Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Sleepy Hollow" and a quick note on "lieutenant"

I watched the premiere of "Sleepy Hollow" (LOOSELY based on Washington Irving's story) on Monday and found it entertaining enough to keep watching for at least a few more weeks. My officemates also liked it, which will help keep the momentum going, along with the fact that it's being filmed near my hometown.

One thing I thought the show didn't explore enough was how disorienting it must have been for Ichabod Crane to find himself in modern times. (I did like that they gave him a moment to be puzzled by the paved road before he almost got run over.) To be fair, the pilot was just an hour long, and they had a lot of plot to cram in there, and it would have dragged the show down for him to be asking about how they can light up a room without candles, etc. He adapted awfully quickly, but I hope they keep using little points like his fascination with power windows to point out that he is a fish out of time. I expect they will, for comic relief if nothing else.

One of the ways they'll keep reminding us about his origin, without actually spending any time on it, is his accent. Ichabod was born back before America and England became "two countries divided by a common language," so although he's American, he has what sounds like a slight English accent (No, there isn't one English accent any more than there's one American accent, but you know what I mean.). The actor, Tom Mison, is English, so we shouldn't have to worry about his dropping it.

At one point during the pilot, Ichabod pronounces the policewoman's title as "lef-tenant" instead of "lew-tenant." Being a longtime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery and period dramas, I was not surprised by this British usage. But it did occur to me to wonder just why it's pronounced differently.

According to Google, many people have asked this question before me. I stopped looking after visiting about a dozen links. Ken Greenwald at Wordwizard seemed to have the most comprehensive explanation:
In any case, the pronunciations with "f" and "v" are reflected in various 14th-century English spellings of ‘lieutenant,’ which included ‘leef-,’ ‘leve-,’ ‘lyff-‘ and later ‘lief-,’ ‘live-,’ ‘liev-,’ and ‘uff-.’
Other early forms reflected a "w" pronunciation, among them ‘lu-,’ ‘lieu-,’ ‘lyue-,’ and ‘lew-.’ 
So people disagreed on the pronunciation of lieutenant long before the United States were born or thought of (yes, the U.S. took a plural back then, before becoming an it).

Greenwald went on to say that the U.S. settled on the "lew-tenant" pronunciation largely due to  Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who "almost single-handedly promulgated American pronunciations as well as American spellings."

But before Webster, even with various people disagreeing for centuries on how to pronounce it, was there any preferential rift in pronunciation between the two sides of the ocean? I wonder if the English-American split may have arisen or broadened during the American Revolution when non-British Europeans came to help drill, advise, and lead the Continental soldiers. Baron von Steuben probably would have used the Deutsch "leutnant" (loit-nant), but the Marquis de Lafayette would have assuredly used the French pronunciation (as "in lieu of"). Lafayette was popular, so that could have helped his way of saying it to become preferred.

If anyone has better explanations or links, do let me know!

UPDATE 11/20/13: We found out several episodes ago that Ichabod was actually a British soldier who decided to fight on the American/anti-apocalypse side, not someone born in North America. So that explains the accent. And yes, the show has continued to give us merry-making moments of Ichabod agog and/or aghast at modern life, such as a 10% tax on breakfast pastries, whereas the 2% Stamp Act tax was enough to foment rebellion in his day -- oh, but it turns out that the Tea Party was actually just a fortuitous diversion for secret anti-apocalypse operations. I love the combination of action, emotion, humor, and crazy in this show.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Non-spoilery review of the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

I read Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel, "Shades of Milk and Honey," a few years ago when it came out. It's a novel of manners set in Regency England, with the addition of magic. The form magic takes in this world is glamour, a limited form of illusion that is mostly women's work, used for adorning the ladies and their homes, although there are a few male professionals who basically combine art and interior decoration. Much of the plot is similar to a somewhat simplified "Pride and Prejudice," although some elements are reversed and it builds up to a dramatic action-adventure conclusion. I thought it was a good read, entertaining if a little light, and I planned to look for her later books.

Last week, I spotted her third book in the Glamourist Histories, "Without a Summer," and checked it out. I also tracked down SoMaH again and found the second book, "Glamour in Glass." I figured it would take a week or so to get through them.

I finished them in three nights, one per night. I couldn't put them down, not even SoMaH, which was better than I remembered.

GiG is similar in tone, and like the first, it has a slow, weaving build to a dramatic finish, but other elements are very different. Although the protagonists have interesting, character-based conflicts, they are in Belgium and are increasingly affected by world events, including Napoleon's return to France, rather than mere social mores and misunderstandings. The viewpoint character, Jane, has to make hard choices and endured real consequences. The implications of glamour are examined and expanded. Another satisfying read.

