Monthly Archives: April 2013

Basing stories on real lives? Who knew that could be done?

fictionAs snippets of creative wisdom go, “write what you know” has decided merit. In fact, its veracity has become a bit of a source of fascination for me. Fascination because it actually works.

As I have mentioned before I am a very inept hand when it comes to writing fiction. Earlier attempts in the genre have come across, after a very few pages, as, what is the critical word here? Oh, right, ‘dorky’.

My people never seem real, to me at least. Indeed, not only do they seem unreal, but I find them uninteresting. Now, if the writer finds his characters lacking in interest it’s difficult to consider that a reader might be enchanted. And not only are they uninteresting (to me) but they are remarkably awkward and facile (even the name I choose are rarely interesting – not a Holden Caulfield in the lot, for example – and they also come to chillingly resemble ‘me’, even if a roman-a-clef is not only unintended but to be avoided at all costs.

And my females (and it is so difficult for a male to convey a realistic female, despite how much I adore females) invariably become sort of warped sexual fantasy figures of my own devising. Might have worked for Hemingway but doesn’t for me. Pretty tits do not translate into a three-dimensional individual with wants and needs of her own. My girls, quite simply, do not come alive.

Consequently, I have for years relegated myself to non-fiction writing. Studies of social issues, sociological spoofs, whimsical histories as pertain to my own story, and so forth. Yes, they all sit in my computer as manuscripts (as yet; I remain optimistic) unpublished. Maybe someday.

But a while ago I turned whatever talent I have back in the direction of fiction. And as I have confessed before that while I read voluminously, I rarely read fiction. And in so doing I asked myself, does fiction have to be genuine ‘fiction’ composed of made-up people? Of course it doesn’t. Was the aforementioned Holden Caulfield an ‘invention’ of Salinger’s? No, he was a pastiche of real people. John Cheever was notorious for using (and some say abusing) members of his own family in his brilliant short-stories. And so it goes.

I told a tale to a friend that involved something that had happened to me. It was quite simply how I had fallen in love with a photograph of a young female who, many years later, became my second wife. My friend encouraged me to write about it as a story and to write other short-stories in that sort of vein.

Well, bless my friend, not only did I make the attempt but she was also prepared to vet what I had written and offer opinion and even editing hints. What a godsend for me. It encouraged me to continue in that vein and run the story right though to completion.

I began a second story which is based loosely on the tale of my maternal grandparents and the interconnecting piece was how my grandfather had fallen for a photo of my grandmother and how he traveled from Canada to England to meet with the photo’s subject back in the early years of the 20th century.

As I say, these tales are ‘fiction’ but they are based on real people and real incidents as templates. And knowing the real stories has enabled me to put elements into place rather than pure fabrication.

Wow, fiction based on truth. Who knew?

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Anarchy can be a mighty heady brew for those fighting injustice

bby_central_blgSomewhere in their pop opus the Beachboys crooned a ditty entitled ‘Be True to Your School.’ I never got that sentiment. Maybe their school was very different from my school, but I never had any thoughts about Burnaby Central High School that didn’t include a scenario of seeing it erupt in flames, taking the administrator (though not the vice-principal) with it, as well as probably half the faculty. In other words, my retrospective view of BCHS is not one of bittersweet nostalgia, but one of deep antipathy and anger that can still prevail if I think about it enough. Fortunately, I don’t think about it enough, because it’s not worthy of such rumination.

The one thing that wasn’t strange, however, was our principal. To my horror the boss of the place was to be the same cold fish I’d had at elementary school lo those many years before. ‘Those many years,’ by the way, was a grand total of three years, but time is a relative thing when one is young, and three years prior seems like the distant past.

I suppose the insult implied in his placement in the position was – aside from the fact he was a man so square he would have made Richard Nixon seem like a hip hellraiser in comparison – that he was an elementary school principal. An elementary school principal who brought with him, tucked in his little briefcase, elementary school principal values and attitudes as to what student behavior should look like. What it should look like, in his esteem, was ongoing and utter deference. It didn’t work for him, and it most certainly didn’t work for the students.

