Wednesday, February 29, 2012

trying again

to upload video and have it play. Maybe the limit is one per post?

According to Preview, this should show up. Yay. If you can play it, you will see Sutrisno's elder daughter beginning her dance and the gamelan players in the background.
I have a longer video, but it won't load. Ah well. It's interesting to see the classic moves done in modern Western dress. The second session she was wearing blue jeans and t-shirt, and bright pink socks. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

puppets again but different

Two Sundays in a row, this month, I was able to attend an open rehearsal sesssion of a gamelan orchestra, followed by an Indonesian lunch, followed by a workshop on Indonesian shadow puppetry, the wayang kulit.
The workshops were held at Merlin's Sun Theatre, a tiny theatre in the home of Tim Gosley, a puppeteer who worked with the Muppets, among others. He was hosting, in this case, with the demonstration and teaching done by Sutrisno Hartana, a wayang master and gamelan teacher.
I knew a little bit about wayang--I have a small shadow puppet of Hanuman--but next to nothing about gamelan music. (I hope I have enough space to put up a couple of videos, so I don't have to spread this out over two or three posts).

The orchestra was a mix of Sutrisno's family, from wife Anis, able to sing after recovering from throat surgery, to immensely cute preschooler son. His older daughter demonstrated dance while the younger played the bells. Other members were from the university, faculty or students (oddly, I don't recall any of them being music students, but I may have missed that in the introductions).
Gamelan orchestras are fairly informal. They may not practice together, but rely on players showing up to fill in various parts, and it seems to be loose and jazz-like, allowing improvisation.

 Wayang kulit is shadow puppetry. There are puppets in the round as well, but that wasn't up this time.
The shadow puppets are made of untanned buffalo hide, elaborately pierced, painted and gilded.
You're looking at the performer's side, here. The audience would be on the other side of the screen, seeing only the shadows.
Performances start at sundown, originally lit by lamps, and run all night. There may be one puppeteer or several, and besides the gamelan orchestra, the puppeteer provides sound effects by holding a sort of knocker between his toes and rapping it against any hard surface (like a box of puppets).
The strips of blue foam at the bottom of the screen serve for jamming the puppets' base sticks into, so that the arms can be operated more easily, or a second character manipulated. Originally banana trunk would be used (I asked).

 The two fan shapes are multi-purpose. They are brought together and apart to signify the beginning of a play or scene, and can be fluttered across the screen to suggest wind, waves or fire. Fixed in place, one can stand for a palace or the forest. A character hidden in one while moving across the screen is travelling through a forest.
This pic is of the phoenix flying through a forest, with both puppets in fluttering motion. 
Again, it is the puppeteer who sees the brilliant painting and gilding, and that seems the wrong way around at first.
But here's what the audience sees.
Pretty impressive anyways, and more of the colour comes through than you might guess. You see the really intricate images you can get with the thin strong buffalo hide. Both the forest and the palace details can be clearly seen, with some bonus shadows from the puppets beside, waiting their turn for action.
Throughout the demonstrations, a little crowd of students would collect on the audience side of the screen, just watching the show, and having to be chased out so they could practice the art and see how the master performed it.

This video is a demonstration of two 'clown' characters conversing, showing the characteristic brusque motions and rough or squeaking voices. Lower-class characters usually stand lower on the screen, feet below the red border that signifies the earth. If characters lower themselves so, it suggests that they're sitting down or kneeling before a superior.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

notes on a reading by a real author

The trouble with having an actual life, offline, is that it interferes with blogging. Thus I am over a week late posting about the one interesting event of Alumni Week at the university where I work (and of which I am an alumna).
There may have been other events that would have been interesting to other people, but consider whose blog this is, mm? So, yes, it was the reading by Robert Wiersema that I wanted to attend. Conveniently it was in the library, so I just had to shift my lunch hour around that day.
Mr. Wiersema is UVic's first Distinguished Alumnus, which he can add to 'bestselling Canadian novelist', 'distinguished book reviewer', and 'event coordinator for Bolen Books'. And teaching a Fiction Writing workshop at Camosun College. He's also a regular poster on Absolute Write.

The room for the reading is on the main floor of the library, one of the newer installations, with glass walls and one whiteboard wall. A multi-purpose room, without much in the way of built-in furniture. A good many rolling chairs had been wheeled in, and a desk and podium in front of the whiteboard wall. People strolled in, several of them library employees (more staff than librarians to my eye). The very tall new head librarian was of course present, chatting with the distinguished alum. Photos were taken with Mr. Wiersema posed signing his books (to go in Special Collections) and with the head librarian and an cheerful older couple whom I guessed to be the elder Wiersemas (yeah, I'm sharp that way).

