Monday, September 28, 2015

Rita the Danish Television Show -- A Review

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As far as I'm concerned, Rita is a five-star TV series. It is available streaming from Netflix.

It is funny and sad and touching and raucous and different from anything available on American TV. It is, however, not for people with tender ears or delicate sensibilities. I'd rate it M -- for language, sex, smoking and other drugs, and controversial themes.

The series is in Danish and in Danish the F-word sounds the same in English. So you hear f*** and (since it's subtitled for those of us who are Danish-challenged) we also see it written out. Oddly enough the Danish word "troll" is translated in the subtitles as "ogre." "Okay" is "okay"; for our "yes" they say "ja" with J's pronounced like Y in "yes" which sounds very like the English slang "yeah"; and "yeah" in English  sounds like "yip" or "yips" in Danish -- probably spelled with that Y-sounding J.

Enough with the quote marks, already!

Rita is a dysfunctional mother from a dysfunctional home. Her own children have their problems, but function reasonably well, considering. She uses insensitive language in socially sensitive settings, has indiscriminate sex with unlikely and politically incorrect men, and does most of her introspection while smoking in her school's girls' room.

Did I mention that Rita is a school teacher in a small Danish school? Teaching is the main point of this series and the one place where Rita gets it right.

She's the right teacher for children who need the right teacher. And the right friend for people who need the right friend. Sometimes her advice is a questionable, but things always turn out right --  
sort of.

I love this series and I am sorry there are only three seasons available. There is speculation about a fourth season, but nothing concrete on that front yet. Here's hoping!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Flying Coyote -- flash fiction reprise from 4/15/2014

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“Always we remember your great grandfather. His name was Flying Coyote, and he was a very brave man and a fine leader. You are called Little Coyote because your father loved his father, your grandfather called Flying Coyote.”

The old woman stirred the fire and continued her story.

“When he was younger than you your grandfather fell from his father’s pony and hurt his leg very bad. It made him sick and the old ones feared to lose him.” She filled the horn spoon and blew softly across the liquid. “Bear With A Sore Tooth sang prayers for him and his old grandmother boiled willow bark and gave him the water to drink as I do you.”

“It’s not so bad,” he said swallowing. He cuddled the small coyote cub, he called Little Brother, close to him under the robes.

“I have been told it was this time of year – the time of the Full Pink Moon. The little pink flowers bloomed in the grass and the snow and the sun argued over who would have the land. Some mornings The People would wake to a deep blanket of snow, but by afternoon the sun would have eaten it.”

“Like yesterday?” he asked.

“Yes.” She filled the spoon again. “Like yesterday.”

She and the boy were outside the lodge so the rest of the family could sleep. A full moon hung in the black sky, so bright that only a few stars shone near it. The air outside the tipi was cold and still and fresh.

Little Brother squirmed out of the robes. Little Coyote grabbed the struggling whelp and held him tight by one hind foot.

“Little Coyote, you must let him go.” The old woman gently opened the boy’s fist.

They watched the pup caper and scamper around them.

“He’ll get cold and come back,” she said. “You’ll see.”

A red shadow began its slow march across the moon, but the boy did not notice. He watched the coyote pup.

“Your grandfather got weaker and weaker. He did not want to live.” She filled the spoon again and held it to the boy’s lips. “Does your foot still hurt?”

He stretched his leg, testing it. “Not so much.”

“Flying Coyote’s father went out onto the prairie to also pray. He played his prayers on his flute.”
An ember popped out of the fire and Little Brother stopped to sniff it.

“Will it burn him, Grandmother?”

She laughed. “No. His nose can feel the heat. He will be careful.”

She looked up at the moon, slowly being covered with red shadow. Little Coyote followed her gaze.

“What is happening?” Little Coyote asked in alarm.

“I have seen it before,” she said. “Some stories say that a great mountain lion is eating it.” Seeing his concern, she hurried on. “But I do not think that is what is happening. I have seen this before. More than once.”

Little Coyote could not take his eyes away from the changing moon.

She helped the cub back under the robes. “Soon the shadow will move on, and you will see your old friend the rabbit on the moon.”

Satisfied that his grandmother knew about things like mountain lions eating the moon he asked, “Did Flying Coyote get better?”

“Flying Coyote’s father was playing his flute under a moon just like this one. As the red shadow passed away, a bigger shadow flew across him. It was as big as he could reach.” She held out her own arms as far as she could. “And he was a big man.”

Little Coyote’s eyes grew big and round.

“Flying Coyote's father ducked so hard that the next thing he knew he was on his hands and knees. And something landed on the ground right in front of him. A ball of fur dropped from that shadow in the sky.”

Swallowing hard, Little Coyote held his own wiggly cub close under his chin.

“It was like Little Brother – a baby coyote. And its only wound was a broken leg.”

“What did Grandfather's father do with it?”

“His took it home to your grandfather and told him the Owl Spirit had sent it as a gift. And now he must care for the little flying coyote.”

“What happened?”

