who knows when mail delivery will resume.

Heading home . . .
another statue

I don't know why but when I passed this alleyway, it drew my attention.  It wasn't the building, it was the 'scene':  that brilliant patch of sky juxtaposed between the the wall of windows looking down on a rather drab, concrete passageway.  Apart from the dancing stones at the library, I like this photo best.

Anyway, that was our Sunday afternoon at the port.  If you want to experience an aerial passover of the port (to the music of Bach), check out the video below.

(And this (below) is what it's like in the winter:  Mentally hang-glide along (without wind or frostbite!) as you 'fly over' looking down:

In winter you can go ice skating there [see the skate path, at 2:03], as the long walkway is frozen smooth, traffic-free, prepared specifically for that very purpose.  Even at the coldest, bleakest part of the year,  people regularly go and walk here, or sit on a bench and watch the ships come and go, the ice floes floating by, the skaters skating. 
It's a wonderful place, just you and the seagulls, the fresh air, the river.  I don't know, there's something about big rivers, and silence, and the 'air' of the north . . .  The way some people go on and on about hot sunny beaches or climbing to the top of a mountain or taking the highway on their motorcycle--we all have our favorite things.  This place, in the quiet early morning hours especially, is one of mine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers and Sons (and Daughters)

This was recorded a long, long while ago. Yusuf Islam
[formerly Cat Stevens] is a grandfather now himself.

To my Dad:
Thanks, too late to let you know.
Know that I understand now
and those traits you've passed on to me,
they've stood me well.

To my son:
Happy First Father's Day!!!!!!!

To my little grandsons:
Be who you are -- and pass on the love,
if and when you get to be fathers someday.

To all fathers everywhere, past, present, soon-to-be and future ones; stepdads, adoptive fathers, foster fathers and temporary fathers: 

Happy Dad's Day!

New poems up today on Salamander Cove, for, on, by, and about "Fathers".

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fun with Harmony #6

Ghost Faces, running out of space
[click to enlarge]

Goofing off again with Mr. Doob's Harmony Drawing Program.

Challenging, yes.  It's hard to draw with a mouse.  Noses come out deformed, color leaps from hair to face. You can't erase your mistakes:  a chin gone wrong becomes a scarf.  Art this is not--but it's fun . . . and relaxing.

It started out to be James Dean (but looks more like a bad attempt at a Dean Martin caricature).  His shoulders seemed off a bit--so I made them into the hair of two girls.  That gave me the idea to make it into a bunch of faces. The ones in the front could all be watching a movie.  Hanky-panky going on in the back seat to the left, a conversation at the right, a mercenary keeping guard at the rear. The poor frightened girl with what looks like a beard--it's not a beard.  Three tries at attempting a chin and I gave up and gave her a brown veil instead.  Her hair is supposed to be yellow.  (You call this yellow, Mr. Doob?!)  If that's what yellow comes out like, what must flesh-colored (for the faces) look like?  (You don't want to know.)  

The faces are too white.  They look ghastly.  Ghostly.  So I'm calling this Ghost Faces.

No more mail

Canada Post is in lockdown. Mail service has been suspended nationwide, after 12 days of rotating strikes from Canada Postal Union Workers. In response, Canada Post has shut the system down.

--All post offices staffed by CUPW members are closed.
--All mail processing plants and letter carrier depots are closed.
--Mailboxes have been sealed to prevent mail from being deposited.
--Mail Delivery is suspended.
--Effective immediately, all service guarantees are suspended.
--Canada Post cannot predict how long the current situation will last.

I'm trying to imagine a future without libraries, bookstores, and now, house-to-house mail delivery. Doctors used to visit patients at home. Now you have to make an appointment, in advance, and you have to go to them. They won't come to you.

Imagine no more home mail delivery where everyone is forced to rent a metal box in some big building downtown where you have to go every day just to get your mail. Email is making personal correspondence by letter ("Who does *that* anymore!?") obsolete. Some people complain they get 300 emails a day. You can't just delete junk mail delivered to your door, though. More fodder for the recycle bin. What a waste of a tree's life.

I miss getting mail, though. And I guess I can forget about sending out those packages already taped and ready to ship out. Wonder where they're storing all the mail till someone gives the go-ahead to go ahead and start delivering it again. I pity our poor mailman. He will need a bigger carry-bag. A little wagon, maybe.

Please--just don't lock down the Internet yet. I can't imagine being communicationless for a week. But with LulzSec, Stuxnet and Anonymous all creating havoc everywhere else in cyberdom, who knows what might happen next.

Meanwhile . . . the nation waits. Our mail is . . . somewhere.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Power of Persuasion

When my kids were growing up we had two little dogs named Harry and Zoe.  They went for their grooming to The Barking Lot--or should I say The Barking Lot came to them.  Although this name has apparently also been chosen for various dog-grooming services across the U.S. and Canada, this particular mobile pet-grooming van, equipped with a tub and all the fixings, was local and would arrive at our door and park outside the house.  The owner, Jimmy, was very good with animals and he had what they call 'the gift of gab', talking as he worked, before, after and during.  He recounted a story that today still stays with me, as an inspiration for those times when you may need to--but are unable to--persuade someone of something.

