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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Where Are the Cowboys? Monsters Are Taking Over Our World.

“Cowboys & Aliens”, the new Saturday afternoon, popcorn movie—“Independence Day” meets the “Wild Wild West."  There must be a metaphor there, even a strategy, for resolving the debt crisis. 

I am not going to suggest the Tea Party Republicans are like the aliens.  Kidnapping poor, unsuspecting citizens and using them for their own devices.  Exploring human vulnerabilities, as they take a bite out of poor men, intent on defeating life as we know it.  No that would be too easy an analogy.

I will suggest it could take a common threat of annihilation to bring together the dysfunctional US Congress so they solve some of the problems we face.  Not just the debt crisis but climate change, energy alternatives, and perhaps for right now in the eyes of many Americans: JOBS.

The “R’s” can choose whether they want to be inspired by the steely blue eyes of a Gary-Cooper-silent Daniel Craig: the gunslinger, retired thief who has forgotten his past after being taken by the aliens.  Or Harrison Ford: the big cattle owner, former civil war commander who hates Indians as a group but has adopted and raised a young Indian orphan boy.  Hell, they can be the Indians for all I care.  The noble natives who have cures for everything, including amnesia, and who come together with the whites to fight the aliens, rescue their kidnapped kin and save the planet from destruction.

There is precedent to hope a movie will bring the far-outlier tea partiers to the table.  The R’s invited their brethren, the Tea Party R’s, to watch the Ben Affleck Movie, “The Town” apparently thinking the tough movie talk of one criminal  appealing to his pals might inspire them to “do the right thing” for the greater good, in this case, the R’s.  Doesn’t appear to have worked but maybe it was the wrong movie.

In “Cowboys &Aliens” I see the entire western and a lot of the sci-fi genre expectations coming together to save the day.  The only thing I can’t quite figure out is what the lovely Olivia Wilde, also known as #13 in the TV show “House,” is doing in the movie or my metaphor.  OK Spoiler Alert: she is an alien too, but a good one.  Is she like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2”?  Maybe that is a role model the R’s will consider.  After all, Arnold is one of their one. 

In any case, if Congress can’t get its act together and do something for the common good then maybe we should let the aliens have our planet.  Or else go to the polls at the next election and vote the dysfunctional ones out.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Trip Germs Travel With Me?

Dorothy’s Idea of the Day
I woke up with a fully-formed insight totally unrelated to blovinators, debt crises, or Republicans and Democrats.  What if the upper respiratory infections I often develop while on or shortly after trips are related not to airline germs but the old travel toothbrush I leave in my suitcase?  My mind was working out ways to sanitize my toothbrush before I was fully awake. My caffeinated brain, a few minutes later, recognized that for less than the cost of bottled water at an airport terminal I could purchase a brand, spanking-new toothbrush for each trip.   Falls in the category of can’t hurt, might even help. So I am henceforth tossing my old toothbrush after each trip

Krugman's Right: Tipping So Far to the Right Is Wrong

Time to take a stand on the nonsense that passes for government and news in this country of late.  

I am firmly of the opinion that Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times says it all. 

Just because the Tea Party Republican nut jobs are calling black white and up down does not make it so.  It’s time to do a reality check.

Like most people, I have been busy with daily life; I had a sinus infection and then vertigo. I treated myself to a manicure. Now that I am back to feeling good I am going to exercise classes and working on my novel.  I have many excuses to stick my head in the sand and not say anything. But Americans need to speak out for sanity and what kind of nation we want to be.

The debt ceiling crisis. The talking heads, the Internet news, and even most of the print media coverage of the crisis are driving most of the US population bananas.  We sent our elected representatives to D.C. to get the business of government done, not to act like children in a sandbox squabble.
If we really think our system of government is so great let’s demand that our elected representatives get their acts together and do something that is in the public interest. And that is not to lean so far to the radical right that we blow up our and the world’s financial system.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Writing is a Family Affair

After just returning from a writers' workshop with my brother, a documentary maker and writer, I will confess my older son, Stephen Chambers, is the most published in the family, with three novels ("Hope's End", "Hope's War" and "Jane and the Raven King"), not to mention  works for hire and academic articles. If you are interested in reading about his graduate studies and seeing him on video go to:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Go Forth and Write

Today is the final day of my Iowa Writers' Workshop experience. Over the course of this week, I have read (twice: one quick read; a second slower read to offer editing suggestions and answer specific questions posed by our instructor) each of my classmates' 20 page manuscript.