But it was "Without a Summer" that really sold me on the series and the author. We see more of the social strata of the world now, with prejudices (examined prejudices, obviously not the author's views) spurring some people's actions. Along with historically accurate class, racial, and religious prejudices, the public irrationally blames coldmongers, specialized glamourists who help preserve food and suchlike, for the unusually long-lasting cold weather of 1816. The coldmongers were seemingly a convenient throwaway element from the first book, but here they become a major plot element. I love it when backstory comes to the forefront like that.

Other elements from the first book are also revisited in the third book, and revelations about longstanding misperceptions occur. In fact, MRK uses a wonderful metaphor for this cascade of revelations, and I was gasping, "Oh! OH! Wow!" as they all coalesced and bound all three books together. A meta-metaphor, if I can use such a term.

I went through a number of passages from the first and third books today, and yes, there were some strong hints of the hidden truths there, so MRK definitely played fair with the readers. But like Jane, I had glossed over those things as I kept following the current main actions, and so they were simultaneous revelations for me.

Some significant mistakes and misjudgments are made by the viewpoint character, who is so smart and perceptive in other ways, and MRK acknowledges Jane's debt to Austen's "Emma" in her afterword.  I'd be a little disenchanted, so to speak, if I thought MRK were just going through Austen's canon and adding glamour; however, the second book is its own thing, and even in the first and third books, there are plenty of non-magical plot elements and character actions that Austen would never have dreamed of writing. MRK can and does thank Austen, and I also noticed a few fun Easter Egg references to other authors' works, but she is definitely building her own rich world here. I can't wait to see where MRK takes this series next.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My favorite Hugo nominee: Ken Liu's "Mono no aware"

I just submitted my Hugo ballot, a few minutes before voting closed at midnight CDT on July 31. Because I got my Worldcon membership just two weeks ago, I wasn't able to get through all the books and stories that were e-mailed to me, but I did the best I could, and finished roughly half. I'll post my more complete reactions later, but I wanted to go ahead and praise one of the nominees.

Ken Liu's "Mono no aware" moved me to tears. I had to stand up and walk around for about 10 minutes before I could return to my self-imposed reading reading marathon.

What an extraordinary work this is, heartbreaking, breathtaking, and inspiring. In this 32-page short, Liu packs an amazing amount of story, context, understanding, and poetry.

“The stars shine and blink.
We are all guests passing through,
A smile and a name.”

According to an interview with the author, mono no aware means an empathy for the inevitable passing of all things.  The protagonist draws strength and motivation from this concept, but his actions also exemplify some of the things from life that endure: courage and love. I must find more of Ken Liu to read. As far as I am concerned, this short story is the all-category winner, the Best in Show of the Hugos.

Friday, July 26, 2013

WorldCon56-Bucconeer Panels Appendix

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm swamped with reading Hugo nominees, so I'm too busy to write original material right now. Instead, I'm posting an e-mailed trip report from the 1998 WorldCon. This is the appendix, where I wrote about individual panels at the con.

OK, here it is:

Panels appendix to my report on the 56th World Science
Fiction Convention (WorldCon 56, "Bucconeer") Aug. 5-9
in Baltimore, by Patricia Elkins Matson.
I had a blast, although I was run ragged a lot of the

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Worldcon 56/Bucconeer

I had a wonderful, although short, vacation with my family last week. Now I am snowed under again. This time the duty is reading for pleasure: I have decided to go to LoneStarCon3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention, and I have about a week to decide on my votes for the Hugo awards. I've read some of the materials, but there's a lot more to try to get through.

I'll probably post about my votes and reasons after that, but I don't have time for original writing right now. Instead, I'll post the contents of an e-mail I sent out to friends and family in 1998 after Bucconeer, the 56th WorldCon. (Appendix will be posted tomorrow.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What do you do with a graphic novel?

I was telling my sister about Kings in Disguise, a fine graphic novel that follows a boy as he rides the rails during the Great Depression, encountering The Ford Hunger March/Massacre and various other situations, but saying "I read it" seemed inadequate for how I experienced it. One reads a book or an essay, but a graphic novel uses art to inform the text, and text to inform the art. One views a painting or looks at a sculpture, but that's not how one describes the act of, well, going through a graphic novel. Is there a separate word for what you do with a graphic novel? I can't think of one, but it seems as though there should be.

Growing up, I never thought of what I was doing with comic books as anything but reading them, but then again, I was much more focused on the stories than on the artwork. Occasionally, I would stop and admire a particularly well-executed panel, but to me, they were basically densely illustrated short stories. I was more interested in what Spider-Man was doing than in what he looked like while he was doing it -- of course, subconsciously I was taking in many details about the atmosphere and situation and perspective while I was skimming through the pages, and I realize that many people did and do care much more about the art of comics/graphic novels than I did at the time, but the story was what I focused on then.

