Friday, October 31, 2008

A change is gonna come

I don't know how to say all this without sounding like a total wingnut, but that's never stopped me before so....

This is a story of a blue sky, a lamp standard, a number, a vapour trail, a snake and a Seal.

Writers see symbols in everything. We can't help ourselves, and for a writer, life is one big metaphor. All we have to do is pay attention.

After attending the amazing Surrey International Writers' Conference, I came home renewed, uplifted, almost manic in my zeal to get the words on the page. Something happened. There was a profound shift, and I don't want to use the word epiphany (although I just did) but it was BIG. Thank you, Vicki Pettersson. Thank you Jack Whyte. Thank you Eric Walters. Thank you Diana Gabaldon. I feel like I've come out of a twenty year coma.

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(gratuitous shot of Buddy to illustrate my point and break up text)

At the conference there was one low moment for me, and one beautiful moment of grace I felt honoured to witness. Sometimes you need the one to help you see the other.

So, I've been working like a madwoman all week, borne aloft by a warm current of love from good friends and mentors alike, which is unusual for me because I'm often a sloth when it comes to hard work (see photo above.) I now feel joyous and hopeful and charged with energy and inspiration. That's the power of the SIWC. I got so fired up today that when Buddy and I stepped out for our daily walk, I found myself skipping along the road. Sideways. While singing out loud to my iPod. (As if my neighbours needed more examples of my lunacy.)

I always flip on my iPod to the first song and just run through the same list. I didn't even download the list, my husband got it off his playlist. I didn't even know what the song was called. I've just always liked it because the upbeat tempo is perfect for walking.

It's Seal's CRAZY. "We're never going to survive unless we are a little crazy," he sings. Yes. YES! I noticed the cloudless blue sky, and felt the sun on my face and I felt crazy happy.

"in a sky full of people only some want to fly
isn't that crazy
in a world full of people only some want to fly
isn't that crazy
in a heaven of people there's only some want to fly
isn't that crazy?"

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I looked up and I happened to be standing directly under a light standard (because I felt tears welling and that's what women do - they tilt their heads back and roll their eyes up and blink.) These are the same lights that have lined the street for the twenty years I've lived here, but I noticed that the one directly above me was the only one turned on. At high noon. And there was a large, black "7" on it, which you can only see if you stand directly under it and look up which I'd never done before.

The number seven was something my first boyfriend and I used as code. We'd say "seven" to each other, or squeeze each other's hand seven times. It drove our friends nuts, because we wouldn't tell them what it meant. (Come on, give me a break. I was a kid.)

"I love you, and you love me." Seven words.

I thought about the weekend, everything I'd seen and heard, the bad and the good, and I noticed a vapour trail in the cloudless sky, only one, and it divided the sky neatly in half, the earthly and the divine. (Please, if you're a scientist, do not tell why this is incorrect. Play along with me.)
I continued on, up the loop over the highway, around the senior's residence where I like to imagine the residents smiling as they watch Buddy leap around like a dolphin in the grass. I thought briefly about the only low moment of the weekend, then looked down as I almost stepped on this tiny snake, writhing in discomfort on the sidewalk between the railroad tracks I had just crossed. I could have kept going, but it was hot and dry in the sun so I tied Buddy to a post and placed the snake in the grass. I don't know if it survived, but at least I did my part. (I know a lot of you are thinking "what would she have done if it was an injured squirrel?" but let's not go there. It'll take the story in a whole new direction.)

I decided, right then and there that, to paraphrase Seal, in a world full of people, I choose to fly.

I came home and googled Seal so that I could check the lyrics for this post. And what pops up? His new CD, due to be released on Monday. The title?

A Change is Gonna Come


(a little addendum: I was recapping this story for my husband, and when I got to the part about the street lamp I used the actual street name. It's a street we use every single day so I used it without giving it a second thought until he started laughing. I said, "It was on Angell Street, just above Church." I mean, come on. Seriously.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Whenever I can (afford it) I go to London (England, not Ontario) at the end of February (still deep winter in Canada) and walk the (snowfree) streets of London, immerse myself in culture (art, plays and warm Guinness on tap) and pretend I live there for ten days or so. God, I love that city. I feel dark, irrational lust for that city. A reminder of what I'm leaving behind at that time of year and what I'm running to embrace:

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Well, I can't actually embrace it as you can see, it's quite tall and trust me on this one, security takes a dim view of a crazy Canuck hugging a building, but I give it a mental hug. (Take that as you will.)