Excluding my own that is 220 pages, about the size of a novel.  The novels are as different as my classmates. One author has written a thriller involving the US search for POW's and MIA's after the Vietnam War. Some of the novels are set in Africa, South America, Germany and France. Another is the tale of a pair of damaged women: a southern "lady" and her maid.

Interestingly, some of the authors appear to write from personal life experiences: a crime thriller set in Scotland with authentic dialect; a young woman from Singapore writing a letter to her aged grandfather to be read at his funeral. But just as authentic sounding are the voices of the two damaged southern women, amazingly written by a white male lawyer. Another author convincingly writes scenes from different eras and locales as diverse as Bolivia, Germany and France. She confesses she has never set foot in Bolivia and thus her vivid portrayal of Bolivia is drawn entirely from her research. Where do these voices come from?

I have been startled by the skill and craft of many of the authors and the stories  and dedication of all participants. The instructor, John Dalton, for this advanced novel writing workshop, heads the MFA program at the U of MO in St. Louis. He has been extremely generous with his time and talents. I have learned a great deal from him, as well as from my classmates, in the discussions of ways to tell stories and improve the writing of both my own humble efforts and those of the other quite talented students. But what is most striking to me is I cannot wait to read the finished products of each of these authors. What wonderful adventures lie ahead for us readers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This Rabbi Goes Into a Bar WIth A frog on His Shoulder...

Good Morning Campers.
Today is the penultimate day of the workshop. Only a few people in the workshop write like that and they do it for humor, I think.

Yesterday's 11 am lecture was a hoot. The insturctor also is an actress and playwright. I can't vouch for her plays but if her acting is anything like her lecturing she is a hoot. She started the session by having class participants tell a joke. Then she used the jokes to demonstrate how drama and jokes depend on a shift in perception.

 Only complication for me was that through unforeseen circumstances I got to the lecture ten minutes late. So I missed the jokes around which the entire lecture revolved. Sort of like coming in late and missing the introductions. Then you spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what is going on and who are these people.

But it made for an even more interesting lecture. And by the end of the session I was able to guess all but one of the jokes. Someone in my afternoon class finally told me the third joke. That retelling was particularly funny, even funnier than the joke itself.  That's  because the third joke was a bit raunchy. So as I was sittign with my afternoon class asking about the third joke, several people offered to  retell the joke. As one person told a part of the joke they stopped and suggested someone else finish it. Finally  all but the pucnh line had been told but no one would finish the joke. The woman sitting next to me agreed to whisper the punch line to me. Obviously I should have gone out for a drink with my class and they would all have been shouting in competition to tell the joke.

BTW the joke was not all that funny but at least now the lecture made a little more sense. However if i get five comments on this post I will write the joke on tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Monday and Tuesday went by at warp speed. Seemed like only one day at most had passed. Between "Eleventh Hour" lectures on how to write a novel so compelling your readers lose themselves in it to unique methods for penning a memoir, class time spent in analysis of my and other students' manuscripts, and readings by published authors, the first two days have been crowded with activities. Hardly time to fit in the inspirational sessions of students palling around in coffee shops, bars and such. But where there is a will there is a way.

Despite the outward appearance of diversity in the student body there is a remarkable kinship amongst us. We all have a story or more we wish to tell in a written document. Several of the students have lived their story over the last twenty or more years, some in exotic locations. and the need to tell the tale in a fictionalized form, in some cases because  the truth is too strange almost to be believable. of hte twelve classmates in my novel writing session I want to read the rest of each of their stories.

I now have my one-on-one session with our instructor so need to sign off. I hope someone is looking forward to hearing the stories I have yet to tell.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life in the Twilight Zone

Dorothy's Idea of the Day: Over a breakfast of oatmeal, cooked in the microwave in the one microwave bowl I had brought from home, my brother and I traded recollections of our favorite Twilight Zone stories from our childhood. Then we started applying a Rod Serling perspective to other writing we have done.

