Sunday, February 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

I just saw the latest Harry Potter movie in a second-run pub theater.  Great company, good food, but the movie didn't work very well for me.  I'd read a little about pacing issues, so I didn't go in with high expectations.  Even with that in mind, though, I had serious trouble with the way the story moved.  The elements were mostly there--fine actors, beautiful special effects that didn't distract from the story, etc.  But I kept wondering what happened to the dialogue, to the ideas, and most of all, to the charm.

I was charmed by the books, and I was charmed by many of the movies.  I don't think it was a case of no-surprises.  I enjoyed watching the story I knew come to life on the big screen in the other Harry Potter movies, as well as other movie-from-book films I'd seen.  But life is precisely what was missing here, at least for me.  

For example, I delighted in the derigible plums.  At that point I reveled in that little taste of what had been omnipresent in the books and most of the other films--the color, the environment, the quirky things that belonged there despite their often unusual character, and the sometimes awe-inspiring beauty.  These things convinced me of the existence of another world as marvelous and complex as the real one we live in every day.  I had little to nothing except those plums to convince me of another world this time.

There's an important lesson here for storytellers everywhere.  The 'telling' details often mentioned in writing courses and critiques and in criticism are really important.  They ought to be called the 'showing' details, though.  Because they show us so much, without saying a word.

Bravo to actors, special effects folks, camera men, makeup artists, costumers ... and bravo to the writers, director, producer, etc. for all the hard work, but alas, I can't recommend this movie, and I'm likely to buy it only on discount in order to complete the set after the next movie has come out, assuming this next, and last, movie doesn't do the same or worse as its brother.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Would You Like Some Help Out?

Sorting through paperwork.  Zzzzzzz ...

Today I had a customer buy a bunch of stuff ...

"I'm going to need help to carry this out," she said.
"Yes ma'am.  There's C right now."  C ambled over.  "C will help you carry this stuff out."
"I want those things from outside.  I'll need help to carry that."
"Yes ma'am.  C will take care of that as soon as she takes this out for you." 
"Where is that help you called for?  I need help carrying this."
"She's right here, ma'am."
She looks right at C.  "Can you get someone to help me with the things outside?" she asked C.
"I can take care of that," C said.
"Thank you.  Can you carry this?"
C accepted the thingy.  "Where is your car?"
"First I need help with those things outside."
Realizing I'm spinning my wheels ...  "C can take care of that once you're out there."
"Where is she?"
"She's right there."  C already had the one thing that needed to be carried and had started to make for the door.  "She has your things, and she can carry the rest to your car."
"Yes, but I need help with those things outside."
"Yes, ma'am, C can do that.  She's on her way now."  C, meanwhile, edged closer toward the exit door.
"But I need help carrying those things outside."
I noticed C had given up edging and had bolted outside.  "She'll meet you outside."
"Shouldn't she go out this way?  It's closer."  She headed for the entry door.
"If you'd like to, you can go out that way."  Even though it's narrow, awkward, and the door opens the wrong way because it's the entry door.
The customer proceeded to wrestle her way out the 'closer' way, hauling the cart along with her.  She expended so much effort it's a wonder she didn't hurt herself.  
Closer is not always easier.
And I thought that was the end of it.
But guess what?  She came back.
I saw her park in the fire lane.  She got out of the car and started to wrestle about half the things she'd just bought less than an hour before.  I went over and held the door, as she had things well in hand.  You know, the things she needed help carrying out before.
"I need to return these."
Mmm hmm.  "Was there anything wrong with them?"  I carefully accepted them.
"They're not what I wanted."
I started filling out the forms.
"Can you just put this back on my card?" she asked, setting her credit card on the counter.
"Certainly.  I just need your help to fill out this form and the cashier can take care of you."
"I'm illegally parked."
Yes, we know.
"Will it take long?" she added.
"Not long.  Hopefully it'll be fine.  We're not responsible for the parking per se.  As long as a fire marshal or policeman doesn't see, I think you'll be okay.  If you're worried about it, you're welcome to move your car.  I can work on this return in the meantime."  You define entitlement, madam.  What makes you so special that you can park in the fire lane rather than a handicapped spot?  Oh, and fyi, I have a customer who really ought to be in a wheelchair who parks in a normal parking spot and painfully, slowly, makes himself walk to the store and shops all by himself.  Granted, you don't have to do the same thing he does to prove anything to anyone, but would you mind not parking in the fire lane?  Please?  Do you think you can achieve that?  Is it within your ability, considering that you walk without the cane that you tote around and that you carried all that stuff you made C carry out for you all by yourself?
Meanwhile, I scribbled on the form with a customer-service-smile on my face.
"My daughter-in-law is insufferable," she told me.  "She's such a snob.  Do you know what she said to me?"
I had to admit to myself that I was interested in an awful, uncivilized way.  "What did she say?"  I was also a little worried that she had taken exception to the manner in which I suggested that it's okay to park in the fire lane (sort of) and will now tell me how I, er, I mean how her daughter-in-law is terribly snobby about people who do that.
She went into detail about how she was invited to a party, not by the snobby DIL but by her brother, who likes her, no, adores her, and how it was on a house boat.  And then she told me about how the handicapped parking was too far away from the dock and she would have never made it, so she parked illegally.
Meanwhile, I handed her the form and had her fill out the proper lines. She stopped the narration briefly to ask me what her address is.
I'm not making this up.
So she arrived at the party and mentioned that she hoped the police wouldn't ticket her.  And her (apparently) snobby DIL told her not to worry, that they own all the surrounding land.
Either she has just equated me to being snobby because I'd figured the chances were low that she'd get a (well-deserved) ticket just like her DIL did, or I've missed the point.  Entirely.
"I can't stand her," the woman added.
I'm sure she's not terribly fond of you either.
"I'm sorry," I told her.  I couldn't think of anything else to say.  "You're all set.  Thank you for coming in."