I will take London over Any Other Vacation Spot on earth (except maybe for Paris, which also rocks as it was where we spent our honeymoon and our 10th anniversary, BOO-yah) (oh, and New York City, which kind of has the London vibe only the people are much ruder unless you throw Parisians in the mix and then they win that one hands down, especially if you're an American sitting in a bistro and you try to order, say, freedom fries and instead of saying "pommes frites" you say "pommes" and the waiter tries to bring you apples, even though he knows EXACTLY what you want. I watched this transpire at the next table and felt compelled, as a Canadian with limited French and a deep-seated love of fries, to step in and save the fries, I mean, day.) So back to London. This is London in February, a shot taken on a walk in St. James Park:

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Notice how the birds are flying, not hatching an egg on their happy feet?

So one year, I wandered in to the Natural History Museum, for it was beckoning me across the street from the flat I was renting, next door to the flat where the last woman to be hanged in London lived. Well, before they hanged her. (Yes, they have plaques for everything in London. "Charles Dickens stopped to blow his nose here. Once.") After breakfast at Patisserie Valerie (NOT TO BE MISSED) I checked out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit at the NHM and it's been a must see every year. Unfortunately the actual trip to London isn't a 'must do' every year (well, it's a 'must do' in my books, but in my husband's books, the ones with all the little red numbers in them, where it's a 'can not' for the present time.)

The nice thing is, I can still check out the exhibit online. The winners were just announced and you can see them HERE

It's not quite the same as wandering about a large yet intimate exhibition hall. There you have soft music (I have a sample if someone could tell me how to insert it on the blog) and low lights and hushed murmurs from the crowd as we all gather around each slide, large and backlit which really highlights the rich colours, but it's the next best thing. Go have a look.

And if you would like to help me in my campaign to buy a flat in London, please send cash. Lots of it. Like, oodles.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bugga Bugga Bugga

Hie yourself over to Bush Babe of Granite Glen. She is discussing Naughty Words and has posted a high-larious Aussie commercial featuring one word (which is not considered particularly offensive here in Canada, but might be elsewhere so consider yourself warned.) I've watched it a few times and always end up giggling. Lottery Girl, you will love this.

My English grandmother used to call us little buggers as a term of endearment. At least I think that's what she meant....

Writing Tip of the Day

If you are having trouble getting started, look out the window.
The whole world is a story, and every moment is a miracle.

-Bruce Taylor, UWEC Professor of Creative Writing

Second (Bonus) Writing Tip of the Day

Place your butt in a chair and do the work.
Don't get up until you're done.
Repeat as necessary.

-Pamela Patchet

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SIWC has come and gone but the hangover lives on

The Surrey International Writers' Conference is over for another year, always with a brutal abruptness that catches me off-guard. Though I am slumped over my laptop with that dull faux-hangover from lack of sleep and information overload (and the odd shot of 12-year-old Macallan single malt Scotch thank you Jack Whyte) I am energized and ready to tackle the work once again. I feel reborn and in a sense, I am.

I give my heartfelt thanks to my friend, the inimitable kc dyer, whose skills for organization are only surpassed by her keen eye for hot tights. Once again, the conference was a winner. Where else can you schmooze with top agents and writers of renown like Diana Gabaldon, Eric Walters, Robert Sawyer and C.C. Humphreys?

If you are a writer and you really want to learn something about the craft and the business of writing, and you want to do it in a nurturing environment surrounded by people aka other writers who really get you, then this is the one.

So I'm off to write and I leave you with a bit of advice.

If there's one thing that's said consistently at the SIWC, it is this:

Do The Work.

I'd amend that to say:

Do The Work FIRST.

If you don't, if you say to yourself well, I have to catch up on the laundry, and there are no groceries in the house, and the dog needs a bath and probably the kids do too, and then I'll get to my writing, well I've got news for you. You'll never get to your writing because all those things are always going to be there and they always need your attention.

So do the work FIRST. And teach your family to do their own laundry, accept that dogs smell, order in a pizza and let the kids skip the occasional bath (it's like making beds - they only get messed up again later.) You'll be better off for it. It doesn't make you a bad mother. It makes you a good role model for your children. Now stop reading this, and get to it! Who knows? Maybe your book will end up here:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's black and white and read all over?

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THIS BLOG, if the ClustrMap on the right is anything to go by. I had a look-see and realized there are people literally all over the world reading this blog. How cool is that? However, I'm sorely disappointed (nay, SHOCKED!) there are no fans in Madagascar and Siberia. Hello? Anybody home? Come on over and stay awhile.

They might not find anyone home, however, as I'm going to be offline for a few days as I'm headed to the wilds of British Columbia for the inimitable (say that 10 times) Surrey International Writers' Conference. I say "wilds" but really it's a few days in a lovely hotel and I get to attend some amazing workshops and socialize with some of the best writers from around the world.