Prefatory remarks by J. Bengtson in the usual vein of pref remarks, puffing Alumni Week, check out displays in Special Collections etc., anecdote about family connection to architect who designed circular campus, keeping it fairly short and on to honour to announce first official Distinguished Alumnus, Robert Wiersema, credits as above.

Wiersema is bearded, short and tending towards burly, with a contained energy that seems to fizz a little in the air around him. I imagine he'd be pretty effective in a rugby scrum. He begins by observing the changes in the McPherson library since he was a student 10 years ago (Hearing this, I wonder whether I should feel old.) The changes are both wonderful and alarming, he notes.
Then he gets down to it. He came to UVic because he wanted to write. As a child he wanted to write and draw, but by grade two he knew he was a failed artist, so he had to be a writer.
Embarrassing Disclosure # 1: as a child he devoured books--literally--he ate page corners.

First reading, from Bedtime Story, related to discovering the love of books:  protagonist's memory of post-bereavement childhood stay at grandparents' farm, his boredom relieved by finding box of papers and books belonging to his father, his entrancement by the sf/f paperbacks by an invented author.

He follows up by describing the passage as an interweaving of fiction with fact:  don't trust a fiction writer.
In the 1980s, the study options for writers were UVic or UBC. UVic's program was better regarded, and perhaps more important, it was further from home. He wanted distance from Agassiz, to be removed from the temptation to go home every weekend and never really leave. His parents smile.

Second reading, from Walk Like a Man, memoir of growing up with Bruce Springsteen's music. A passage about arriving at university, how strange to not know anyone after small town environment (however glad one was to escape it), being unsure how to begin making friends or even open conversation with strangers, and the influence of music.
Embarrassing anecdote about 14 identical pairs of robin's egg-blue underwear packed by his mother. His mother smiles and blushes.

 He began with a double major, History and Creative Writing. After finding how much study and work was involved in a history major, he dropped that. In second year he dropped Creative Writing because he realised he was not progressing in fiction writing, only in poetry. He shifted to English and took honours. He was also working at a downtown bookstore (not named--Munro's?) which made for a useful combination of studying the classics of literature and awareness of what was actually being read.
On to theory. The Newtonian physics of storytelling:  characters in stories are in stasis just before the story opens; they are acted on by an outside force which begins the story:  the inciting incident. In his Before I Wake, he puts the incident on the first page.

Third reading, the opening of Before I Wake. Though the accident is on the first page, the passage is not a description of the car accident, but the shock and self-recriminations of the parent thinking about it, how bereaved parents always say 'I only looked away for a moment', but this narrator never looked away, and yet still the child was hurt, perhaps killed.

Annoyingly, the inside flap of the jacket gives away what happens to the little girl, so the off-balance anxiety of the actual opening is undercut. A brief digression on book jackets, and how much he likes the front cover of Walk Like a Man, a Springsteen photo he had not seen before. A photo exists of himself in a similar leather jacket and similar pose. Generally he has been pleased with his cover art.
The passage is about how lives change in a moment / an impact, that is the key to fiction. Too many young writers fall into the trap of 'write what you know', taking it literally. His first stories were about young men leaving small towns and feeling dislocated, but without an impact that changed their lives and caused them to act.
He writes best out of fear. In December of 1998 he learned his wife was pregnant, and after the initial happiness he hit the what-ifs. What would be the worst thing that could happen? Your child being injured or killed. He remembered a Vancouver Sun story about a family whose young daughter was in a coma and who had reported mysterious and miraculous things happening around her. Putting that together with an idea of a family falling apart (I note here that a child's illness more often breaks up a family than brings it together.) he wrote the first draft of Before I Wake in a white heat over 3 months.
Then he put it into a drawer.
Eventually he took it out again. Before I Wake became a national bestseller, and has been translated into various languages.
He has come to realise that his fiction is consistently about an awful thing happening to a child about three years older than his own child. See above about writing out of fear. About what people do after the worst has happened?

Fourth reading, again from Before I Wake, from the storyline of the driver who hit the little girl, his shock, fear, horror and dislocation. The image of the child flying into the air haunts him, and he can't re-connect himself enough to do anything rational like turn himself in. He drives around, goes to the hospital and secretly observes the parents, then drives to a cliff overlooking the ocean (yeah, this is where you should go read the book).

In his fiction things often take a turn for the weird, but the stories are grounded in the realities of Victoria. Bedtime Story has a science fiction story buried inside it, but his writing is closer to magic realism, tied to the Island surroundings and fed by his own obsessions.

Question time
As a book reviewer, does he read or avoid dust jacket blurbs and inside flaps?
He often doesn't see them, as reviewing is done from galleys and proof copies.

