Sunday, December 30, 2012

A NewYear, a New You?

This is usually the time of year when people look back over the past twelve months, take stock of their lives, and often resolve to do better or at least more of the same. I’ve never been very good about doing that. I look forward rather than backward, and anticipate the future rather than regret the past.

I do remember a certain feeling I would have as I was growing up when I recognized that I had learned something new: anything from a word to a way. It was an exciting emotion to me, knowing that I had grown, that I had learned, that I had achieved. Of course those moments don’t stop coming, at least for me, but they are neither as frequent nor intense as they were. I’m still learning though.

Writing is one way of learning for me. In my early twenties I first learned that I could earn my living by writing. For many years I researched subjects and wrote educational films based on that research. The best part of that was that I could learn something new, tell others what I had learned, get paid for doing it, and then move on to another subject. Turning to fiction after many years of facts opened a whole new area of study.

Fiction writing has thrust me into deeper study of myself, of my family and my friends and even people I know only through observation. While the stories writers tell may be completely made-up, what a writer knows about himself or about other people informs his characters, guides the plot or story arc, even designs and colors settings, locations, decorations and time lines. At the core of all of that lies the writer: who he is, what he knows, how he responds and reacts, how heroic or cowardly he might be. Writers are inveterate people-watchers, noting and annotating what they observe around them.

Now we come to the end of another year, and I’m still looking forward, learning forward. What happened in these last twelve months happened. What is done is done, and cannot be undone. Modified, perhaps – compensated for but not erased. We are who and what we are. Next year we may be the same or better or worse, but we will still be who we are.

I really don’t spend a lot of time looking back: I’m still thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Propaganda By the People, For the People ... is still Propaganda

Today I’d like to share with you some thoughts that were generated earlier last week. An acquaintance had passed on one of those videos so common on the Internet, this one intercutting headlines about children being killed by rockets and drones, with video of our president (OUR president, the president of all Americans) talking about the lives of children destroyed in one day at one school. I don’t usually look at such things, especially when they portray a political view because I know what propaganda is, have studied it and have, in my life as a filmmaker, created it. I know how to manipulate images and words and, in the end, people. That’s what I did. I don’t do it anymore. Here’s my response to the people who think tinkering with the truth is okay:

You know, a long time ago, even before modern weapons were invented, even before history began, people started killing people. They always had an excuse. You can mourn the loss of all those who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you can accept the fact that as long as we divide ourselves into religions and nations, there will be people who want to kill other people, and sometimes that will mean truly innocent lives will be taken. When you have a solution, then you can take issue with your own country and its ways. Until then, we do the best we can. We are in a global war now, fueled by those who call it “God’s Will” and vow to remove all who refuse to accept their version of what God’s Will really is. And there will always be little, innocent children who die because their grown-up relatives decree it. For as long as my people can remember, there have been those who would destroy us. We have lost many millions, even in the modern era, simply because some have seen “God’s Will” as the justification for their own failures.

 America didn’t invent 9-11, or the Taliban or the Nazis or the Romans or any of those. But we have invented the measured response, the surgical strike, and over-all, we do a pretty good job. We don’t send rockets blindly into Jewish towns and settlements, into schools and hospitals, into crowded markets. And we don’t just sit back and say, “It can’t happen here.” My people tried that in the face of the Nazis, and look where it got them. America retaliates when it is struck, and we try as best we can to minimize the effect on innocent people. And no president of the United States flew 747s into the twin towers, or called for the annihilation of a whole people; has never said that we will “push them into the sea.” But if we sit back, and we let those who would destroy the world because they believe their god orders them to, then one day there will be nothing left on earth, period!

 So no more insinuation that our president is an evil genius, that the CIA and the American military are simply killers without conscience. And no more edited lies that someone who knows how manipulate videos thinks it is okay to “share.” Lies are lies, even in video format.

 And don’t let the media manipulate you.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

That’s Life

The writer’s mind is a curious thing. It absorbs events and actions and even the lack thereof from real life, takes them into an interior room, turns lights on and off, sees them and their shadows from different angles and perspectives, then puts them into unmarked files.

Later on the files may be opened and reviewed, refreshing the pictures they paint, and when all works well, pasting them into new frames. "There’s a story in that," the writer says to himself. What happens after that is what we call "writing fiction." It might more properly be called "re-writing life."

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been living with a tale that grew out of a newspaper story. There is no truth in what I’m writing, beyond the universal truths that a good story may present. That is, I’ve taken a reported event and jumped off into a fictional world with fictional people doing fictional things in fictional ways – the real meaning of the caveat you find in all works of fiction: "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." That’s not exactly true, of course. All characters, all actions, all outcomes have counterparts in real life, otherwise we’d never be able to understand them or recreate them.

For me that is what writing is about: trying to show you, the reader, a way of looking at people and events, times and places, acts and actions that no matter how they are disguised, are universal. Then you (and I) just might be entertained, and maybe even better understand how people work. Even if what is written is pure fiction it must have some basis in reality, some connection to what we as readers know, in order for us to understand it and appreciate it.

