Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Old Stuff

Alexandra Barnes - Embracing Chaos

Writing homesite for Alexandra Barnes. Short stories, tidbits of novels finished and in progress, links to published stories, good stuff that's worth sharing.

This was my blog. It wasn't a blog, really. Just a place to put links to stories I'd written under my pen name.

I can't remember the password, don't know how to claim it. Kinda like life, huh?

Sometimes you look back and you certainly recognize yourself, but you're just not quite sure how you could fit yourself into what once felt completely comfortable.

I guess we keep growing, even when we're older.

But this is mine. It's me. And one way to claim it just to put it right out here with who I am now.

A lot of the links are dead now. But some things are still there.

Plus I love that story "The Susan Float".

Friday, April 23, 2010

When Is a Computer Like A Car? When It's Cool

It's fun to find other people who like what you like.

I remember the fun I used to have driving around with the kids in "The Baby"...a white, 1974 BMW 2002. She looked a lot like the one in this picture.

She wasn't fancy; no modern sound system, no air conditioning, no pedal on the accelerator (the kid who sold it to me told me that "made it easier to floor". Great.). She had a problem that I understood at the time and have forgotten; but the symptom was that if you coasted down a hill then hit the gas, a huge, noxious cloud of foul white smoke poured out of the exhaust. That car broke down more than once. I had to keep a heated dip stick in the oil so she'd start in cold weather and had to clean her carburetor with an old toothbrush once a month. If it rained really hard the water would run down the inside of her windows. Her clock didn't work and her speedometer was broken, too. I guessed my speed by her tachometer. And we've never loved a car more.

I drove her to court right after I bought her to contest a speeding ticket I'd gotten in our old Jeep. I don't speed, so I was determined to fight it. But as I pulled into the lot, a guy called to me and said, "Know what they used to call those? Road Rockets." I figured I didn't have much of a shot with the judge.

Sighting another one on the road was rare, and we always waved madly at each other, giving each other huge thumbs ups. One time we pulled into a parking lot and a man followed us. I had two young kids in the car and was pretty worried. But he pulled up beside us and grinned.

"I used to have one of those! Best car I ever had!"

We spent ten minutes waxing poetic about the virtues of the little box that could.

When The Baby broke down, she always did it thoughtfully. Once she died at a doughnut shop. Once she gasped and wheezed into the lot of an automative shop in a neighboring city. She never stranded us on the road. We drove her three hours to the beach without a problem. We drove home from a long trip once and noticed she seemed a little sluggish. Turned out only two cylinders were functioning and we still were doing 55 mph all the way home.

That noxious smoke? We used it on tailgaters. I'd take my foot off the gas on a hill and let the person who'd been climbing up our butts for miles get good and close. The kids would start yelling..."Hit it, Mom, hit it!" I'd hit the gas and we'd all look back to see the other car suddenly enveloped in a cloud of stinky smoke. There was great rejoicing.

I saw one parked in the lot in town here the other day. A woman with two young kids was driving it, and I applauded as she drove by.

That's what all this Mac clubby stuff reminds me of. They're cool, they're in the minority, and I'm part of the club now.

It's nice.

But I still miss The Baby.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Big Fat Mini iLife

It's done. I've converted. I've thought about it for years, listened to my mac-friends rave about their cool computers, watched my daughter, then my son, dive into the Applepond and call to me on the shore - "Come on in! The water's fine!"

I live with Mr. Mac. Most creative people are. And when we met lo those many years ago, he was surprised I was a PC.

"I'd have guessed you were a Mac."

My very first email on my new miniMac was from him, congratulating me on now being among the cool people who can sneer at HP laptops.

I won't be doing that.

But here's the thing:

I am going to be doing a huge amount of audio editing and my aging PC rolled its eyes when I told it what was coming.

"Seriously?" it asked.

I understood. It's at least six years old and the most I've asked of it is to save my writing and avoid viruses. It's done a fine job. This would be like asking a compact car to tow a yacht.