I'm done ranting now.  Vent over.
I really like most people, and I enjoy my job, even when I have challenging customers.  Sometimes I enjoy my work especially when there's a challenge, because often I can fix things and make everything better.  Sometimes, though, things bug me, not because they're not fixable but because they're easily fixable only if the person could just see themselves clearly.  The problem wasn't so much the carry out or the DIL.  This customer got in her own way and it obviously made everyone around her crazy.  I only had to work with her for about twenty minutes.  What would it be like to be related to her, to associate with her all the time?

At least I get paid to help her.  Maybe she just had an off day.  We all have those.  But damn ....

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Writing as Therapy

I believed, and still partially believe, that writing for entertainment shouldn't be mixed with writing for therapy.  I'm slowly changing my mind.

I wrote about what happened with my birds during a marathon writing session late the night before last.  It wasn't easy.  I was still grieving.  I think, though, that what came out was some pretty powerful stuff.  

Part of me wants to defend my original position, or parts of it, by saying that the entertainment portion of writing gets left behind when a person turns their writing into a pulpit, or a confessional, or whatever.  But I should have been the last person to say such a thing.  After all, I'm one of those sad cases that turns to the advice column in the newspaper.  I'm entertained, sometimes enthralled, sometimes appalled by the drama.  

And when I griped about one of my favorite authors turning his fantasy series into a venue in which he explored his divorce, what I ought to have realized was that although it wasn't my thing, it may well have been great for someone else.  Maybe there were heaps of people in the midst of ugly divorces that liked the way the series went.  Since my gripe about that series, my favorite example of how not to include your life experience in your writing, turns out not to be valid, I can't really hold any kind of writing-as-therapy work as a mistake.

I do think that it makes the writer vulnerable.  Sometimes opening the soul publicly can be good and fine thing, but it's not something I could undertake lightly.  Rape victims who write rape scenes ... what would criticism of that book, especially that scene, do?  On the other hand, writing about trauma might help people own it.  I know I felt better after I wrote.  It might even help someone else in a similar situation feel better too.  

So maybe it just boils down to this:  recognize the level of exposure, and remember that once the story is published, it really isn't the author's anymore.  It belongs to the reader.  If the story is too personal to be given to someone else to do with whatever they want to do ... then maybe it needs to remain private.

There's definitely a skill to it, though.  I've heard that editors and agents dread 'divorce novels.'  That's just a rumor, but I do think that it's a valid caution.  In order for a story to be emotionally satisfying for the reader, they have to be allowed to connect.  I think that's why the fantasy series ultimately failed for me.  The author wrote it in the midst of something I had never experienced, and interjected all kinds of stuff from his life I couldn't identify with.  If he'd set me up from the beginning, maybe it would have been brilliant.  But I came in at the middle, or maybe even toward the end of his personal drama, and he poured out those personal feelings in the middle of a series to boot.  With no groundwork, with nothing explained, all I knew was that the characters I'd loved started to go crazy for no apparent reason.  

I think it would be easy to over-think and doubt and all that--and that can destroy a story too.  So I've thought about it, and in time I'll internalize it into my writing.  The one thing I hope I won't do is start worrying about it every time I sit to type.  In the end, it's all about the story, whether its the story of my dreams, or the story of my life.  I hope both will be rich and wonderful things.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sometimes Farming Hurts. A lot.

We are down to two chickens:  Beatrice and the Wyandotte rooster, who now needs a name because we'll be keeping him.

A coyote, we're pretty sure, did the deed.

I've learned how to clip wings.  Our chickens are restricted to the lower goat pasture until further notice.  I hope the coyotes don't dig their way in.  