Jimmy was a busy guy--besides running his own little mobile pet-grooming business he worked with the local SPCA to try to find new owners for the more 'unadoptable' dogs--dogs nobody seemed interested in taking home with them:  older, fatter mutts, handicapped or with an offputting personality. He appeared, once a week, on a local TV channel with one of these desperate-to-be-adopted creatures and gave his sales pitch.  By the following week someone would have usually called in to adopt the animal.

There was one little dog, however, whom nobody seemed to want.  Try as he might, Jimmy couldn't convince anyone to take her.  I don't remember the breed but it was a small, yappy type that wasn't particularly cuddly.  By the third week, not a taker in sight, the director of the TV program called Jimmy into her office.  "You need to start showing another dog," she told him.

Jimmy was devastated.  They keeps dogs in the pound only so long, and if they're not adoptable ...   Animal shelters shelter an animal, they can't become their permanent home.  The little dog's space there was needed for one of the constantly arriving new abandoned, mistreated, rescued or 'donated' animals found or formerly owned.  Jimmy was at his wit's end.  He tried everything he could to find her a home.

They had reached an impasse.  Jimmy wasn't willing to just give up on the poor critter. He looked at the director, noticed her wavy, well-coiffeured, chestnut-colored hair.  It was not a color one saw often on a woman her age when the strands of white begin multiplying exponentially.  He looked back at the dog, then back at the director, and it came to him.

"You know," he said, "you two have exactly the same color hair!!!"

It was true.  The hair on the dog and the hair on top the woman's head were an exact match.  The director stared at the dog.  "You're right," she laughed.

I don't know what Jimmy said to her to convince her that she should be the one to adopt the dog.  Perhaps their personalities matched as well, hers and the dog's, and there was a moment of recognition there.  Perhaps she sympathized with Jimmy's plight and made this magnanimous gesture out of respect for what he was trying to do and in support of the program.  Who knows.  But she ended up agreeing to take the dog.

Jimmy had the dream to one day start a program to train inner-city youth to become dog groomers like himself.  It was a thriving business and there weren't a lot of mobile pet-grooming outfits around, which would give them an advantage.  He tried to get funding for such an enterprise.  I don't know if he was ever able to persuade the dispensers of state grants to support this endeavor, as this was a long, long time ago, but I like to think it eventually happened.

One often hears that phrase, "the power of persuasion".  Marketers sometimes focus on your perceived benefits from buying a certain product.   But what benefit would a yappy dog with a difficult personality be to anyone, regardless of its having the same color hair as you?  I don't think "power" was the element at play here.  Nor simply resonance ("That animal and I share a common feature" , whether hair color or personality). Maybe it was the gift of empathy (as in, not everyone is born with it; when not 'learned', just automatically "having" it, is a gift).

I've seen this before.  Someone resolutely, absolutely feels strongly about a certain thing:  they hate dancing, they don't care for opera, they don't drink tea,  they don't like children, for example.  And then something happens to make them change their mind, that allows them to see a thing from a different perspective, so to speak. "Children in general are noisy, energetic, demanding little humans but THIS one, this one child might prove the exception; all operas suck, just a bunch of fat women screeching on a stage, but this one aria, absolutely transfixes me, gives me goosebumps it's so beautiful; even if I have wooden feet and can't dance if my life depended on it, I would try, even pretend, for my beloved; decaffeinated green tea's supposedly healthier than coffee, maybe I could learn to switch..."--are all examples of little moments that whisper: take another look-see, allow another perspective in, another way to look at a thing.

Maybe the one person who could make that chestnut-haired dog toe the line, so to speak, would have been the director.  I got the impression from Jimmy that it was a success story.  What was it that ultimately did the trick, I wonder--to get her to actually agree to adopt the contentious little dog?  Was it really his "power of persuasion"? Or her sense of humor and empathy that finally sealed the deal? 

Some things are harder to persuade people about, even coming from themselves..  They'd like to do something, but can't (they say).  Quitting smoking or drinking, for example.  Physiological (and behavioral) addictions are harder to overcome, as is, sometimes, irrational thinking.  You acknowledge the benefit of something but are unable, for whatever reason, to do what's necessary to achieve it.  Why does that  phrase "Do what I say, not what I do" pop into my head right now, ha ha (recalling nurses or medical practitioners I have known who tell you to do (or not do) something related to your health, advice which  they themselves totally ignore).