Money is most certainly an object and that seemed to put the Mac out of my reach, until the nice guy at Sweetwater (you want audio stuff? They're for you.) suggested the mini-Mac.

"You can keep your monitor. You can keep your printer. Get yourself a nice backup harddrive and you've got more than enough oomph to do anything you want."

Done. The box arrived and my brain seized up. How do I transfer all my stuff? How do I learn this new editing program? How do I find time to do all this learning with a new job starting, too? AAAAAAAHHHH!!!

But I put my head down, started unpacking and set it up last night. I am writing this with the help of my new friend, Minny.
She's a little white box with wireless and bluetooth (can't see that I'll need them, but I'm impressed), extra memory and one bonus I did not expect.

She's quiet. Incredibly quiet. No fan noise quiet. Until I installed the external hard drive, turning on the computer was a dead quiet experience.

That's amazing for someone used to loud PC fans, a constant whir, that white noise that's just part of computers.

Minny's on the desk beside me, not on the floor collecting cat hair. She's sleek and spiffy and raring to go.

So far, she's even allowing me to use my old PC keyboard, though I know that'll change as I start needing more keyboard shortcuts. She installs hardware without a question, isn't complaining about the fact that I've already got her USB hubs at capacity. She sucks in CDs with a quiet hum and spits them out cleanly on request.

I think I love her.

How I'll feel about Logic Express9 is another question. But I have hopes. And I have the advantage of living with Mr. Wizard.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Transformative Film

I feel really lucky to have seen this film grow over the past few years.
It's important, it's powerful and it's got a lot of heart.
It's Peaceable Kingdom, the new film from Tribe of Heart.

Follow that link and the music you hear will be my guy's. That's why I've been able to watch this film evolve over the past few years. He's been working with Jenny and James and I've watched them methodically edit, trimming and trimming until what's left is the most powerful movie I've ever seen.

I've written about it before, but writing just doesn't do it justice.
Now they've put up a clip that gives you a real feel for this project's spirit. It's about animal rights, yes, but it's done in a way that works. It doesn't preach, it doesn't shriek. It just asks you to listen to farmers who've changed the way they relate to their animals, and lets you look more closely at those animals to see why. This, for instance, shows a mother hen and her chick. And it makes you think.

Mother Hen and Chick from Tribe of Heart on Vimeo.

This film is kicking some serious film festival butt. It's won three top prizes already. Maybe its time has come. Maybe it's the right filmmakers, the right subject, the right approach, all together at the right moment.

It's not out on DVD yet. But it will be. If it's going to be screening near you, go. If it's not, request it.

I've seen "An Inconvenient Truth," Michael Moore's films - I've admired them. I got a lot out of them.

Nothing has packed the emotional punch of this one, and not in a harrowing, I'm-scarred-for-life way, though it doesn't flinch from showing reality. Peaceable Kingdom makes you rethink what you thought you knew, and encourages you to reconsider your own relationship to the way things are.

Getting to Know You

This president is revealing himself slowly, proving to be the logical tactician rather than the passionate do-gooder. It's nothing he tried to hide; his speeches may have been full of fire and zeal, yet his measured responses to questions, his thoughtfulness, his logic made it clear that this isn't a man ruled by emotion.

Today's Daily Beast discusses what we're learning about The Obama Doctrine. It is logical. It is measured. And it disappoints me.

I'm not looking for wild-eyed fanaticism that demands every country adopt our form of democracy - it should be pretty damned clear by now that we don't have the corner on functional government.

What I'm disappointed about is that human rights are again taking a backseat to political expediency. I have been immersed in the stories of human rights abuses lately for my show, and I still naively hope that the US should be shaking off its own shortcomings in that area and pushing for the rest of the globe to join it.

We've certainly lost our moral high ground (if we ever had it) but that doesn't mean we have to abandon the principles. It's more important than ever that we examine our own human rights record, cement policy that ensures abuses aren't tolerated, and make human rights an important plank in any platform from which we deal with the rest of the world.