I may have an ending in mind when I start, but somehow the story always takes over, showing me parts I didn’t know were there, introducing me to characters who make themselves a part of the telling, and even rewriting the ending to make it an entirely new story. Being part of how that happens, rather than the sole creator, is not only satisfying, but humbling as well.

It is just like life, only more so.



Sunday, December 9, 2012


This was going to be about history. The month that reaches from November 11 to December 7 has more than those two dates to consider, and that’s what I planned to write about. Here’s the way I began:
How’s this for a month of black days: memorials for veterans, memorial for a slain president, memorial for ". . . a day that will live in infamy," and in between, a day memorializing the first settlers and a tradition of giving thanks for what the other memorials mean to us all.

Does it seem that the time period is consistent with the time of year? Things dying, things pulling in to protect against the coming winter of life, things simply hiding from the difficult days of winter that lie ahead?
But I didn’t end up where I had intended to go. Or did I? This is, after all, about Remembrance.
And now a memorial for Lucky. "Lucky dog" is the expression, isn’t it? But Lucky wasn't very lucky at all. He died in his sleep yesterday about noon, the result of an undiagnosable infection that finally attacked his kidneys and his life. We did everything we could, but in less than two weeks he went from being a most joyous and joyful companion to a lethargic and tragic little guy; one who loved to ride in his mistress’s car, share her chair during our reading time before bed, go with her every step of the way, to being unable to even rise enough to walk out the door. It was another sad day for us. I’d like to tell you about him, while he is still fresh in my mind.

Lucky was a 25 pound ball of joy and love. I almost think he produced so much pleasure in all who knew him because he knew he would not be around forever, and wanted to be sure that we derived as much good feeling as we normally would in a long lifetime association with him. No dog that has graced our lives has been so full of the pleasure he could bring to others, so vast was his capacity to express what he felt. He wasn’t "my" dog, he was hers, but still he shared his joy of living with me, too, as if I were more than the second most important person in his life.

Is he missed? Would you ask that about the sun on a cloudy day? Life here will never be the same, though we will find joy in it as long as we live. We have wonderful memories, there are even pictures to remind us, and stories of his quick intelligence and desire to be what he was: an object of love which he so easily returned. Even strangers could feel his sweetness, but knew immediately that he was loyal only to one, who returned that loyalty and love a thousand-fold. It will be hard, he will be missed, there will never be another like him. We will go on, of course, as we always do, but carrying a small package of great love in our hearts.

Thank our Lucky star.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Get the Picture?

The current issue of a weekly newsmag features an article about self-publishing, implying that it is the current and future way for writers to become known and (maybe) rich. It isn’t a new story for those of us who have chosen words as our raw material for the things we make. It isn’t even a very new story for any in the creativity game.

For instance, this past weekend I had a visit from two former colleagues, both creative types, committed to the visual arts, though one has now moved more into management (as I did), and the other supports his habit (of picture making) working in construction. Both are trying to stay current, I suspect, in a field that is still changing rapidly in terms of technology.

What all three of us have in common is that we come from an era when instant everything was just beginning to make inroads in our field. I started out in radio and TV when networks reached across the nation with kinescopes – actually film made from a TV screen – rather than true connected networks or cable. My younger colleagues were trained in chemical photography when the only "instant" pictures were Polaroid. There was a line of cameras called "Instamatic," but they were not much advanced over the box camera of the late 1890s. Today, of course, those cameras are only collectors’ items. A friend of mine over the mountain in our nearest city, a former White House press photographer, has a whole museum devoted to chemical photography, where once he had a thriving camera store and photo lab.

More than once in the last year, colleagues in the imaging business have shown me their latest tools. Small, complex, capable of doing on a chip the size of a thumbnail, accompanied by a laptop computer, what once required a few dozen people to accomplish.

We started talking (as old folks do) about "the old days," but the more we talked, the more our conversation focused on the "gee whiz" aspects of today’s technology. Even those with little or no training or experience can take good pictures, and by exposure to millions of images from millions of cameras, perhaps even learn what makes pictures good. But just as my generation worried that the cheap 35mm camera or the Super-8mm film camera in the hands of amateurs could put us out of business, we recognize what our predecessors knew: quality of image is more than the sharpness or the angle. There is a world of technique, not just technology, that must be mastered to deliver images and stories and art that go beyond the level of the best amateur or accidental producer.

You can write any story you may have, but if it doesn’t reach into the heart, as well as brain, of the reader, then you are just relating a story. What readers want is something richer than a storyline, something more visceral than a "who, what, when, where and why (and sometimes how)" telling. Regardless of your medium, there must be "art" in the artist. It doesn’t come out of a box, but out of the heart. For the reader, the delivery system isn’t as important as what is delivered.

The message is still the message.