I stopped following comics regularly sometime after Marvel started publishing about five versions of Spider-Man and at least three of X-Men -- I couldn't keep up, monetarily or temporally. However, in college my friends introduced me to other, independently published comics (not Marvel or DC), expanding beyond superhero struggles to new stories ranging from A Distant Soil (dystopian SF featuring some openly gay major characters, revolutionary back then!) to the beginnings of "true" graphic novels such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus.

A couple of years ago, my county library started developing collections of graphic novels, and I caught up on some classics and began broadening my horizons with new ones. This is where I found James Vance's "Kings in Disguise" recently.

Lots of definitions of graphic novels exist. Some people just consider the term a pretentious renaming of comic books, and there are plenty of publications called graphic novels that are simply hardcover volumes that bundle runs of regular periodical comics. I prefer to use the term to refer to a novelistic, stand-alone story, or at least a well-defined, self-contained arc within a series, told through a combination of artwork and words.

But again, what is it that you do with a graphic novel, to experience the story? What naturally occurs to me is "read," although that seems too limited, so I'll do what I often do and check out definitions and origins.

The very first listing from Merriam-Webster is "to receive or take in the sense of (as letters or symbols) especially by sight or touch." Huh, that's actually not very limited at all. There are about 30 other definitions and sub-definitions of the word. Maybe it's not that the word "read" is too limited, it's just that I've been thinking of it in unnecessarily narrow terms.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word "read" comes from quite a number of roots, ranging from Old English to proto-Germanic to Old Church Slavonic, mostly meaning something along the lines of to advise or consider. It started to be seen in writing with the meaning of "to make out the character of (a person)" in the 1600s, and was gradually transformed into interpretation of written symbols after that. Aha, here's something pertinent: "Most languages use a word rooted in the idea of "gather up" as their word for "read" (cf. French lire, from Latin legere)." So other languages use different words -- obviously, but coming from different roots, to describe the act that English speakers call reading. Maybe they'd be even more applicable!

I'd be interested to find out what other languages do with the concept of graphic novels. I have a germ of German and a speck of Spanish, but neither kernel of knowledge extends to nuances. Do Japanese people simply "read" manga, or do they use some word separate from "reading" that explicitly combines interpreting text with looking at art? Can any of my multilingual readers tell me?

Edited to Add:
Coincidentally, I just ran across an interview with James Vance, the author of "Kings in Disguise."
Tom Spurgeon at "The Comics Reporter" interviews him about his recent KiD sequel, "On the Ropes" (which is actually based on a play he wrote before KiD), but he also asks him about KiD:
JV: "The truth is, I thought of it in terms of a collected work from day one, and that's the way we approached it. If you look at those individual comics, you'll see there's no concession to serialization in the story itself, no cliffhangers or any of the mechanics that you see in regular monthly comic books."
When he's asked about OtR, he discusses the labor movement as well as how his characters make their decisions and realize the consequences -- fascinating. I hope I get a chance to read OtR, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memory and strings

"Tie a string around your finger."
This is an old-fashioned memory prompt from before when memos started arriving via PDAs, computer calendars and smartphones -- you tie a string around your finger to help you remember that you're supposed to remember something. It doesn't tell you what you're supposed to remember, mind you, but at least you'll be aware of the need. Sooner or later, it will chafe, or you'll just happen to notice it, and maybe at that point, you'll be able to buy milk on the way home, or otherwise accomplish whatever deed you could only remind yourself about before.

In the modern era, of course, strings have another meaning related to memory. A string is a linear artifact with a beginning and an end; in computer coding, a string is a sequence of characters. A character string generally stands for something; it can represent a variable or a constant, and you (or your computer code) can manipulate it or compare it with other strings in order to make a decision.

One type of character string that many people use daily is a password. You must enter all the password's characters in their correct sequence, like the numbers for a combination lock, except that here you're matching a data string instead of clicking tumblers.

I was thinking a few days ago about the character strings I hold in my own memory. I used to remember a lot of telephone numbers, for my office, my home, my parents, and several other relatives and a few friends. Now I know only two full telephone numbers -- my home and my cell -- and four-digit office extensions for myself and two other people. Everything else is stored in my cell or written down somewhere.

However, there's a lot else I have to remember: My work terminal password, my work software ID and password, my work email password, and a few other strings that I use daily for work; at home, I have a couple more e-mail accounts, four social media accounts, and several more log-ons that I use often enough to hold in my memory, all with different IDs and passwords, plus my Social Security number, PIN, and some more identifiers.

So even though I feel a little silly sometimes because I don't know anybody's phone number anymore, I need to remember that actually I'm giving my memory a pretty good workout most days. I'm counting 32 strings, although I may have forgotten one or two!