Back to the subject at hand. Everything considered, it might be seen that any woes I faced at Central were largely ones of my own making. But, that’s not entirely so. Central was a bit like a prison cellblock in the sense that the coldness of the principal’s personality filtered through the place. He ran a tight ship and any violation of the rules only meant the imposition of further rules, and the loss of more freedoms. The man was a fool and had obviously missed the message of The Caine Mutiny, if he had ever seen it. While rendering the lives of the students less-and-less salutary, he decried the lack of school spirit – the sort of spirit to be found at the other two high schools in the municipality. He would pound this message to us at our Monday assembles, which were held first period each and every Monday, and in which further rules would regularly be thrown at a student body growing increasingly restless and unhappy. What he didn’t recognize was that there were rumblings of discontent. Growing rumblings of displeasure by a group of young people who finally came to realize that they did not need to accept his unfair and punitive decrees. “Kill our shore-leave and Saturday night movies, will ya?” That’s right, ultimately, in my twelfth-grade year, the boss was to have his “Captain Queeg moment.” I wonder if he ever fully recovered from it?

It was at just one of those aforementioned Monday assemblies that his fan became dung-splattered and the repercussions were huge. It was in the late spring, as I recall. We had been guilty (we were always guilty in the man’s little mind) of some sort of new malfeasance, and therefore we were to lose yet another privilege. The audience greeted his decree with silence. And then somebody – I have no idea who – began to stamp his feet on the gymnasium floor. And then somebody else picked up on it. The stamping grew louder and louder until, or so it seemed, the entire gym was stamping in unison. He raised his hands and cried for our silence; he uttered threats; he told us our conduct was disgraceful and that we would pay for it; he even threatened to call the police if we didn’t cease the behavior. His face blanched as students began rising up from their folding chairs and began approaching the stage. The man retreated, and his place was taken centre-stage by the vice-principal who appealed to us to calm down. We did, sort of, out of a certain respect for the veep. He appealed to us to go back to our homerooms. We shuffled back, taking as long as we chose to get to those destinations.

Back in the homeroom the teacher lit into us. Known (not affectionately) as “The Guillotine”, this guy, who ruined senior history for me with his Marxist and stridently anti-American spin on virtually every topic, was a big man with flaming red hair and a temperament to match his fiery curls. He was a sonofabitch who terrorized his students into complacency. It seems it had worked for him for years. This time it didn’t. We ignored his fulminations as he told us what a disgrace we were and how we were going to pay for this transgression. Nobody was intimidated any longer. The moment of tyranny had passed and no terrorism by officialdom was going to bring it back. The commander had lost control so his underlings were rendered impotent. We had won!

What we had witnessed was the decline and fall of a man who was a victim of the Peter Principle in action. As an ironic aside, the then-wife of Lawrence Peter, who created that principle, was my math teacher at Central. Maybe she should have warned her boss what was coming.

(As an addendum I noticed in a weekend newspaper obit that Mrs. Peter had gone to that great chalkboard in the sky at an age well up in her 90s. May she RIP.)

A combination fortress and protector of virginity ultimately fled the scene

panty girdle“Ooh, a panty-girdle,” I once exclaimed, maybe a little too enthusiastically during a scene in which a woman was disrobing in an early episode of Mad Men a few years ago. I found it oddly arousing.

“I thought you told me you hated panty-girdles,” Wendy replied, looking askance at me in that manner in which only she can look askance..

“Pure nostalgia,” I said. “I did hate them at one, obvious, level but the scene still had some sweet associations.”

The sweet association being that if you had come to the realization your date was trussed in a panty girdle, you had actually made it past 2nd base. Revelation of undergarb was, in the context of that day, early 3rd base to be sure.

And the panty-girdle, even if it could be an impediment to amour was still a female undergarment and therefore had a charm in itself.

The ‘nice’ girls of the, ‘50s and early ‘60s generally wore panty girdles. They were something of a combination of chastity belt and fashion statement. As fashion statement (as opposed to chastity belt, to which I’ll attest was their primary purpose) they were deemed desirable in that they were slimming. In truth, which is why they were favored by parents of young females, they were intended to be an anti-aphrodisiac in that the wearer was rendered from behind with the appearance that she had only one bum cheek with no suggestive cleft in the middle. The sort of thing designed to keep randy boys thinking of trigonometry and other enlightened topics.

Panty girdles varied in fortifications. Some were pinned up with wire and bone and were virtually impenetrable, alas. Others were a little more welcoming, sometimes even cute, but they still gave an artificial appearance to the wearer and did thwart amorous ambitions if they became too overt.

