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Monday, March 31, 2003

Ted Hole, 1926-2003

Mr. Hole died last Wednesday, and today I was one of the thousands who went to the Winspear Centre to pay their respects. It was a beautiful memorial, held in a beautiful building, with beautiful music.

I really only knew Mr. Hole as Lois' husband, but despite our casual acquaintance I did feel a connection with Ted. He made a point of telling me what a great job I was doing, and I admired his quiet dignity and wry sense of humour. He was a philanthropist, a gentleman, a man who appreciated the fine arts, a man who never hesitated to give anyone a helping hand. Family friend Donna Powell, Ted's sons Bill and Jim, his granddaughter Kate, and U of A President Rod Fraser all spoke eloquently of Mr. Hole. It was probably Bill who moved me most, if only because he was so obviously distraught; the Holes generally keep a tight reign on their emotions in public, and it was a little shocking, if understandable, to see Bill cry.

At the reception, I ran into Carol Mellors, who had been playing timpani with the Edmonton Schoolboys Alumni Band at the beginning of the program. Carol used to serve as a director of the Western Board of Music, the outfit I used to work for. As we were chatting, Lois passed by, and she touched my shoulder; I almost didn't see her, and all I had time to say was "Hello, Your Honour" before she and her escort were off. Then, just a few seconds later, Bill passed us, and he reached out and gave my shoulder a firm squeeze, saying, "Thanks, Earl." And then, almost as if they'd timed it, Jim came by and squeezed my shoulder as well, giving me just a nod.

I'm not a touchy-feely kind of person, but for some reason, those three brief moments of human contact really meant a lot to me. If anything I did (and I really did very little for this sad event) made any of this any easier for them, I'm very glad, and very grateful.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Memory Alley

I've told myself many times never to look through my old photo albums, but the Hole's morale committee is having one of those "guess who this is" photo contests, so I had to find a suitable picture of myself. I found one, but the search brings back those old familiar feelings of deep melancholy - along with something new.

Those photos show what a privilege it is to live life as a young Canadian. All we had to worry about was homework and fitting in, and some of us didn't particularly care about even that. To think that all of us harboured such angst, when we were living in paradise.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Drooling Nostrils

Well, I have a cold. A bad one. It started Friday night, and it's gotten progressively worse. Pity me, for rivers of yellow bile are streaming from my recalcitrant nasal orifices.

I'm actually having company on Friday night, so I've been madly cleaning my apartment, wheezing and hacking all the while. Mom and Dad came over on Sunday to pick up two and half years worth of pop cans - turns out they were worth almost 57 dollars. So I bought my parents lunch and now the kitchen floor is clear of cans, which means that I can mop it. Not that I've been feeling well enough to do that...

There's some kind of grody stain on the bathroom floor. I don't know what it is, and it won't go away, no matter how much bleach I use. I think I need to pick up a sandblaster. Or maybe I'll simply cut up that piece of tile and put something on top of it - a statue or maybe a bathmat.

If I had people over more often than once a year, maybe I wouldn't have these problems.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

More Cryptic Messages

I found another sheet of paper. None of the handwriting is mine:

"Target: March 27 & 28 Wed & Thurs

To the world
you may be only one
But to one person
you may be the

I remember finding that among my notes during the time I was directing The Importance of Being Earnest at Lister Hall. Sometimes I like to imagine that it was written for me, but it's more likely that it just got mixed into my stuff during the chaos of the production. I liked it enough to keep it, though.

Strangely enough, just last night I was talking to a friend about memories, and how so many of them fade, even the ones that may have seemed so very important while they were happening. It makes me very sad when I think about all the collective experiences completely lost to humanity because of our imperfect brains. How much more civilized could we be if we remembered every lesson? (On the other hand, how savage could we be if we remembered every slight?)

If I could design an afterlife, all those memories, good and bad alike, would come flooding back when we arrived in heaven. And we'd use our collective experience to unlock the secrets of the universe.

And maybe I'd meet the person who wrote the note.