How about you? Can you count up how many character strings you use often enough to carry around in your head? Tell me! If you don't have time to tally them up right now, well, maybe you can just tie a string around your finger.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Compale (a portmanteau)

I was in a meeting Tuesday and the guy next to me stumbled over his words, saying something would "compale -- I mean, pale in comparison to" something else. I knew what he meant by "compale" before he went on to correct himself; it seemed perfectly obvious to me.
I rather like the idea of "compale" being a word of its own -- it's a little more efficient than the parent phrase, and I can't think of any other single word that already exists to fit this niche.  Although its spelling is nearly identical to "compile," the pronunciation is quite different, so I don't think it would be too confusing.
I am going to look for an opportunity to use this in conversation sometime, and see what kind of reaction I get.
I'm thinking of it as an intransitive verb, used with the preposition "to" -- e.g., Jean Grey's Marvel Girl compales to her incarnation as The Phoenix, at least as far as power is concerned. If I used it as a transitive verb, which takes and acts on a direct object, that would seem too active, as if I should be using it the other way around (The Phoenix compales Marvel Girl). I want to keep the subject as the weaker, more faded counterpart, as in the original phrase, so I'll make the verb intransitive, not transitive.
Compale would be an example of a portmanteau word, a new word created by combining parts of two or more words to make a new one that also fuses their meanings. This is a little different from a contraction, which uses an apostrophe to signal that two words that normally go in sequence are being compressed into one, or a compound word, which simply runs two words together, with or without a hyphen.
A portmanteau is similar to an elision, which omits sounds within a word or phrase for laziness, to fit a poetic meter, or simply because the speaker thinks it sounds better that way. However, eliding a word or phrase doesn't change the meaning, whereas a portmanteau often tweaks the meaning of the parent words so that the definition is also slightly different, although related. For instance, "spork" is a portmanteau word combined from spoon and fork, but it's a little different from each.
What do you think of my plan to try putting "compale" into usage? Do you have a favorite portmanteau word you'd like to share with me?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle

Now that "Iron Man 3" is out, I can finally admit that I was an extra! They made us sign fierce nondisclosure agreements, so I wasn't able to talk about it before. I'm still not going to say much, to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to share at least a little bit. As for what it was like being an extra, the two previous posts ("Ready for my close-up, Mr. Wells?" and "I Am (Not) A Camera") talk a lot about my experience in a previous production, except that one wasn't so secretive (no NDA).
I didn't keep an exhaustive log for this production, but I did write a poem. I chose the villanelle form because the back-and-forth weaving and repetition of the refrain lines seemed to capture the mood of the extras as we went from Holding to the set to Holding to the set to Holding again so many times. Back in August 2012, I could only share it within a secret, closed group on Facebook for the IM3 extras. I hope my readers here like it as much as they did.

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle
by Patricia E. Matson

Hope is hovering in our hearts:
Some screen time, and a check, our goals.
We want so much to play our parts.

We speculate on Casting’s charts
And wonder how we’ll fill their holes;
Hope is hovering in our hearts.

Some are here for love of the arts;
A few might even sell their souls,
They long so much for bumped-up parts.

We move on set; star-watching starts --
We see HIM!  Crew says, “Back, you proles!”
But hope still hovers in our hearts.

Off at Holding, the wait restarts;
Food, cards, songs, dance, all have their roles.
We wait our turns to play our parts.

The magic nighttime rush departs.
Nine, then midnight, 3 a.m. tolls
While hope still hovers in our hearts;
We want so much to play our parts.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Am (Not) A Camera

As promised, here is Part 2 of my description of working as an extra for the untitled medical drama pilot produced by John Wells in 2010. I originally posted this on Facebook on April 2, 2010, for my friends there, but I have decided to make it public here. As mentioned in Part 1, I was not asked to sign any nondisclosure agreement for that work, nor did they warn us on set to keep things confidential (IIRC, they basically just warned us about not going up and bugging the stars). I mostly talked about my experience, anyway; I did briefly talk about one plot point, below, but I didn't say who it happened to, and since the show sadly never made it on the air, and everyone has gone on to other projects, I don't see any harm in sharing this with a wider audience.