According to one girl friend they were also a bit on the impractical side in times of dire urinary emergency, in which it was sometimes difficult to get them down quickly enough.

My first steady girlfriend wore a panty girdle always. While she was quite ardent in physical affection, she would not remove the garment or choose alternative garb for dates. Frustration prevailed – as it should have, no doubt, in the days before the birth-control pill.

My second steady began with a panty girdle when we were first dating, but ultimately abandoned it. This was reflective of two things. One was that change in fashions that was manifesting in the 1960s, and the other was my plaintive and whiny entreaties.

“Why aren’t you wearing your panty girdle these days?” her mother once asked when she was emptying the washer.

“Because Ian doesn’t like them,” she replied, unthinkingly.

“HMMM!” responded her mother, a little too testily.

The panty girdle died a deserved death from the mid 1960s on. It died for a number of reasons, but the first one was fashion. The mini-skirt came into vogue, and simultaneously, so did pantyhose. The old-fashioned garters and stockings (the only ‘good’ thing about panty girdles) were relegated to past tense.

It was also a more sexually liberated time, thanks to the pill and changing mores in those pre STD days. If a girl had a pretty bum she wanted to show off both cheeks of it. Thoughtful of them, I’d say. Furthermore, despite the minis, girls regularly were decked out in jeans by that time, and panty girdles just looked plain silly under jeans.

I welcomed the change, as did most females. But, you’ll forgive me for the tiny nostalgia pang with that Mad Men episode. Those ‘weren’t’ the days, but they had their moments.

There have been times when I woulda and coulda and definitely shoulda

Ogden Nash stampPortrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
By Ogden Nash

It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission
   and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from
   Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as,
   in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don’t bother your head about the sins of commission because
   however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be
   committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you really get painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven’t taken out and the checks you haven’t added up
   the stubs of and the appointments you haven’t kept and the bills you
   haven’t paid and the letters you haven’t written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn’t as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
   time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn’t get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn’t slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let’s all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round
   of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven’t done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn’t do give you a lot more trouble than the
   unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of
   sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

Forgive the long poetic intro but the theme here works better if you get the whole Ogden Nash thought on the matter.

And the ‘matter’ is, in this case, that you cannot go to the past and ‘undo’ some of the reprehensible things you might have done, or not done. And it’s the ‘not done’ ones that can distress a body.

The thought came about due to an email from a friend in which we were looking at the merits and the singular lack of merit on the part of the central characters in Mad Men.

Mad Men is, just in case you’ve been off in a convent or monastery for a while, a show that revolves around the advertising racket with a retro view. And the thought that came to me is that my ex-wife was in newspaper advertising sales. And, not to put too fine a point on it, she hated the fucking business. But she had, especially before we were together and again after we parted a daughter to feed and put through school. And she was (and is) a mighty tough broad and she did what was necessary.

In retrospect I admire the hell out of that. But, did I express sympathy and caring about the soul-destroying aspects of her job when we were together? Did I really understand how she often had to sell out who she was and what she believed? I confess, sadly, that I did not. At least I did not anywhere near as much as I should have. While she didn’t move in the echelons of MM the process was similar which is, basically: convincing some rube that he or she should buy a certain bit of goods or, in her case, service so that their business would prosper.

She hated it because she had to deal so much in, if not boldfaced lies, then at least exaggerations and ‘maybes’.

I don’t know if my being all simpatico would have made her life easier, but it wouldn’t have hurt. Just one of those sins of omission.

There are others. I don’t lie awake and agonize about them, for what is ‘undone’ is undone, but perhaps the thoughts might be guides for future behaviors.

I wish, looking back, I had:

–         taken the time for a long heart-to-heart with my father prior to his demise. A little late for that now.

–         Played the field much more when I was young rather than getting married for the first time when I did. Would have saved a lot of bother later.

–         Been braver with my writing at an earlier age.

–         Taken up the offer of an editorship by a major newspaper publishing company when I was given it rather than letting cowardice, lack of self-confidence and a desire to just stay put influence me. Move, me bucko. I know people who can throw caution to the winds and I admire the hell out of them.

–         Believed in myself more rather than following the impressions of others and believing them.