That's not what's happening. I remember hearing the phrase "peace at any cost"...and much as I cannot condone war, bloodshed, violence, I also cannot accept any cost.

We keep posturing and telling the world we're "leaders". How can you lead if you don't stand for something?

Human rights should be non-negotiable issues for any nation which wants to be part of the civilized world. That applies to the US and every other member of the global community.

Is it really possible that in the 21st century we still don't make torture, oppression, murder and human trafficking violations important enough for us to withdraw our friendship?

Are we so embarrassed by our own behavior that we can't?

So sad, America. So sad.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nyah Nyah, You Can't Come In

My guy loves the Masters.

"It's the prettiest golf course ever," he says.

But it rubs me the wrong way now that I know girls aren't allowed.

No, I'm not demanding that women be allowed to play the Masters. I'm wondering why women aren't allowed to be members of Augusta National.

It's pretty. Very pretty. And very, very exclusive. One article I read said there are only three hundred members and those are only let in by invitation. Bill Gates has not been invited. So women are in pretty successful company.

But women are not permitted to be members, though they're allowed on the course to watch the tournament and I even saw a woman official helping some poor guy whose ball looked like it had landed next to the privvy in the trees.

But no women members.

The National Coalition of Women's Organizations wrote to Hootie Johnson, the head of Augusta, suggesting that this might be the year to change that policy. Hootie is no red neck but was an official of the National Urban League and helped integrate South Carolina's schools by getting the state to establish the state's only undergraduate business program at a college that was, at the time, only attended by blacks. If you wanted to study business, you had to go there. Pretty smart.

But his reaction to the private letter from the NCWO was a public scold, maintaining that the course would change that policy when it was ready to, not at the "point of a bayonet."

I would have thought a fellow like Hootie would have felt that letter as goad to his conscience, not a bayonet to the gut.

So Tiger Woods, the guy who has a little problem with women, makes his big comeback at a course that won't let women be members.

The timing really was perfect for Augusta National to step up and be better, to join the 21st century and maybe even set an example for its tarnished star.

I'm not a foaming-at-the-mouth, let-me-in-or-else woman, but I'm a woman. And I have a daughter. I had a mother. And I am offended that because we're not men, no matter what our qualifications, no matter what our connections, there's a club that simply will not let us join.

My mom liked to play golf. Hootie, you'd have enjoyed playing a round with her. She was serious about it and she was good company.

Your loss.

Tiny Houses

I like little houses. Always have.

When the kids were small, we'd drive around the countryside and while everyone else was ooh-ing and ah-ing at the big, rambling houses, I'd get excited about the playhouses, the bungalows.

We'd pass an outhouse.

"There's a Mom-house," the kids would say. And they'd laugh and laugh.

There's something very satisfying about a house that's no bigger than it needs to be, where every square inch has a function. I don't want to bump my head on the ceiling or crash into the walls if I stretch, but I appreciate a house that is compact, efficient and beautiful.

I fell in love with Irish thatched roof cottages. Charm, function, compact design. And then I discovered vardos, known to most of us as Gypsy caravans. I still dream of having one in my yard one day. Secretly, I'd like to live in one.

Why wouldn't you? They're gorgeous, easy to clean, easy to move. Tired of your neighbors? Roll on down the road. I'm good with owning a big old draft horse. I'm better than good with it.

Something new has happened in recent years. I've loved Victorian architecture my whole life, drooled over farmhouses, Carpenter Gothic, Arts and Crafts. I never cared much for the spare, minimalist thing. But that's changing.

Maybe it's a reaction to years of pouring love and money into charming old wrecks that reward your devotion with yet another plumbing crisis. I'm tired.

Really, look at this place. It's absolutely gorgeous in its simplicity. Walls, windows, space for whatever you need. Too small for two, maybe, unless they're very chummy. But okay, then, butt two together.

Set it down amid the trees and it becomes part of its surroundings. Place it in rocks, ditto. Along a stream? Same. It's unobtrusive, so plain as to be a non-issue. It's about the setting instead of the house.