As recounted in my previous note and last status report, I've been working as an extra on the CBS pilot for its untitled medical drama. This week, Monday through Thursday, I put in four 12-hour-plus days. I'm glad to have done it, but I'm really glad to be off this weekend. The days were all starting to run together, and I was having some breathing issues.
Best part of the experience: the people. Worst: never-ending Scene 57 and its smoke machine.
Monday at 8:30 a.m. I had been cold Friday night, so I wore the wool lining in my parka shell that day, which I regretted once it heated up. After sign-in, makeup (not for me), hair (conditioner to make my hair look unwashed, much nicer than the grease they used last week), props (none for me) and breakfast, we started off with a lot of time in the hospital tent. I was part of a group of patients following a nurse around the floor until we finally got seated. A half-dozen other streams of doctors, patients and nurses were moving around at the same time. As we kept repeating our motions, it started to feel as though we were doing a large pattern dance, like a reel or contra hay. Big lunch around 1 (forgettable entree but yummy ratatouille). Monday afternoon, we were in the holding area a lot. I made the acquaintance of Karen, Karen, Sue and Michael. I listened to lots of jokes, although I don't remember contributing any. That evening, barricade work. Sue and I were pulled off to be overnight patients. They set us up in hospital beds, but then sent everyone off to hide in cars and buses because of lightning. They gave up and sent us all home at 9:30. Laundry (since we wore the same clothes every day), and bed.
Tuesday at 8 a.m. After breakfast, much more barricade work. I believe we first heard it called Scene 57 this day. There were other barricade scenes, but they kept shooting us here and there, morning, noon, and night, with that awful smoke machine that left us all coughing and blowing black phlegm, so they all became Scene 57. After a big lunch (catfish and black-eyed peas, mmm) at 3, when I joined my new acquaintances, they left us in the holding area for quite a while. One of the Karens offered some little kids a buck for their deck of cards, which they refused. Rosella and John from another table heard us, came over and pulled out cards. We played rummy and spades. Then everyone went into the hospital tent again. I sat in the third row back, which left me wistful as Skeet Ulrich came up and talked with people in the first two rows between takes, but softly so that I could catch only a few phrases. I will say that he has a very expressive face, mobile and interested. He flashed a couple of great-looking grins, too. I hope that the show makes use of his charm and humor, although all the scenes I saw him in just had him looking intense.
I asked one of the Hoggard alums I had met last week what they had discussed, and he said Skeet had talked about his return to Wilmington and how the area had changed, and also talked with an EMT guy about rugby. He also talked to a couple of girls but I didn't find out about those topics.
Then they staged a spectacular fight scene, again and again and again. I was loving it. Skeet and Janeane Garofalo broke up the fight between the two guys I didn't recognize. I admired the guy who took a chest-high flip-fall half a dozen times or so, without complaint and apparently without injury (at least, he kept saying he was fine when the crew and other actors kept asking him). They kept changing the angle and shooting the lead-up and aftermath, maybe 20 times in all. They sent us home around 9:45. Laundry again.
Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. After breakfast, more card games in the holding area. More barricade work; the Karens and I discussed love and marriage, and Mike chipped in occasionally. We also talked about our career prospects (all in temporary/in-between states now). The big lunch (flank steak, Tex-Mex side dishes, mmm) was around 4:30. After that, we did a lot more barricade scenes. Earlier this week, I had been trying to stay forward, but I was starting to hang back, worried about continuity, although they grabbed me and moved me forward several times anyway. Karen, Karen and I, and a guy calling himself Thunderbird, amused ourselves by singing fragments of songs from the 80s, mostly, but some from other areas. Finally Sue and I got called back for our overnight patient scenes. I had to pretend to be asleep, so I didn't see anything, but I heard a couple of medical personnel (I think Janeane and Rachelle Lefevre) arguing about treatment options. We got sent home around midnight, so I skipped laundry.
Thursday sign-in was at 10 a.m. We started with hospital waiting area scenes. A guy next to me got pulled up front and left his Civil War hardback (Marvel superhero series) on his chair, so I read about half of it (okay, but I don't believe Peter Parker would ever come out as a super) before they chased us out to keep it quiet for dialogue-heavy scenes.
I talked with K, K, M for a while, but I was feeling tired and burned out, so I found a patch of shade with some breezes and just listened to my audiobook (Antony and Cleopatra, Colleen McCullough) and dozed for a couple of hours. Around 4, they brought out pizza, but only let the actors playing medics go up (I snatched a slice before this class differentiation was firmly established, however).
I rejoined KKM. More barricade scenes, all still in our winter coats for continuity, although it was over 80 degrees. Bonanza Productions had been telling us to take them off between takes, and sending people around with cups of water, along with pizza slivers, plus the ever-present snack/water/lemonade stand. I heard that one woman fainted from the heat, although I didn't see it.
Then they moved us to the parking lot and shot us walking toward the hospital tent several times (moving the smoke machine so we couldn't escape). Finally, around 7, they broke for "lunch" (sweet and sour chicken, big drop in quality, and the rice tasted like smoke machine). Rosella came over and sang a few songs, and I sang a few songs. Finally, they pulled 10 patient extras (including me again, despite making absolutely no effort to be noticed), to form background for another hospital tent scene. They sent us home around 11:30.
They will continue filming on Monday, but I told them I couldn't make it then or Tuesday because of my other job. If I'm feeling fully recovered by Tuesday, I may call and see if they need anybody for Wednesday, although they're supposed to have finished by then.