Was fear part of his Springsteen memoir?
Yes, but it was a different fear, not of fear for the future or for his family.

What would be in the real-life equivalent of the box of books in Bedtime Story? (this was my question)
Pause for thought. Madeleine L'Engle's books; the Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators series; John Bellairs's The House With a Clock in its Walls and the sequels. He learned recently that Bellairs wrote the book for adults, but couldn't find a publisher, so simplified the prose somewhat for younger readers, but didn't diminish the creepiness. With Edward Gorey illustrations, it became first in a series, later continued by another writer. (It shows up fairly often as a Book Stumper as well--a book that makes a deep impression on young readers.)

J. Bengtson does thanks and acknowledgements, people stand up and wander about, straggle out. I trot up to the front, waiting my turn after a few notables. Wiersema says 'you were taking notes', and I say I'll probably be blogging (this is finally made true). Then I get to say 'I'm batgirl on Absolute Write', which is, after all, not something one can say every day and have the other person understand, so I must seize my chances. Brief chat, I confess real name, and promise to actually buy his books instead of just reading the library copy. (as soon as I get my Kobo back, sigh, whinge, sigh)

Then back upstairs for the afternoon's work, where I am unsurprised to see a request to add a copy of his Chizine title, A World More Full of Weeping, to the Main stacks, there being already a signed copy in Special Collections.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Magicians, seers and sages

 was the theme of this year's Medieval Seminar at UVic. Which was definitely one of the more interesting topics we've had, and--yay!--one which didn't leave me staring at the wall, wondering how on earth to set up a relevant display.

For one thing, literacy! Before literacy was common, writing was strongly identified with magic. Spelling. Grammar and glamour (a magical mind-control) have the same root. What is she writing, below? Perhaps a textual amulet to be carried for protection against evil.

Then from texts to textiles. Spells can be stitched or woven--think of all the mundane craft terms associated with magic. I'm tempted to mention some very good stories with textile magic, but since they're by modern authors and not medieval, I'll try to stay on topic. This below is embroidery by Elisabeth de Besancon, and lovely clean work of course. If I get hold of specific info about the stitches and so on I'll post it, but right now I have nowt.

I had to pick my moment carefully to get all three with their heads down. It's not quite the Three Fates, but evocative, don't you think? Fortunately none of them have shears.

This is just one of the more intriguing-looking bits of the display. Like the dried lizard? I always knew it would come in handy someday. I had fun writing up all the little cards.

Then there's magic associated with music. Enchanted by song, sung to sleep or madness. Fiddles that make all hearers dance. True Thomas the harper of the Queen of Faerie, the horns of Elfland.

I can promise you that none of this spread below was magicked. Just tasty!
After takedown we went home to a medieval feast of Grete Pie (the flour & water crust serves as the baking dish) of pork and chicken and dried apples, plums and raisins, side dishes of spinach salad and canabens with bacon, and a pudding of milk and almonds. (I am open to correction and addition on any of this, since all I did was make up gluten-free pastry for a secondary pie).
Oh, almost forgot. With the invaluable help of Joan (the harpist above) two smallish cloth hangings got painted, appropriate to the theme. I've been trying to pull that together for the last three? four? seminars, and never managed to set aside time. This time Joan made it happen. Yay!

Done over two evenings. The blue one is Joan's. Cool, isn't it? It made me remember how much I like painting.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The others ran too fast

Was the title my dad had chosen for his autobiography, from an overheard exchange at a school Sports Day:  "Why didn't you win?" "The others ran too fast."
And thus I have not won nor shortlisted in the recently-announced results of the 2011 3-Day Novel Contest.
The winners (hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!):

HEIDEGGER STAIRWELL by Kayt Burgess of Aurora, Ontario
Kayt Burgess
Kayt Burgess
About the Author
Kayt Burgess is a writer, artist, opera singer and musician. She studied classical music at the University of Western Ontario and earned her Master’s degree in creative writing from Bath Spa University in the UK. Kayt was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario, grew up in Elliot Lake and now lives near Toronto after stints in New Zealand, England and Scotland. Heidegger Stairwell is her first novel. It will be released by 3-Day Books in September 2012.
About the Book
Music journalist Evan Strocker has almost finished a memoir chronicling his time with Heidegger Stairwell, an indie-rock legend from small-town Ontario whose members he has known his whole life. But the band thinks he’s left a little too much of himself on the page—allowing his experiences as a transgender man and his complicated romance with the lead guitarist eclipse the story of the group’s dramatic rise and fall. Through graphic notes and colourful marginalia, the musicians weigh in on their friend’s version of the truth, and fight to put their own testimony on the record. As Strocker’s manuscript finally comes together, both band and writer are forced to face a shocking new event that will once again change their fortunes.