–         Left my first wife in the Munich railway station back many years and taken off with the gorgeous young thing with Bardot lips with whom I got onto conversation on the platform while my wife was in the bathroom, and who was traveling solo and wondered if I wanted to join her. “Yes please,” was the thought that crossed my mind. But, I was a little too honorable for that. OK, I wouldn’t have done that but the idea did put me in mind of Frost’s The Road Not Taken. What would my life have been like if I had?

I could go on and on with this but shall refrain. But be it advised that sins of commission are much more fun and can leave exquisite memories rather than guilt.

Some opt for a life without all those messy complications. And heads-up and knickers down for May 1st if that is your wont

Big-Bang-Theory_320

Human sexuality is becoming too complicated for my liking. While it is well we have grown sufficiently in tolerance that we accept those of other persuasions and other predilections all I can say is why don’t we now just let people get on with what they do with which, and to whom, and be done with it.

Nowadays we make space for heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and the other people who like to indulge in acts that range from the charming and sensual, to the bizarre, to even the downright icky. That’s OK, though. Consenting adults and all that. I know I have no concerns with virtually anything done by consenting adults, as long as it makes them happy and hauls their ashes and they don’t frighten the horses.

But — and this is where the complications come in, according to British psychosexual studies — there is a group that maybe some of us were not aware of. Those who devote their lives (and governmental grants) to making findings, feel it behooves us to accommodate those of no sexual preferences whatsoever.

That’s right. Nothing. Na-da. Not only are there people who don’t do it, they don’t want to do it. If they’re not getting any they are also not fantasizing about making the beast with two backs.

This group within the general population has absolutely and utterly no interest whatsoever, regardless of the circumstances, in anything resembling coition. I know it would be a cheap shot to suggest I have dated members of this group, but haven’t many of us?

Cheap jokes aside, however, if we are to be genuinely ‘inclusive’ in this society, as we seem to be hell-bent on, then we had better pay heed to these guys and gals. This is all true. They have found a collection of folks in society that has never had sex, has never hankered after sexual congress, and has not only virtually, but literally no libido whatsoever. Those same scientists (whom I suspect look remarkably like the science nerd on The Simpsons) are so involved in this study that they believe it is only fair that these people, like homosexuals, heterosexuals, metrosexuals, transsexuals, etc. deserve their own category — nonsexuals.

How weird is that and, just how many people are we talking about who have never had an attack of the horny vapors? Evidently somewhere in the realm of 1.05 percent of the population. Not exactly stunning numbers, but if you multiply by populations of assorted places around the world, it does make for a goodly, if not necessarily enchanting, crowd. For example, the US has a population of 295 million, and that means that there are around 3 million folks who are ‘not’ going to get too friendly with your spouse late in the evening at a party, if male, they are ‘not’ going to think all the girls in the bar are looking better at closing time. In fact, they are not going to care what the girls (or the boys) look like. They’re just not interested.

I suppose there are advantages to being in that uncharmed 1.05 percent. You never have to worry about looking your best, since you are not trying to attract anyone. You don’t have to fret over possible halitosis and you’ll never need to buy deodorant. You won’t even worry if you have crap stuck in your teeth. There is, admittedly, a certain freedom therein.

Furthermore, you’d never have to wonder, if single, whom you are going to be with on a Saturday night or New Year’s Eve. You never have to worry about unwanted pregnancy, STD transmission, or having to launder the sheets ‘yet again this week,’ Or indeed if your undies have one more wearing in them before you change them. One woman in Edmonton was reported to have said she has thoroughly enjoyed never having been aroused by anybody at any time, because this has left her life so uncomplicated and enabled her to get on with important things. What important things? Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I just cheapened myself by writing that.

All I can say in conclusion is chacun a son gout, I suppose. But, I must also be thankful that I am in the 99.95 per cent group, despite the number of complications in the old ‘coupling’ field I’ve had to deal with in my life.

So, bearing that in mind, and knowing that May 1 is on the immediate horizon, I leave you all with an authentic bit of Canadian doggerel:

Hooray-hooray. It’s the first of May. Outdoor screwing starts today!

 

Kind of hard to picture her in an orange jump-suit dragging on a smoke in the jailyard

reeseReese Witherspoon thrown in the slammer??

Who does she think she is, Lindsay Lohan? Too easy, I know and I used it solely because it’s Monday morning and ‘easy’ works.

Yet, it’s true, Miss Legally Blonde was thrown in the calaboose for being an ‘incarceratable’ asshole following a traffic stop in Atlanta. Hmm, more Lindsay channeling happening.