End note: No, I didn't get called back again, so this was the end of that experience. By the way, when they first called and asked me to be an extra and I accepted, they said nothing about needing me for a specific block of time, just asked whether I could come in the next day. They never did ask for commitments; it was always, "We'll tell you all at the end of the day how many of you we want to come back tomorrow, and what time." So it's not as though they were relying on me and I let them down. I just wanted to make that clear.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ready for my close-up, Mr. Wells?

So many ideas, so little time to write them up. I'm still working on balancing my job and everything else.
Meanwhile, I'm resurrecting a Note that I posted to Facebook on March 24, 2010. Only my FB friends can read that, but there's really no reason not to make it public here. I'll put up Part 2 tomorrow.

I can now add "Acting" to my resume, under Professional Experience. Thanks, Catherine, for pointing out the article about an open casting call in Wilmington for extras for The Untitled Medical Drama pilot. As a result, I have now conversed briefly with Janeane Garofalo, felt the wind of Skeet Ulrich's passage as he strode along a corridor, been filmed in several scenes (one seems likely to be aired) and earned a check. I did not see Sissy Spacek yet, but I may go back for more opportunities later.
The CBS show, which so far lacks even a working title, is a John Wells production. He's responsible for my current favorite, SouthLAnd, which started on NBC and is now a TNT show (fits in well with the “Characters Welcome” campaign). This one is about some kind of mobile medical team that travels the U.S. to help with crises. (Whatever title they pick, it can hardly be worse than Medical Investigation, which was a 2004-2005 show about a CDC-style team that investigated mysterious outbreaks around the country. Hmmm…)
After seeing that story, I showed up for an open casting call two Sundays ago. They didn't hold auditions, just had hundreds of people fill out information cards and get pictures taken. More than 600 people applied that Saturday; I don’t know that Sunday’s total. Last Thursday, I got voicemail that my photo had been lost, so I e-mailed my FB icon and my DragonCon scrubs-costume picture to them. Monday night at 11, I got a phone call asking if I could be at Winnabow Airport at 6 a.m. Tuesday to be an extra, portraying a patient. I assembled several casual outfits, as requested, but could not get to sleep for a while since I had unfortunately taken a nap earlier.
I dragged myself out of bed around 4:45 and arrived on time (yay, Sarah’s GPS!), checked in at the registration/food tent and was told to wait for a voucher form before going to Wardrobe or Makeup. I ignored the continental breakfast, since it was way before my usual breakfast time. Some guys in the National Guard section of extras called out to me, “Hey, did you go to Hoggard? Class of ’84?” So I had a nice little chat with them, including Tony Ross (didn’t catch the others’ names).
It turned out that Bonanza Productions hadn’t printed enough vouchers for the 300-plus extras (portraying patients, medical personnel, volunteers and National Guards), so eventually the unvouchered “patient” extras had our outfits checked by someone from Wardrobe. I didn’t end up changing outfits, though, and received no makeup; I think only people with “injuries” got anything applied. Then we all streamed over to the hospital tent, which was huge. It was compartmentalized into several successive waiting areas, reception/triage, and a treatment room with several specialized areas.
I was excited to get to the front row right before triage, since I thought that would improve my chances of appearing on the show. I practiced ad-lib and pantomime dialogue with my neighbors; they had us make a lot of noise for background first, and then had us be mute while the actual actors spoke lines.
Then they had several people stand up in front of the triage desks, blocking me. However, I subsequently had the amusement of watching Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men, 24, The West Wing, etc.) yell “Cuff, I need a cuff!” about 10 times or so. She is a tiny woman, but intense and energetic.
By the way, if you’ve ever read anything about TV or filmmaking, you’ll have heard that it involves hours of waiting and repetition to make clips that last just a few seconds. I can tell you that this is true, based on my extensive sample of two experiences as an extra. ;-)
I never realized that sitting and standing around for a day could be so exhausting.
While Janeane (none of the production crew called her Ms. Garofalo) waited for her forays, she made friends with Larkin, a service dog for a “patient” extra who was using a wheelchair (real, not a prop/role). I think she checked with Larkin’s owner (you’re not supposed to interfere with service dogs that are “working”), but anyway the owner didn’t seem to mind the petting and sweet-talking that Larkin received.
My conversation with Janeane (pronounced Jeh-NEEN) consisted of her asking me later whether the lady with the dog was still here, and my saying I thought she was, back in the waiting area, and gesturing toward that side. That is all. Janeane sneaked back to pet Larkin several more times during the day and one last time on her way out, receiving enthusiastic welcomes from the dog. I commented to the owner that this appeared to be stress relief for both Janeane and Larkin.
After the last “Cuff, I need a cuff!” iteration, they had the extras take a break so they could do some rearrangements inside. We stood around in the sunshine and warmed up. Some of us, including me, stood in front of a big (warm) outdoor floodlight as well. We joked about getting sunburnt by it, but when I got home and looked in a mirror, I realized that it had happened to me. Aloe time!
I had a nice conversation with Casey (K.C.?), an aspiring actor who has been an extra for One Tree Hill and is also in some plays. He urged me to consider creative writing as a career, since I mentioned the woes of the journalism industry.
After the break, I got tapped to move into the treatment area. I sat in a chair while Ken (whose medical nametag said Mike) pretended to take my pulse and tried to make me laugh with his whispered/pantomimed dialogue. I resisted as best I could, hissing, “This is not a joke! Don’t patronize me, Doctor, I need help!” Our little contest was rather fun, albeit risky.
Then (1 p.m.) everybody broke for lunch, with a choice of herbed chicken or salmon chimmichurro (yum!), salad, potatoes, broccoli and brownies. Another film/TV rumor I can “confirm” is the ample food on set. All day, they had tables of snacks set up, in addition to the catered breakfast and lunch. (Even at Fiddler’s Creek Production’s zombie commercial shooting this winter, where I volunteered as an extra, pizza, chips and candy bars were plenteous.) During lunch, Bonanza finally got the voucher forms to everyone.
After lunch, we moved back to our places. I got moved from my patient/pulse role to stand behind a long table with some other patient/lookie-loos as we were filmed all agog watching Skeet Ulrich’s big scene (multiple times). There were plenty of other people in the scene, including Janeane and Twilight actress Rachelle Lefevre, but he was the center of that scene. Ulrich (Jericho, Scream; incidentally, the nephew of retired NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd) looks very tall rushing through a doorway and shouting, but fairly average-sized when standing quietly. He must just have a command presence that acts as a size multiplier.
I won’t say what was happening in this crucial scene, although the production company didn’t make us sign nondisclosure agreements. I think my little tidbits here about the production process are harmless, but I just don’t feel it would be fair for me to give plot spoilers.
They had us break again after that. I wasn’t in the background this time, but I stood as close to the treatment area as I could, so I could go on watching. Then they told the back half of the room full of extras that they could go home. I felt lucky to stay.
I sat and talked with Larkin’s owner. Someone else said she heard a rumor that Sissy Spacek had been spotted in Wilmington and was joining this show. I said that was really unlikely, since it would have been all over the news if she had.
Then the crew came back and picked some more people, including me, for background. I hope they cut the other clips that have me, for continuity, but keep this one! They had extras watching the big scene again, but this time we formed a sort of corridor. We reacted as the scene progressed. At the end, Skeet Ulrich strode along between us, passing just inches from me.
Then they had the extras sit down again while they shot more close-ups of the scene. Finally, they ended filming for the night, and started processing the extras’ paperwork. They asked us all to come back. I got out of there at 8:30.
Sadly, I have real work on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons (as opposed to play-work on set), so I couldn’t commit to either of those days. However, they told me to call on Thursday to see if I can go again on Friday, and maybe next week.
Once I got home, I checked online and discovered that yes, Sissy Spacek is indeed joining the cast. Yay for the show’s visibility! Maybe SouthLAnd’s critical raves helped convince her to sign up for this.
If entertainment chatter bores you, I hope you stopped reading long ago. I enjoyed the day quite a bit, and I hope some of my friends and relatives appreciate this one-day immersion in the Wilmington TV experience.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