"What if normal sized people were the oddity and huge people were the normal?" Oops, we thought that Rod had thought of that or something pretty close to it. Or at least an animated movie with that premise already had been made.

"What if we lived in a parallel universe where there were no rivers?" There would not be much diversity in life forms.  I don't remember a Twilight Zone episode like that.

"What if we approached all of our dilemmas as if Rod Serling were writing the script?" One script you would never think to write is where someone as amazingly smart as Rod Serling would die from tobacco-induced lung cancer.

Oriented Writers

The orientation session at the Iowa Summer Writers Festival included dinner but we somehow were ignorant of that fact so we ate ahead of time. Just as well, since my gluten allergy would have allowed me to graze the salad greens at the dinner and not much else.

My brother and I are in different classes. I in novel writing; he in creative nonfiction.  Both of us trying to find a medium to make sense of the world through words.

The writers in each of our classes were an interesting, diverse lot. Two physicians, one other lawyer, a professor, a psychoanalyst and a mix of other folks, of all ages. They had come from the east and west coasts and as far away as the Big Island of Hawaii, in search of the tools to perfect their craft of novel writing.  And this was just the twelve novel writers in my class, driven by a desire rooted deep in the human soul since the time of Homer.

I'll share with you what I learn. Today my 20 page manuscript is one of the topics for discussion. I hope to learn how to improve my craft.  I tell myself I am ready for constructive criticisms and suggestions. Without that how do I hope to improve.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Iowa Writers and New Ideas

Greetings from Iowa City, the heart of great writing and near fields of corn.

I'm here with my brother for a week-long writing session at U of Iowa. Program starts tonight with an orientation and first session. Right now I'm sitting at the Iowa recreational center waiting for my brother to finish his workout. I came to swim, not knowing the pool is closed on Sundays.

But the center has a slew of ping pong tables. Years ago, ok many decades ago, the two of us passed long summer vacations hitting a ping pong ball back and forth. After Phil has finished wearing himself out on machines and weights I plan to seek the revenge of a "little sis" and challenge him to a ping pong game. What is it they say in the bad action movies: "Payback is a bitch?" Ain't that the truth.

Ironically I may find I write less on this blog while I am in this writing class this week, what with classes and home work and a new place to explore. But perhaps the skills I learn at the conference and new ideas generated by the experience will be worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Falling Grandmas and iPads

Dorothy’s Idea of the Day:
Recently I was reading a short article about what’s new in technology and came upon a new type of case for the iPad and laptops.  The case is lightweight and soft but hardens instantly upon impact; protecting the electronic device from breaking if dropped, or attacked, say by a bowling ball.

Wow!  This certainly is a gee whiz kind of technology.  For some reason this new laptop and iPad cover got me to thinking what we could do with that type of technology if it were applied to garments for people with osteoarthritis, brittle bones or who were healing from a broken bone.

When I could not find the newspaper article I had read I was not surprised to find a report on the new “Extreme Sleeve” in “Gizmag”

Turns out my idea is not so original.  The technology was designed to protect skaters and cyclists and had been adapted for use to protect electronics.  Maybe someone already is thinking about using the same type of protection for those at risk of breakage even if they are not into extreme sports. 

But wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could develop the reverse of this technology: a substance for flooring, for example which instantly turns soft and flexible if you drop your laptop or Grandma falls.  Just a thought.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tonight Consider "Ain't Misbeavin'"

If your plans are still open for tonight I’d urge you to consider Music Theatre of Louisville’s final production of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at the Bomhard Theatre at the Kentucky Center in Louisville.

We thoroughly enjoyed last night’s rousing performance by five African American cast members (three women and two men) who sang, danced and preformed their hearts out for less than a full house.

Tonight is the last night for this production. And you likely will compete for parking with the Taylor Swift fans attending her concert at the Yum Center.  But the Ain’t Misbehavin’ cast, belting out music of “Fats” Waller from the era of the Harlem Renaissance, needs no help in hitting all the right notes.  

We were able to buy seats at one of the cabaret style tables just below the stage. But in the intimate 619-seat Bomhard there is not a bad seat in the house.