Anyway, back to Jimmy at The Barking Lot and unadoptable animals, and people who are somehow persuaded to suddenly do something totally out of character for them (like the director), which may ultimately change their lives.  Penetrating the perceived rigidity of a mindset, where light can still get through.  This little 'Jimmy story' for me echoes another oft-repeated saying from an old friend from many years ago, that reminds me that even in the most depressing or horrific of circumstances that keeping the mind open to other perceptions/possibilities will be the ticket out of it.  "You never know", he would always smile and say.  (The equivalent, to me, of "Never give up.")  You "never know" unless you try.  You never know what you are capable of when you allow yourself to step out of the box of set-in-stone thinking.

I myself would not have taken that dog.  I knew a "difficult" dog  once. Not only difficult but vicious.  Her name was "Princess" and she lived a few blocks from me then.  She would come out of nowhere and chase after and bite at the ankles of passersby, growling and nipping and tearing at their trouser cuffs. I was absolutely terrified of that little dog.  I tried to think of how I might persuade someone, were the situation reversed and Princess was the dog poor Jimmy had to find a home for, how I might convince someone to take her.  I come up with a complete blank.  I wouldn't wish this dog on my worst enemy, as the saying goes. So maybe there's more at play here than persuasion and openness: those sometimes impossible situations for which there is no answer.

In the film "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" there's a scene in traffic where a car passes by of which its occupants, a woman and her dog, resemble one another.  Apparently it's not all that uncommon:

This random memory--the Jimmy-of-The-Barking-Lot story--arrived in my head upon waking this morning--I have no idea where it came from, or why--along with the word "persuasion", compelling me to wonder what it is I might be trying to persuade myself of, ha ha.  Or maybe it's me telling me to hang in there, there is a way out of this or that particular dilemma, I must not give up, because ... "You never know."  It's funny how the words one hears, or believes, can form the basis of an 'outlook', a suggested way of being.  And I find myself repeating that "You never know" expression, by way of encouragement, not only to self but others.  (Perhaps the title of this posting should have been "The Power of Possibility".)

There are four of my canine buddies now at the local SPCA in urgent need of adoption:  Fantôme, Oupsy, Willow and Nutella. (That's Nutella over at the right.) Fantôme has been living at the shelter since January.  Someone tied Willow to a tree and then abandoned him.  He doesn't do well, being confined to a cage, continually trying to get out, sometimes injuring himself.  Oupsy, loveable clutz, always getting tangled in her leash, is the most affectionate creature. She hadn't quite got the hang of ball-gets-thrown-you're-supposed-to-chase-after-it-not-just-stand-there-watching  game, what a goof, but she's positively delightful; I can't imagine why no one's taken her yet.  And poor old Nutella, placed on the "urgent adoption" list now as she's not tolerating "life in a cage" too well lately.  

I know, I know, getting emotionally involved with strange animals can sometimes be a curse.  One can't save them all.  Still ...   they have so much to teach us, they're such great fun sometimes.  Annoying, too but hey, so are humans.  Today they're having a big garage-sale fundraiser at the SPCA where visitors can tour the premises and see what they do there, met the staff (and animals) and perhaps increase their awareness of how hard it is to take care of and try to place these unfortunate animals. 

My jury's still out (about the reincarnation thing) but I wonder, if that were true, what would happen if I "came back" as a dog.  ("Oh Lord, a St. Bernard, I mean really.  I would have preferred being a Husky.  Do you know how much it would cost someone to FEED me?  And with all this hair--summers would be unbearable!")  Assuming one had a choice in such things, ha ha.  I think what, where and who you come back as is supposed to teach you a life lesson you didn't manage to learn the first time around, so maybe that'd be my karma--to be a St. Bernard and have to go save people lost in snowdrifts, to make up for all the times I maybe could have helped someone, and didn't.  Who knows.

"You never know."


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gettin' Scary out there

 "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

The US government is rewriting its military rule book to make cyber-attacks a possible act of war, giving commanders the option of launching retaliatory military strikes against hackers backed by hostile foreign powers.

The Pentagon has concluded that the laws of armed conflict can be widened to embrace cyberwarfare in order to allow the US to respond with the use of force against aggressive assaults on its computer and IT infrastructure.

The move, to be unveiled in a US department of defence strategy document next month, is a significant step towards the militarisation of cyberspace, with huge implications for international law.

[Source:  The Guardian, May 31, 2011]

" ... except for a brief period between the fall of Saigon and the Iranian revolution, the United States has been engaged in constant warfare somewhere in the world since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. That's seventy years of perpetual war that does not appear to be ending any time soon. At present the United States Military is engaged in ongoing armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya." [1]

The Pentagon has developed a list of cyber-weapons and -tools, including viruses that can sabotage an adversary’s critical networks, to streamline how the United States engages in computer warfare.
The classified list of capabilities has been in use for several months and has been approved by other agencies, including the CIA, said military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive program. The list forms part of the Pentagon’s set of approved weapons or “fires” that can be employed against an enemy. [Source:  The Washington Post, May 31, 2011]