Friday 11 January 2013

First time FREE on Amazon: SIX PIXELS OF SEPARATION, my Pushcart-nominated essay

UPDATE: 6 pm, January 11th: "Six Pixels" just hit #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Authors. 

It's #16 in Kindle Memoir. Thanks for your support!

 “What a fantastic essay! I love it more with each reading!”
~ Sylvia Legris, Editor, Grain Magazine

For the first time FREE on Amazon, my short essay SIX PIXELS OF SEPARATION. Love, literature, evolution, the Holocaust, Oregon, Quebec, the Nez Perce Indians, Wikipedia, AIDS, short, the whole catastrophe.

Then-editor Sylvia Legris liked it so much, she submitted it for consideration to The Pushcart Prize and Canada's National Magazine Awards (the latter in TWO categories!).

The 2010 Fishtrap Fellows Cabin, Fishtrap Writers Conference & The Gathering, Wallowa Lake, OR


I: Irrigator evolution

A couple of summers ago, I flew from my home in Montreal across the continent to Oregon for the first time, on points cadged from my husband. He travelled a lot for work. Because I quit science to pursue art several years back, I sponge off him shamelessly these days. And not just for plane tickets.

From 32,000 feet, it was clear how parched the West is. I flew over mountains and deserts, greys and browns and ochres interrupted by the occasional mystifying emerald disk, round as a wedding ring. Until I saw the incomplete ones, pies with a serving removed, I thought the circles were waste pools, for mine tailings, say, or reservoirs of nuclear leftovers. It turned out they were crop irrigation circles, verdant patches in the desert created by enormous metal irrigators. Later, seeing these behemoths up close, I was reminded of bicycle wheel rims—the irrigators appeared to be composed of hundreds of them, as though the wheel rim was some missing link that the irrigator had ascended from via dark evolutionary forces of increasing complexity.

The next day, Rich Wandschneider—the outgoing, founding, and soon-to-be-ex-executive director of Fishtrap,1 the conference I was attending—drove a group of us  from Portland, 260 miles inland, to Wallowa Lake, the site of the conference. Only the third owner of an irrigation system ever makes any money with it, Rich confided, “The first two owners go bust."

...Tonight, reading a collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories, I discover he is from Oregon. Clatskanie, according to the book jacket, not far from Portland. Born in 1939. Because these facts come from a book, I may have more confidence in them than in those gleaned from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is unreliable because, as Conrad Black wrote me, it “can be written by anyone.”2 In this new knowledge economy age, though, large-scale creative collaboration is also considered a strength. The Carver book is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Actually, this piece you are reading might just as properly be called “What we talk about when we can’t make love.”
             My husband and I could not see eye to eye tonight and so I am in my son’s bedroom, seeking consolation from Raymond Carver...

Always free for Amazon Prime Members.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Downton Abbey jumps the shark

Downton Abbey's season 3 premiere: Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville, foreground) continues to do dopey things, his mother-in-law, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) is fizzle and a gasbag, and viewers are reminded of familiar Downton truisms: “Downton’s in peril. Wills are complicated. Servants are sickly. Canadians are trouble.”

Photograph by: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for Masterpiece-PBS

Spoiler alert! Contains Downton plot twists: If you haven’t yet seen the opening episode of Season 3 (or, for that matter, Seasons 1 or 2) and plan to, you might want to hold off on reading this article. It contains some of the notable developments in the plots of the series.

I’d been psyched for months by the promise of the newest season of Downton Abbey, which the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley recently called the Fifty Shades of Grey of its ilk: “soft-core pornography, but fixated on breeding and heritage rather than kinky sex.”

But I was hugely disappointed by the two-hour series opener the other night, which drew the Crawley family — and voyeurs like us along for the ride — to new depths of fatuousness.

In the interregnum prior to the start of Season 3, hubby and I took the opportunity to rescreen Seasons 1 and 2. I’d been struck by writer Julian Fellowes’s apparent initial intention to make Lord Grantham, Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville), the heart of the series. The opening credits have him striding majestically through the grounds, golden lab at his side. But it wasn’t long before daughter Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), whose young Turkish lover shockingly expires in her bedchamber (in most morality plays, death is what happens to the girl seduced, not the rake) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith, who makes the most of the immortal line “No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house — especially somebody they didn’t even know”) began to steal the show from him, and run with it. Lord Grantham becomes sadly befuddled — for example, imagining that he will see active duty in France during the First World War.

But this year’s offering is a contraption so creaky with ersatz conflict that it reminds me of Oz the Great and Terrible at the moment Dorothy discovers that behind the curtain is an ordinary little man.

Opening with the revelation of Lord Grantham’s utter and advised-against squandering of the family’s fortune in Canada — as June Thomas says on Slate, “they sure do return to the same themes over and over: Downton’s in peril. Wills are complicated. Servants are sickly. Canadians are trouble” — the episode continues at breakneck pace to the wedding of Mary and Matthew — though skipping completely what true Fifty Shades fans would prefer to have seen: the honeymoon. But first — oh, irony — it picks up their latest complication: the father of the late Lavinia, Matthew’s one-time fiancée, has died and Matthew is third in line to inherit his huge fortune.

While the issue of whether the two men before him as inheritors are alive or dead is needlessly spun out, Matthew — looking a tad overfed and unctuous, proving himself a fitting heir to the doltish current lord — announces his resolution to give away the money should it come his way, because taking it would constitute a form of theft. He arrives at this weird notion through tortured guilty logic: Lord Reginald Swire could only have intended the money to come to Matthew because he was the great love of Lavinia’s life, but Matthew betrayed that love, sending Lavinia to an early, broken-hearted death by way of the Spanish flu.

It makes Harlequin romances appear deep.

Lady Mary castigates Matthew with the deadliest of accusations. In refusing Swire’s bequest, in his willingness to allow, dare one say it, Downton to be lost, Matthew is, she charges, betraying that he is “not on our side.”

Seriously? This is the complication on which Fellowes seeks to hang the season?

It was the moment that Downton Abbey, despite its high production values and effervescent cast, finally jumped the shark.

And it was only downhill from there.

Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson in Downton Abbey.
Photograph by: Image courtesy , Nick Briggs

Shirley MacLaine, looking like she might have had a tad too much plastic surgery, was a total fizzle, her Martha Levinson (mother of the U.S.-born Cora, Lady Grantham) little more than a gasbag of accented clichés.

I had heard the rumours that Dan Stevens (Matthew) would not appear in future seasons of Downton, and this flop of a premiere was just the impetus I needed to root through the Internet to discover what happens to his character. All the while, I was imagining all the time I might save on Sunday evenings by not having to watch the rest of the series.

As if. Like Fifty Shades of Grey, Downton Abbey has become, most assuredly, one more in a long line of life’s guilty pleasures.

        Published January 10th, 2013 in The Montreal Gazette (with fewer spoilers!)