Winning $500

Street Dogs by Brandon Hobson
Brandon Hobson is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing atOklahoma State University. His fiction has appeared in NOON, New York Tyrant, Puerto del Sol, Narrative Magazine, Web Conjunctions and elsewhere. He lives in Hennessey, Oklahoma, with his wife and son.

Winning $100

She Felt Like Velvet by Karen Cressman
Karen Cressman is a marketing writer with a fascination for all things Alice In Wonderland. She is currently developing three novels-in-progress and, of course, dreaming up plots for the next 3-Day Novel Contest. She lives with her husband in Brampton, Ontario.

Our Top-10 Runners-Up
  • Full Moon Rules by LENORE BUTCHER of Woodstock, Ontario
  • Alice’s Adventures Through a Very Big Mirror by VICTORIA DUNN of Ottawa, Ontario
  • Darius to the Max by CATHI RADNER CASTRIO of Argyle, New York
  • Not by TERRY LEEDER of Oakville, Ontario
  • Rounds Down Range by J.L. MYERS of Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Half of No by KARI PILGRIM of Brooklyn, New York
  • Happily Destroyed by EVAN PURCELL of Bullhead City, Arizona
  • Deadfall by RACHEL SLANSKY of San Francisco, California
  • Lords of Ironfire by RUDY THAUBERGER of Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Banquet of Consequences by ANDERSON TODD of Toronto, Ontario

In honesty, I wasn't surprised. While I continue to have 'local dexterity', Vessels came out rather thin, and not nearly as dark as it might have been. It has potential, especially if I interweave the child-goddess's story with Effie's story, and pick up various dropped plot-threads, like the clues to the fate of Effie's husband. And embrace the dark as well as the humour.
I did get, as before, a lovely 'I survived' certificate with a shiny seal, and an entry form for next year. Oh, and a sticky note:
Barbara -
The judges had such a hard time choosing this year. They very much enjoyed your submission, as always. All the best to you for 2012!

As usual, some really intriguing titles in the shortlist. My choice for wish-I-could-read is Victoria Dunn's title, but the last two are pretty eye-catching as well.
I'd like to give a special shout-out to Cathi Radner Castrio, a 5-time entrant and regular poster to the ABE Bookforum 3-Day entrants thread, who hit the shortlist this year. Go, catrad, go!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

cider and morris dancers

I promised pics. So, from Jan 15, our visit to Sea Cider, for morris dancing and general whoop-di-doo. Though the weather had been uncertain, with threatened rain, when we arrived it was clear and sunny, but COLD. Bravely, Mark and I joined the tour just then going around.

Here you see the proprietor of the family-owned (and run) business, standing in front of the casks, explaining the brewing process. Their Rumrunner cider was aged in barrels that had been used for Newfoundland Screech, but the screech distillery switched to plastic barrels, which Kristen refused to use. Turns out that screech is matured in bourbon casks. So they got the empty bourbon casks, soaked them with screech, and went on from there. It tickles me to think of think of these casks going from booze to booze to booze.
The tour wasn't as visually interesting as Victoria Gin's is, because you can't go into the working area for fear of contaminating the process, and since it isn't distilling, there aren't massive steampunk-type brass and copper vats with fascinating dials and pipes. 

 Next is the view across the orchard, which as you can see is young yet. They also get apples from local farms, orchards, and Lifecycles (I've thought of calling them to take away the Transparents). Mark drew my attention to the degree of pruning, which he thinks I should follow. I am way too tender with pruning our apple trees (not that this is reflected in my revising of my writing, noooo....), but I have promised to be more ruthless (less ruthful?) this spring.

 Anyway. Nice view. We hurried inside for warmth, but the big doors were open to the balcony and winter air. Fortunately a couple of heat lamps had been provided to huddle under, and drink tickets got us generous samples of cider, which does warm the interior.

The Island Thyme Morris Dancers (the women only) performed a series of dances, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and I'm a bit peeved with myself that I didn't trot up to the gallery while they were doing the sword dance that ends with the wooden swords interlocked in a star, which is carried off in triumph.

See? I did get some pics of another dance, but it isn't as spiff as the sword dance figures would have looked. 

I did love their musicians, who were straight out of an English or Irish pub. I bet the fellow in the flat cap is a demon darts player. 

And a traditional mummers play by the Quicksbottom Morris Dancers. Nostalgia! I was able to mutter along with several speeches, from the version of the play that we performed, gosh, over twenty years ago. We didn't have a Green Man, though, and he is pretty cool. Nor did we have a hot Witch in tall black boots. 

Yes, I did buy cider, a bottle of the new Wassail, and another of Kings and Spies. 
Closing with a fiddler in concentration.