See ya later, gators.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Buddy is a good sport because....

He doesn't mind when I take his photo and manipulate it with my new Mac.

We call this one his teddy bear look.

Then there's his Star Wars Bar Scene look:

And his Truman Capote imitation:

What a good boy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Nikon D200 is my master now

A few people have asked me what kind of camera I use, and why. I have to say upfront I know nothing about other brands, like Canons, for example. Doug uses a Canon every day in his office, and he loves it, but other than using a Canon Sureshot for things like emergency moose sightings while driving to the cottage (and I still missed the shot) I haven't used anything but the Nikon. So I can't comment on the Canon EOS, for example, which friends use and swear by and I'm sure is quite nice, but I'm a Nikon gal.
Through and through.
Forever and ever.

Please bear in mind that I am still a neophyte, so I'm still learning about this camera in particular and photography in general. Basically I just go out and play with it and then just what happens. Ah, the joy of an DSLR. I know for sure I wouldn't have done this if I had to "waste" film on my learning curve. There's tremendous freedom in just taking hundreds of shots and just tossing them out if they don't work.

Ultimately though, it's the photographer behind the camera not the camera itself that decides if a shot is any good.

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I have a NIKON D200 (10.2 mega pixels for those of you counting) although some might argue it has me. I actually intended to buy a D80, figuring it was enough camera for me, but when I was offered a D200 demo model for the same price and I held it in my arms and rocked it gently, well, I knew I had to have it.

The basic difference is the D200 has a solid metal body that feels really good; there's a real heft to it, and instead of a slippery plastic casing, it has a rubbery coating so I have a more solid grip. It can also better withstand the elements - rain, dust, etc. This was important to me, since I'm frequently outside cavorting with nature.

The image quality and Nikon's colour interpretation is awesome, even when shooting in shade. I shoot a lot of colour, and with the D200, the colour is almost always exactly what I see. Like this shot, taken mid-morning in full shade on the north side of a house. I was surprised it was so vibrant considering the dark corner where I shot it:

Reds are also difficult colours to photograph and the D200 doesn't seem to blow out the reds.

It's fast (five shots per second) which I like for things like shooting Les Boys tubing or skiing. Here is an action sequence with Doug diving off our dock. Like the hibiscus, his red swimming trunks are not blown out either, which is something we're all grateful for. Hands up if anyone else says "swimming trunks" in normal conversation?

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And a great feature is the ability to see a lot of info in the view finder - ISO, exposure, meter mode - so I can check it or change it without wasting time looking up and fiddling.

Almost (some would argue more) important than the camera are the lenses you choose to use. I have three - a Nikor 18-200mm, a Nikor Micro 105mm, and a Sigma zoom 150-500mm (nicknamed The Bigma by a friend's husband.) My favourite, everyday lens is the 18-200mm. I can get some great closeups with it:

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And portraits:

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When I want to get really close, I'll use the micro (macro) lens:

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But as I said, my absolute favourite is the 18-200mm. If you can only afford one lens, that's the one. It can handle close-ups, portraits, landscapes - it's everything you'd want in a lens. I haven't mastered the "Bigma" yet. Truthfully, it kind of scares me. It's almost too big for me to handle. We have to get used to each other first, and then, when I feel more comfortable with it, we'll go on a few dates and see how it goes. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to make lemonade when handed lemons

I say "handed" when I really should say "I picked up" because I did this to myself.

I couldn't figure out why my photos had suddenly gone all grainy. I blamed my new lens, a Sigma 50-500mm. Except that this was happening with all my lenses. Maybe I was just too far away from my subjects and that's why they weren't tack sharp? Maybe it was the light? Or, maybe I am an idiot?

I was at the cottage last Saturday, and as I stood on the dock early in the morning, I looked down and saw a tiny white feather on the surface of the water, which at that time of day was dead calm and black. As this little feather came closer, I could see the little bits of down were soaked with dew, like tiny crystal beads. It was beautiful, so I quickly took some shots before it disappeared under the dock. I was so excited I immediately loaded the photos to my laptop, and was crushed to see the same problem crop up again - over-exposed, grainy, blurry photos.

Turns out, after some deep-sea diving into my camera's settings, I discovered the ISO was re-set to 1,250. (I usually have it set between 100-400.) That's when I decided to make lemonade. I would manipulate the photo, and exaggerate the contrast even more, as though I meant to do this. No one will ever know unless they read this blog, or check my behind for footprints where I kicked myself. They'll think it's artistic license.

Later that day, I returned to the scene of the crime and found another feather, though it lacked the lovely beads of dew and the water was a lot rougher. This is what the first one was supposed to look like.

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Ah, lesson learned.