It all followed her husband being stopped by the cops for suspicion of being shitfaced drunk behind the wheel of his car. While the gendarmes were doing a few roadtests (as is protocol when DUI is suspected; believe me, I know) Miss Witherspoon gut up on her puffy pedestal and went into the “Do you know who I am?” bullshit response when she kept exiting the vehicle.

Now, doesn’t the silly girl ever watch Cops? I mean, it never serves you well to badmouth the person who has the power to lock you away. But, badmouth she kept doing in an unseemly and self-important manner. As a consequence, she was thrown in the ‘crowbar hotel’ and told to cool off. She was then charged with Disorderly Conduct. Tsk.

I don’t mean to demean Ms. Witherspoon. I happen to find her an agreeable young actress who easily stepped into the slot vacated by the once also agreeable Meg Ryan (before she botoxed into oblivion her previously adorable sorority bitch looks). No, I like her.

But, what I don’t like is performers who come to believe their hype and furthermore believe they are actually important people and entitled to all sorts of unwarranted respect and concessions. Of course, their publicity machines fill them with this sort of hubris.

Nonetheless the behavior of Ms. Witherspoon came as a surprise. The aforementioned Lindsay, well yeah, duh. She doesn’t have the smarts or anything resembling the talent of Reese, so it’s kind of a foregone that she’ll screw up. But, there was always something ladylike and classy about Reese and the case is a bit like hearing that Deborah Kerr was in charge of a crack-dealing ring.

No word on how Reese behaved in the joint. Did she run her tin-cup along the bars screaming “Lemme outa here ya #@%&& screws!” No, probably not. Did she refuse to pee in the very public potty cells tend to have? Well, sometimes a body just has to. Did she ultimately feel utterly mortified?

Of the latter, I expect she did. I know I did. She and I share that experience and I imagine that she, like me, has no desire to ever repeat the experience. It’s not a nice one as experiences go, but it does provide an opportunity for growth. Believe me.

 

 

I say, chaps, jolly bad form on the part of some

thatcher-funeral-6_2536246kWhatever happened to British revulsion for any exercise of “bad form”? I think some of the attitudes conveyed towards the late Margaret Thatcher have been Jolly bad form.

Good heavens, you’d think the woman was another Ceausescu. I mean, the Romanians did have damn good reason to put that bastard at the business end of a firing-squad. Yet, MT seems to have suffered the indignities of being at the same end of a metaphorical firing squad, what with all that “Ding-Dong, the witch is dead” palaver, and worse stuff.

I’m not saying she didn’t have her enemies and all politicians get the enemies they do deserve. That’s part of the price of being a pol. I just find this odd behavior not only undignified, unfair in a lot of cases, and just plain pissy.

I was vacationing in the US when Ronald Reagan (MT’s great friend) died. I don’t recall any outpouring of revulsion towards a man who assuredly had his enemies and a lot of his enemies had justifiable reason for not liking the guy all that much. Yet the response seemed to be not only gracious, but generally affectionate towards the old B-picture actor who became a political star.

Even when Nixon died nobody went to the forefront to declare publicly what a shit he was, even though he was. The public realized they no longer had him to kick around. They no longer have Maggie either, yet they are still kicking her around. Get over it, folks.

hyacinthAs I mentioned in an earlier blog, MT never engendered much affection on my part, not that I am a citizen of the UK. But I saw her as being arrogant, aloof, and the sort of snob that can only arise from a middle-class person desperate to escape her bourgeois background. Those familiar with the ‘Britcom’ Keeping Up Appearances would be forgiven for seeing a bit of Hyacinth Bucket in Mrs. Thatcher.

The difference being, Hyacinth was a moron. Mrs. T. was far from that. It’s not gratuitous to suggest, as did London Mayor Boris Johnson, that MT was Britain’s best postwar prime minister bar none.

And to be so, she was ruthless, as was Churchill ruthless. And in her ruthlessness she had lots of enemies, and many of those enemies had legitimate grievances. I was aware of that when I lived there and marveled at how the woman rode roughshod over the wants and needs of a lot of miners and others.

Yet, she believed it had to be done.

It’s just possible that history will vindicate her and she will be proved right. Or not.

Meanwhile, I was still aghast to see such an atrocious display of bad manners emanating from certain quarters.