Embrace Your Inner Geek

Right now I'm working on an Excel spreadsheet, one that describes, once and for all, the names, appearances, origins, and abilities of the canonical Paladins of O.R.D.E.R. and Minions of C.H.A.O.S. In an effort to ensure accuracy, I must of course do some research. So I've been perusing my old binders, and I discovered some old character sheets from my Dungeons & Dragons days. Among these sheets is a cryptic piece of paper that lists "Turtle Treasure." Apparently, one of my characters managed to haul the following items out of some demon-infested dungeon:

"Robe, brown - radiates evocation/alteration magic
Horn of fog production
Girdle of many pouches
A wooden sword: a folding boat
Cube of frost resistance
A net of sharing
Quall's Feather Token of the Fan
Cloak of the Elvenkind
Stone - unidentified grey rock, radiates high magic
Mirror of past scrying"

All this was found in "room #71," or so another scribbled note suggests. (There's also a phone number for "Halls of Adv. + Magic." I don't dare call...)

This many years removed, I can only guess what amazing properties these items may have possessed. The brown robe, radiating evocation/alteration magic, seems as though it may have been useful in such mischief as casting fireballs or turning people into badgers.The horn of fog production doesn't seem very useful, unless you're working as a special effects man on a John Carpenter movie, or if you need some fast cover for a hasty retreat. "A wooden sword: a folding boat" was written exactly that way, colon and all, so it seems that the wooden sword somehow turned into a folding boat...or maybe it's some kind of cryptic Zen koan, who knows?

Cube of frost resistance...not an ice cube, I guess. "Quall's Feather Token of the Fan." Is this one item, or two? Let's see...either Quall (whoever he or she may have been) had a token representing a fan made of a feather, or I simply stolle Quall's Feather, along with a Token of the Fan...a fan? Isn't that sort of anachronistic? I guess it could have been one of those manual fans like geishas have...maybe it was a token of a fanatic...I'm getting a headache.

Cloak of the Elvenkind seems simple enough - a cloak giving me some sort of elven abilities, maybe the ability to see in the dark or what have you. The mirror of past scrying seems self-explanatory, too; presumably, if you looked into the mirror, you could catch a glimpse of the past.

Mind you, given the limitations of the speed of light, you're looking into the past every time you peer into a mirror anyway, even if it is only a nanosecond or so...

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Bulb Enlightenment

Well, it's finally here - Lois Hole's Favorite Bulbs. The first copies of the book came off the presses today, and everyone at Hole's jumped about gleefully as the quality of the finished product set in. It really turned out well; I'm glad I played a role in its creation. The photography is absolutely spectacular; the colours just blew me away.

But, there's no rest for the weary - there's always another book on the horizon, and I started work today on one of our next big projects.

In other news, I had a chance to redeem myself at Sylvia's with another round of Scrabble. But just as I was building up an impressive lead, our pizza arrived, and my plans for sweet revenge were cruelly foiled. By the Gods! Is there no justice? :-O

Ha ha ha...I'm watching another episode of UFO as I write this, and Sky One was just launched to intercept a possible "you-foe..." and it turned out to be a weather baloon. Whoops. Another hundred million pounds down the drain.

Ouch! And a sexy reporter just whacked Straker over the head with an ash tray. Excellent! Except he should have said, "Ow! No one makes an ash out of me!"

Why aren't I writing TV scripts?

Friday, March 07, 2003

UFO-OH my last blahg, I made a boo-boo. I called a UFO character "Ken Freeman," when his first name is, in fact, Alec. I'm not sure what I was thinking...

In other news...there is no other news.

Thursday, March 06, 2003


I've been watching Gerry Anderson's 1970s TV series, UFO. It's a post-Thunderbirds, pre-Space: 1999, live-action romp, with all the familiar Anderson hallmarks: transcendent Derrick Meddings model work, peppy music, bizarre fashions, creative sets, a multiethnic mix of characters, and a futuristic setting.

Gerry Anderson's live-action shows, including Space: 1999 and Space Precinct are generally regarded as inferior to his puppet-based, "Supermarionation" efforts - Fireball XL-5, Thunderbirds, and the like. But UFO has surprised me thus far; it shows far more internal consistency than the schizophrenic Space: 1999 ever did, and it's far more tightly written than Space Precinct.