Want to see more? This site is like porn for tiny house coveters.

And if you're ready to take a walk on the wild side, check this out.

Be warned: this stuff is addictive.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Does This Mean I Have A Problem?

I suspect my addiction-free image of myself is flawed. First, there's peanut butter. I have an unhealthy relationship with it. I could live on it, I think. I'd like to try.

Then there's coffee. That reaches an entirely different depth of addiction, the "you can make me stop but you can't make me live" response to the thought of giving it up.

My mom started me. She loved her coffee straight and I grew up thinking that the number one difference between grownups and kids was what they drank in the morning. Hand me a coffee mug and I am a woman.

So when I was eleven or so I announced I was going to have coffee.

"Go ahead," she said. "But if you do, you have to drink coffee. No milk, no sugar, just drink it."

I was a stubborn kid. I drank it, made a bit of a face, then decided it wasn't half bad.

I've been sucking it down religiously ever since.

At first, it bonded my mother and me. There was something really chummy about hanging around together in the morning (when we both could), each of us nursing our coffee.

Then it woke me up. That helped when my first job called for me to be alert and ready to go at five ayem.

It's been keeping me going ever since.

As coffee addictions go, I know mine's middle of the road. I live with a man who is far worse. He has his coffee in the morning, certainly. Then he makes another pot somewhere after dinner and sucks it down as he begins work in the studio. Sometimes he makes a third pot and keeps it going until the wee hours of the morning.

He, however, drinks it light and extra sweet. Wuss.

My daughter drinks coffee and that doesn't surprise me. She's a coffee kind of girl. She's also a vegetarian, a former "I smoke cause it makes me look cool" smoker and a former reluctant slave to the Pepperidge Farm Entertaining Collection. She'll give it up in a heartbeat if she decides to.

What surprised me was when my son drank a cup. He's the family jock, the sports-drink and soda guy, the kid who loves processed foods and kept a bag of chips in his room for emergencies. Skittles? Mountains of them. I just didn't envision him drinking coffee. But he'll be 23 this year and apparently he's learned a few new tricks. He drinks it light and sweet, but he drinks it.

Look what you started, Mom.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Singing My Life With His Words

I haven't had many deep thoughts lately. I've been busy. I'm preparing to start a new job, figuring out how to continue to do part of the old one on a part time basis. Shopping for career clothes, high heeled pumps, getting my aging car in shape for a new commute.

But weekends are for music around here. My guy works a vampire schedule all week; rising as late as he can, working til the wee hours. And I get up early, so I say goodnight just as he's getting revved up and fall asleep as he fine tunes the songs that apparently will begin to hit the radio this spring.

On weekends, I can push my bedtime back and sometimes I get a call from the studio down the path..."I need ears." That means he's done something new and needs a pair of ears to check it with.

I love being his "ears". I bounce down the bluestone path whose creation destroyed his knees and both our backs and sit down. I listen. Sometimes I have nothing to say beyond, "I love it." Sometimes I have a question. Sometimes, more often lately as I get more confident of my ears, I have a suggestion.

Last night I suggested a backwards calliope was the sound missing behind a verse.

"What are you, George Martin?" he laughed.

"Backwards flutes, then?"

He discovered that there was already a great part that filled the gap perfectly - it just needed to be a bit louder. That's the kind of fine tuning he does endlessly, relentlessly, before he's confident that a song is "done".

We sat and listened to some other music, music he said he thought might have a similar feel to this piece. And I asked about the lyrics.

To me, this song is, as so many of the songs on this album are, a conversation with the human race.

"But that's not what I meant," he said. "I can see how you'd take it that way, but that wasn't what I was thinking at all."

That interests me. I listen to a song and immediately personalize it; I think we all do. How strange it must be for the person to write it to speak with someone who feels like they "get" it.

"I understand exactly what you meant," the fan might say.

But it would soon become clear that they didn't understand at all.

And yet that connection, even if it's a misunderstanding, is exactly what makes a song important to us.

That, plus an unforgettable hook and a beat we can dance to.