A recent newspaper had a one-panel cartoon, with one woman talking to another over drinks. She was saying, "My ex and I were incompatible: He was into Android, I preferred an Apple platform."
I groaned when I saw it, thinking, boy, how old is that joke?
Then I started wondering, how old is that joke, really?
I've seen it numerous times in the older version of people breaking up over IBM vs. Mac. But does it go back further than that?
I'm not talking simply about disagreements over technology, which have probably been going back since before the introduction of Clovis points. I'm talking about different technology choices that make it difficult to interact with each other.
If two people who are dating are using different operating platforms (for phones, games, computers, etc.), they won't be able to use all the same applications. They can communicate in different ways, but there are parts of their lives that they won't be able to share directly.
Choosing different platforms may also indicate philosophical differences. The stereotype for IBMs and Macs was (and still is, AFAIK) that IBMs are for business and Macs are for creative types. More recently, Apple iOS (iPhones, etc.) have just a few, sleek, user-friendly options, while Google Android has a lot more flexibility and, well, isn't Apple. (Yeah, Blackberry and other options are out there, but they're not really in contention for dominance.)
But I'm wondering, when did technological incompatibility start affecting people's lives?
The first example that I can think of is machined weaponry. When Hopalong Cassidy was arguing with Buck and Red about which rifle was best (Sharps vs. Henry, IIRC), different choices led to different calibers, meaning they couldn't share ammunition when they were pinned down in a siege. In real life, capturing an enemy army's ammo dump won't help you reload unless it happens to fit your guns.
Also, different railroad companies used different gauges for a long time. When railroad use started exploding in the 1800s, individual lines set track widths without much regard for what others were using (sometimes deliberately choosing odd gauges to prevent business from being diverted to others. Remind you of anything today?). When trains couldn't transfer from one line to another, every bit of cargo had to be unloaded and reloaded.  It took decades before a standard gauge was put in place. 
Still, although these incompatibilities in warfare and business made some exchanges difficult, they would have been extremely unlikely to break up a courting couple. Let's see ... steam engines vs. internal combustion? Cassettes vs. 8-track, Beta vs. VHS? I'm sure there were many arguments between boyfriends and girlfriends about which of these might be better, but I really can't think of any technology that would interfere in communications and hinder relationships to the extent that it became a common joke until the rise of personal computers, and later personal (cellular) phones. Can anyone else?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Perspective in The Great Gatsby