Here's the basic premise: it's the year 1980, and UFOs of unknown origin are swooping down upon a largely unsuspecting Earth, harvesting her citizens for organs. Earth - or rather, the UK - has created a top secret organization, SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization) to stop the aliens. SHADO command, hidden beneath a London film studio, is the hub of a far-reaching defence network, including a functioning moonbase with a trio of deadly-looking interceptors, SID (Space Intruder Detector), an artificial intelligence housed within a satellite in Earth orbit, Skydiver, a submarine capable of launching Sky One, an atmospheric fighter plane, and the SHADO mobiles, tracked land vehicles used to hunt down aliens who've managed to penetrate the outer defences and make a landing on Earth. The models are remarkably creative, inspiring a silent "gee whiz!" from anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship.

American Ed Straker is the show's protagonist, a hard, bitter man who pretends to be a movie producer but secretly commands far greater responsibilities, for he is the commander of SHADO. He is assisted by a much warmer human being, Ken Freeman, his second-in-command and the moral centre of SHADO's claustrophobic universe. These two men, and their huge cadre of secret agents, fighter pilots, submariners, psychologists, and astronauts, fight a silent war for the fate of Earth.

The pilot episode sets the tone for the series: the first hapless humans who spot a UFO are graphically machine-gunned into oblivion by its spacesuited inhabitants, with realistic blood spatters that have excellent shock value even today, let alone in 1970, when the show was originally aired. One member of this unfortunate trio survives his wounds and winds up joining SHADO, but his sister is captured by the aliens. Later, a UFO crashes and an alien is taken into SHADO custody; we discover that the alien has that young woman's organs. It's a chilling scene.

The aliens aren't very alien at all; they're basically human beings with green skin and funky contact lenses. But even as I was thinking to myself, "How cheap; they're just people with bad makeup," one of the characters says, "They're practically identical to us - this green stuff is just chemical residue from their breathing tanks, and these are just contacts to protect them from the sun." By drawing attention to the low-budget makeup, the producers have effectively given us a better mystery to consider: why do these creatures look exactly like us? It should be impossible. But it does explain why they want our organs, or at least it explains why they have a use for them at all.

Commander Straker pronounces "UFO's" as "U-Foes." I'm not sure if the producers intended it, but I interpret this reading as "Unidentified foes," or simply, "you foes." Cool.

The moonbase is populated by three purple-haired British women; one of them, Lt. Ellis, seems to be the nominal commander of the outpost, although in one episode a male, Colonel Foster takes the job, seemingly temporarily. I find it interesting that the producers were willing to position three women as the first line of defence, even if they did put them in skintight silver uniforms and give them fetishistic wigs. Not that I'm complaining...

The show has its faults; often, the aliens appear to be ineffective. In episode after episode, SID detects a UFO (usually a single ship; never more than three), Lt. Ellis scrambles the interceptors, and the UFOs are destroyed. If they slip past the interceptors, you can almost guarantee that Sky One will shoot them down in Earth's atmosphere. Why do they only send just a few ships at once? Why not en masse, since Earth seems to have only three moonbase interceptors and one airborne fighter to defend it? To make matters worse, even if they make it to Earth's surface, UFOs break down in Earth's atmosphere very quickly. The organ harvesting can't be going well with all these limitations, and one wonders why Straker and company are so concerned.

On the other hand, the aliens can be very sneaky. In one memorable episode, a UFO takes advantage of sunspots to slip past Moonbase tracking and lands just a couple of kilometers away from the base. A suited alien steps out with a rifle, creeps towards the base, takes careful aim, and shoots a hole through one of the base's windows. Explosive decompression is the inevitable result, and it's only blind luck that only a single crewman dies. And he's not even blown out the window - the air simply evacuates, and the man slowly suffocates, dying in the airless silence.

The life of a SHADO operative is rarely easy; Commander Straker loses his young son in one episode, largely because of Straker's responsibilities to SHADO. His ex-wife isn't happy, and clearly Straker is shattered by the loss. The atmosphere at SHADO headquarters is almost always tense; there isn't much humour in this show, nor should there be.