“Since your father is here and you are here, then of course he got well. And that is how your Grandfather came to be called Flying Coyote.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Reading

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"If you don't have time to read, you don't have time (or the tools) to write."
                                                                                                -- Steven King

Reading and writing are kinda like the chicken and the egg for me. Not because I wrote before I could read. But I'm sure I told stories before I could read. So the gift of writing just made it possible to tell stories whether or not I had an audience.

When it comes to reading, I think people read according to their need. If you are considering buying a car, you read for information -- collecting facts, comparing them, and considering them. If you are on a spiritual journey, you read with the heart, seeking enlightenment. If you are tired and need to
relax so you can sleep, you read to be taken away from the day that has pushed you and pulled you into such knots and grotesqueries that you do not recognize yourself. Reading frees you to drift into Shakespeare's "Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care."

And then there's assigned reading for a grade in class; reading recommended by a colleague or friend so you can share thoughts and opinions; and, maybe best of all, entertainment -- purely entertainment. To scare you with things that go bump in the night. To thrill you with a high speed chase, with high decibel explosions, with a death-defying leap from a rocky cliff. To break your heart with lost love or failed dreams. To exhilarate you with love found again and dreams realized.

But, if you're a writer, you may have become an analytical reader -- someone who parses formats and language use and rules of style.

Dull! you say. Then you are not a writer. I have in this later part of my life come to enjoy discovering formats and language use and style in those books that I particularly like.

I used never to reread a book. Any book. No matter if I liked it and certainly not if I didn't like it.

First, I learned to watch movies more than once. If the movie was done well, I almost always got caught up in the story the first time I watched. I could not then and cannot now appreciate the structure. Indeed, if it is done well, I can't even see it. I do not hear the words as word choices the writer puts in the actors' mouths. I do not recognize the nuances the directer catches and keeps -- the framing of a scene; the lighting on the main character's hair, sometimes beautiful, sometimes disheveled; the color of a ribbon; the way an actor walks, shoulders upright and proud or collapsed in on them self, defeated. The first time through, I am unaware of all the intentional components used to draw me into the story, to help me experience it as if it were first-hand.

I watch it again looking for those intentional things.

Now I read that way, too. First for the story. Then, if it works, I read it again to see how it's put together. What is it about this book that generates thought, that inspires emotion? What is it that keeps me turning pages and wanting to see how it ends? That makes me care what happens to the characters? These are the elements and strategies I want to employ in my writing.

The hard kind of analytical reading comes when I don't like the book. Whether I like or dislike a book seems not to be dependent on how revered the author is or if it's on The New York Times Best Seller List. And it is the book I don't like that I must explore without the comforts of enthusiasm and admiration. I must identify why I don't like it?

Is it inaccessible? The James Boys come to mind -- James Joyce and Henry James.

Is it the story's premise? Steven King whose books I cannot finish before dark and can't read after dark. Tom Clancy who starts wars in altogether too believable ways. Both, by-the-bye are excellent writers. I just don't like such terrifying stories.

Poorly written books by people I like. I always want to give them the name of my writing teacher and encourage them to hire a good editor -- not just a line editor, but content, too.

These are the books that may very well improve my writing the most. These document the places I do not want to go and the manner I do not want to use to get there. I want to write books people can read reasonably easily. Books that will be exciting enough, but without the danger of nightmares. And books that will not jar them out of the story because of poor craft.

Writing is hard work that requires I study the craft. That's what reading is -- analytical reading is studying the craft.

To the barricades! Into the trenches! I raise my clinched fist and shout, "Read on!"

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Signs, Signs -- a rant

Bachelor Elk Herd and tourists July 29, 2015

Sorry, y'all, but this post is a rant. See this glorious view of the Front Range Mountains. My daughter Grace took this picture from the car window as we drove easterly on Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. As you can see there is a group of elk taking their leisure in the high mountain sunshine and an even larger group of humans endangering themselves, their children, and the fragile tundra plant life to get close to these wild animals. Wild animals, I might add, with full-grown antlers that they very well know how to use.

Signs all along the highway remind people to park only in designated areas. With a rise of more than 4,000 feet to its 12,183 foot high point, its many hair-pin curves, and its abundant unfenced wildlife, the highway is dangerous enough without cars parked hither and yon and people wondering back and forth willy-nilly across it. How can a traveler enjoy the grand vistas while they're worried about running over somebody's poorly supervised four-year-old? Or maybe running over that thoughtless somebody?

The signs warn against approaching wildlife. It's exciting to see marmots and chipmunks and pika and mountain goats and big horned sheep and elk and mountain lions and bear. But even the little critters bite. The big ones can do you much more harm. And if they do, they can be, and too often are, killed by the authorities.

The signs advise people to stay on the trails. Above tree-line the ground is not barren. It is covered with beautiful and fragile alpine tundra plants. Now these plants are amazing survivors. They must tolerate extreme weather conditions. They've evolved to survive grazing and trampling by the native animal population. They haven't had time to adapt to the more than three million humans who visit from June through October which is when the highway is clear of snow enough for human travel and the earth is clear enough for these plants' growing season.

These signs are not posted for their artistic qualities nor to provide practice for an apparently reading-challenged tourist population. These signs are to protect lives -- of the tourists, the other animals, and the plants.