This has been a really awful day.  Tomorrow will be better.  My DH will be coming home.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Chase Saga continues

Funny Boy thing said today about a lying cowardly character on tv: "He's not manly enough to be a weasel. He's a marmoset."

And now for our apparently regular programme: More stuff about Chase.

Turns out, after talking with the Humane Society, that we're within our rights to claim the dog after 30 days because she's never been licensed, microchipped, or otherwise officially owned by the so-called owner. In order to do so we must microchip her, register the microchip, and license her. Easy peasy. 

It comes down to this. We've reasonably tried to contact the owner, we have witnesses (our neighbors) who'd be willing to testify she's been in our possession this whole time, she's been to the vet the previous time she was lost by this same owner so there's a physical record there ... We can easily prove abandonment, not just once but twice. Sobering, isn't it? Think you 'own' your dog or cat? If your pet has been missing for over 30 days, and there's nothing to prove your ownership if you locate that animal, you may be out of luck. So, seriously, microchip your animals and license them. Today. And don't rely on the goodwill of neighbors to basically babysit your animal for free while you're on vacation or working out of the state/country/whatever. Show some basic effort to compensate them for food and care, even if it's a token thing like a card with a heart drawn on it. Otherwise, if it happens again as it did in this case, the people who are once again stuck with 'your' unlicensed, un-microchipped dog may not be inclined to give it back. And they won't be required to.

When we lost Brian, he'd been missing for weeks (I think it was three) before the extremely awesome people down the hill from us saw a sign posted at the vet. They kindly contacted us. At that point they'd fed him, sheltered him, loved him ... and they gave him back to us without even a thought to keeping him. (Well, the boys were really disappointed and whined a bit ...) I gave the family a huge gift basket filled with about $100 worth of stuff as a thank you, and still felt that it was inadequate thanks to Mary and her boys. Thanks (again) guys for the return of our dog, and for taking such awesome care of him.

You can bet that if Brian ran off again, not only would we check there first, but we'd do it within 24 hours. And if they called us, we'd answer within 24 hours.

The first time we had Chase/Decker, the owner showed up after over a month, and I never even got a card or a follow-up thank you call. Not cool, considering the dog would have wound up in the shelter, or shot, or runover and the owners would have never known about it, never mind gotten their dog back. And now Chase has been with us for almost a month again and we've been calling the owner ... with no answer. At all. No visit either. No one has given us any sign that they're looking for this animal. Does he even know his dog is gone? If he's away, who is taking care of the dog, and why aren't they frantically looking for her? If they don't care, then exactly how good of care is this dog receiving while the owner is away? Because the responsibility must ultimately fall on the owner. If the caretaker is supposed to take the blame for the first lack of care, then that caretaker shouldn't be taking care of the dog a second time.

Oops, that came out kinda ranty. Nonetheless, I'm not feeling very inclined to honor his 'ownership' at this point, should he show up again, which I'm beginning to doubt he will. Maybe it wasn't even his dog in the first place. Maybe he mistook her for his dog. After all, 'Decker' is not really a girly name (but I guess Chase isn't all that feminine either ...) Maybe he's embarrassed to have taken this strange dog home to his kids (who'd seen her when they passed our place on the bus--that's how he found her in the first place) and then they said 'But daa-aad, this isn't our dog! Our dog was a boy and didn't pee himself when we petted him!' I'd hate to think he'd just turn her loose again in that circumstance, instead of bringing her home to us.

I dunno. It's not an easy thing for me to claim her, despite my bold words. I assume that dog owners love their pets and I wouldn't want to separate a beloved pet from her owner just because of some rule of thumb (it's not a statute as far as I know) and the fact that the owner can't prove ownership (which, btw, we could have with Brian and all our pets because they're all microchipped--I'm thankful to say.) But I'm leaning that direction because I'm just not seeing the love here. I'm seeing a big, fat, nothing. There could be love, unseen love, that will manifest sometime soon. It just seems less and less likely as the days wear on.

In the meantime Chase is healthy and happy. That's the important thing, at least to those of us who care about her. She's an awesome dog. She could be an incredible dog, with love and much-needed socializing and training. I bought her a collar and leash the first time round. I have to admit I get a little thrill thinking that hey, maybe we'll get to use them as her forever owners sometime soon.

What do you guys think? Does the owner, who told my DH that he works out of town quite a bit, need more time? What would you do?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Animals, Customers and Other Stuff

@ Papa's Ice Cream, drinking peppermint/spearmint tea with my DH. Love.

Guess who's back? Chase/Decker.

I've been reluctant to mention this because it's a sticky situation. We've been calling the owner and have had no response for over two weeks, maybe three, even four--I haven't been keeping track, honestly. We've left our phone number on an answering machine. Nothing. Nada.