Though I've watched less than half of the show's 26 episode run so far, I have to say that I'm impressed. This is one of television's lost gems, and I'm glad I ran across it.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Canadian Authors Share Their Experiences at Grant MacEwan Talk

I don't have much to write about tonight, so I thought I'd share an assignment I completed a couple of years ago for a Grant MacEwan journalism course. If you have any interest at all in writing, perhaps this will be of interest.

Canadian Authors Share Their Experiences at Grant MacEwan Talk

An informal discussion on the life of a typical writer turned into a sometimes-heated debate on the ethics of the editorial process.

Canadian authors Alberto Manguel, Peter Oliva, and Thomas Horton were the guests at the seminar, held at Grant MacEwan Community College on Thursday. The talk was entitled “Calling or Mauling?” in recognition of the struggles authors often face when attempting to make a living as a writer.

Horton began the discussion by relating the experiences leading to the publication of his novel Icefields. “I wrote my own comic books as a kid, but it took me a while to realize that I could actually make a living as a writer.”

Horton said that the first time he’d shown his creative writing to anyone other than family members was at a creative writing course at the University of Alberta taught by Greg Hollingshead. There, Horton began working on a short story that eventually evolved into Icefields.

“It took a while to figure out what the hell I was writing about,” he said.

Horton passed the book on to another noted Alberta author, Rudy Wiebe. A member of the editorial board of NeWest Press, Wiebe recommended the book for publication. Icefields has since become an international bestseller.

Oliva, who operates a Calgary bookstore in addition to his writing career, said that he got into writing because he was “very bad at mathematics.” While studying computer science, Oliva rediscovered his love of stories and decided to change his field of study.

“I have to give some of the credit for my success to my dad, who was pretty famous back home for his different versions of 'Jack and the Beanstalk,'” he said.

Oliva, too, took a creative writing course in university.

“There, criticism was used like a farm implement. You’d wield a pitchfork like a samurai sword, and you had to develop a thick skin.”

Oliva sent his first novel, Dreaming in Darkness, to several publishers. When the post office asked him how much the package was worth, Oliva simply wrote “thousands” in recognition of all of the time and effort spent in creating his manuscript.

“What I didn’t know was that Canada Post sends stuff worth over $500 with armed guards, so the publishers took notice when this package showed up.”

Manguel, a Canadian of Argentinean origin, is the co-author of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, the author of A History of Reading, and a noted anthologist. He noted that his experience had been very different than his younger compatriots. “In Argentina, the notion of having creative writing courses is totally alien. Indeed, no one expects writing to provide financial support.”

He called Canada “a society in which writing is cushioned in every possible way.”

Manguel admitted to being “shocked by the arrogance” of editors. “In Argentina, the writer writes, and the publisher publishes. There is no editor. Indeed, I am enormously wary of the intervention of editors.”

Manguel alluded to a “lost literature” of Canada, the unchanged, unedited works of Canadian authors. He went on to say that Cervantes and Shakespeare certainly never had to endure the interference of editors.

This sparked a heated reply from Rudy Wiebe, in attendance at the event.

“Shakespeare’s early plays are idiotic,” he said, “do we want to live in a 16th century world? Editors make better books.”

“Aren’t writers often editors?” another member of the audience asked.

“The nasty answer is, they’re frustrated writers,” Manguel replied, “but of course that’s not always the case.”

Manguel admitted that editors could have a positive influence on authors, citing his own editor Barbara Moss.

“She would ask me of my stories, ‘Why are you telling me this, a perfect stranger?’ That question always helped me to create better works.”

On the calling of writing, Manguel said “If you ask yourself ‘Should I write?’ the answer is no.”

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Scrambled Ego

I visited my new friend Sylvia last night for a no-holds-barred Scrabble session. But the unthinkable happened - I was soundly defeated, not once, but TWICE in a row! INCONCEIVABLE!

Well, not really that inconceivable. Still, I must plot my revenge. I can only shake my fists over my head screaming "INCONCEIVABLE!" so many times before I need a new schtick.