I just went to a discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" at my local library. This was part of a year of events centered around the book via The Big Read Greater Wilmington. A lot of interesting things were said about the language and symbolism in the book, as well as the culture, and about F. Scott and Zelda Fitgerald's lives, but I'm not going to try to recap all that. I just want to share the point that I wanted to make, but never got to, because we ran 15 minutes past the hour as it was.

I think the viewpoint of the book was a very interesting choice. It's presented as having been written in first person, by Nick, but although he spends a little time talking about himself and what he does, he mostly serves as a third-person narrator about Gatsby and Daisy and all the other people he observes. Why this choice to use him as the narrator is interesting is that the real main character, and indeed the namesake of the book, is Gatsby. Why is this book not written from his perspective?

First of all is the practical reason -- because of the way the book turns out, Gatsby couldn't have written it to its full conclusion. Also, even if he had been able to after the events of the book, I can't see that character sitting down to write a book about himself; he may occasionally burst out of his carefully tended shell and reveal some of his thoughts and feelings to a good listener like Nick, but he isn't a writer, or even a reader -- the books in his library are uncut.

Secondly, Gatsby wouldn't have known everything that was happening around him and that led to the denouement, so a book from his perspective would have been incomplete. That also would have set a very different tone -- pages and pages about his longings for Daisy, but probably glossing over a great deal else.

Thirdly, Nick's viewpoint does add value to the story, beyond just being able to describe the conclusion. Fitzgerald could have avoided the problems of using Gatsby as the narrator by using third-person omniscient perspective, and given that the book is so economical in other ways, he must have considered this less complex possibility. But Nick is a bit more relatable than the other main characters; he's not rich, and although they're all outsiders in a way (West Egg new money), he's fresh to the situation, so he's able to introduce it more easily than one of the characters immersed in it. His perspective also adds context, and at the end, although his father taught him not to judge people, he judges the whole West Egg/Manhattan Jazz Age society, leaving it to move back to his home in the Midwest. Ultimately, Nick's detachment resonated with the detachment of the entire unsettled Lost Generation.

Finally, Fitzgerald may have felt a little too close too Gatsby's character to write about him in first person. He himself fell in love with a golden girl of society, Zelda, and it took several years for him to become financially successful enough to win her.

Note: This is all coming from my perspective as a writer and reader. I haven't studied the book or Fitzgerald, so for all I know, there may be an author interview somewhere where he talked about his narrative choices. I am certain that there are many books and dissertations out there that cover this topic much more competently and thoroughly than this little blog post. I just wanted to throw out the topic for discussion, since I didn't get to at the meeting. Please share your thoughts if you're interested, or if you know more than me!

Friday, January 18, 2013


It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. I need to remind myself that not every message here has to be a long essay. In that spirit, I'll write a short piece for today.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday of a roundtable discussion among science fiction fans, and one of the panelists kept misusing the word "insidious" as though it meant frightening or evil, and blatantly, overwhelmingly so. Has anyone else heard the word misused this way?

Merriam-Webster has a lot to say about the word; definitions include awaiting a chance to entrap, harmful but enticing, and having a gradual, cumulative effect. I've always thought of it as meaning subtly harmful, describing something that builds into a big, well-grounded problem before you're aware of it, so that's pretty much on track.

I'll give the example of Achyra, the insidiously evil Webmistress goddess, in Elizabeth Moon's "The Deed of Paksennarion" (as opposed to Liart, the more overt god of torment). She plays for the long game — or games, really, since she always has a lot of plots going on — setting up people and situations years in advance, masking her purposes and causing good people to fall into conflict with each other, and trying to strategize so that all courses of action may lead to woe. Rarely do her minions come out into the open.

While looking up "insidious," I also came across references to the 2010 movie. I didn't see that; I rarely go to a theater to see a movie, and this one was definitely not my cup of tea. Reading the plot description, it seems as though the title fits the word. If anyone has seen it and can tell me whether that's right, please do so.