I've been reading statutes for our state and the closest thing I can find about this is that if an animal is deliberately left with you, 15 days after the first notice to the owner to claim the animal, the animal is considered abandoned. There's nothing about found animals that you know who the owner is (vaguely) and can't get hold of them.

So we're stuck in this awful limbo. Can we adopt her? What's the deal? I'll be calling the humane society about this. Maybe they'll be able to shed some light on it.


We've got our first blue egg! Yay!
The hen (I'm not sure which one did the deed yet but I suspect Beatrice, our blonde) actually produced a beautiful hybrid between a light brown egg and a blue one. It's also big--almost as large as a store bought extra-large egg. I have pix but they're not on my machine yet.

I'm soooo happeeeeeeey!

I haven't done a retail story in a while. There's a reason for this--I'm putting together a financial guide book from the retail employee's pov, and so most of my material is going into that lately. But I'll start posting those again soon just because a lot of them are repeats as far as the book is concerned and some of them aren't really related to financial sanity anyway, or are just common sense. I will, right now, post a free sample in the way of a super-short chapter (assuming that it doesn't get cut in an edit.) It goes something like this:

Under the Influence

Don't shop drunk. Or high. Think about all the stupid things that inebriated people do--and by people I mean you. I know that you pretend that you aren't like everyone else and you're special and totally cool when you're drunk, etc. but let's be real. Add the expenditure of money to the stupidity of public inebriation. And the beauty part? It's all on camera. Just think. You could be on YouTube buying that stuff (and paying for stuff you broke and the part where you flirted with me) and then tada! you get to be on YouTube the next day returning it. I would never post such a humiliating moment in someone's life, but I have coworkers.

They have a darker sense of humor than I do.

On the other hand, if you're shopping high you're probably driving high, and if death and/or jail doesn't stop you, embarrassment probably won't either. Disregard. I don't mind.

Just think, you could be like the guy who staggered in the other day. He took one of our plastic-encased signs and hung it from the counter by its feet. "Wow, look at that!" he said.
"That's impressive," I assured him.
"You're always so nice," he said, swaying.
In your case, because I have to be, dude. "I'm glad," I told him. "I like our customers to be happy."
"Well I'm very happy," he slurred. I thought he looked like he would puke any second.
"Can I help you with something?" I asked.
He stared blankly at me for a moment. "Do you sell ... stuff here?"
Why yes, yes we do. We're a store. We sell stuff. "What are you looking for?"
He stared at me for a moment longer, then walked through the swing door. On the second try.
Sad case. I wonder what he bought. I'm sure he wonders too. But that's cool. It probably didn't hurt his beer budget.

Next time it'll be you, and you're gonna be awesome. The Numa Numa Dance guy and whoever posts that video are gonna be like this. Maybe, if you have the means, you can sue like the Star Wars kid's family ... but that video will never go away, and neither will your fame.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Writing in a Weird, Unsafe World

I'z in ur library, on ur internets ...

I'm gradually getting back to actual writing. Scheduling around work is tough, but it's gotta get done. Working retail is paying (some) bills but it's not going to cut it long term, at least not until the mortgage is paid off and that's far enough away that I only see the little bitty flag on the topmost mast of the Ship of Yay We're Paid Off.

So I have to keep writing. Have to. Not to make it big, but to survive doing the job I love. Which, btw, I have a minor rant here. For those of you waiting for Obamacare or something to save you ... don't. Don't wait. Even if a healthcare rescue train arrives sometime soon, you can't count on the government (and I mean any government) to save you. You gotta save yourself, and save each other. Worry about the details later. I have a good friend who almost died, went to the hospital even though the family couldn't afford it, and lived. They'll work out the details as best they can. Whatever they have to do, it's a darn sight better than funeral arrangements. Just saying.

Moving on now. Take care of yourselves and each other out there.

I've also been producing ebook covers. I'm getting better, I think. Hope. Maybe. I'm learning new tricks every day. I'm also learning to keep mucking about until the visual response is Yeah! instead of that'll do. At times it's hard to tell a Yeah! from a breakthrough. When I make a design breakthrough it's so much better than the previous that it can feel like a Yeah! So I'm still working, still striving, still learning. Like every other skill, it takes time, effort and education to getcha where you're going.

House of Goats is about as good as I can make it. Only a real editor can make a difference now. Going through it one more time made me feel more confident about it, but honestly, it was all a hindbrain ploy. As long as I was looking over the manuscript, I didn't have to deal with the cover letter.

The anti-marketing hindbrain is so insidious and clever, sometimes I can't help but admire it. Why can't it employ its powers for good?

In other news, I've been watching the mighty Borders as it begins its tilt into the sea ... it may yet recover, but I fear it's as doomed as the Titanic.

The doom of the actual ship the Titanic, not the movie which made gizillions of dollars.

Back to marketing now. Let's all us writer-types wish each other luck in the new weird world of publishing.