December 28, 2009

prototypes of life

Your father becomes the model for all fathers and authorities.

Your mother becomes the model for the idealized or typical woman.

Siblings become rivals, competitors, and perhaps even friends.

Learn! Look! Break out and redefine yourself!

Time is your one enemy. To yourself be true!

December 27, 2009

the new tablet

I just bought a Wacom graphics tablet.
It's my first tablet since maybe the KoalaPad on the Commodore 64. Seriously.

It will be nice to keep the ink, graphite or pastel off my hands, but this new doodad is going to change how I draw again... It will take some practise...

December 26, 2009

Living in the Digital Multimedia Domain...

Our urban world has become this freaky, converged, digital bubble.

As a post-boomer, I was born long enough ago that analogue, mass broadcast and print media were the dominant ways through which information was received. You listened to the radio every morning at breakfast, you read one newspaper on weekends, you read an occasional book, and you watched TV every night. We had 13 or so TV channels. Interacting with this information went as far as turning the page, or changing the channel. If you were very brave or opinionated, you might write a letter to the Editor.

Everyone probably watched, listened and read the same information as their neighbours, and getting access to some special information, like something historical or non-mainstream, meant physically travelling to the local library and going through the card catalogue and searching little code numbers on the spines of books until your neck was sore. (Microfiches were cool though - like using a history microscope.)

Multimedia, if you could call it that, started coming into my life between 1973 and 1975, when my classroom had a Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer, and those workstations with audio cassette players for listening comprehension. It wasn't all that far removed from the Disney audio-slidestrips you could buy back then: "When Tinkerbell rings her bell, go to the next slide! *Bing*" and then you dutifully pull the little cardboard strip one slot to the right and wait for the lady on the tape to start telling you the story for that slide.

Now, 30 years later, if you live in any remotely-urbanized area, you probably have Internet access and cellphone coverage. Most people have little telephones in their pocket that have 1,000,000 times more computing power than that TRS-80. Mobility and access to information and communication wherever and whenever you want it, seems to be the defining characteristic of the current generation. Kids in their tweens have access to and are in almost constant contact with friends and family in a way that, mentally and psychologically, makes them more socially integrated and less physically present than their parents must ever have been. Global village, and global tribalism, I guess. Media and information-wise, we've changed from the mass, cookie-cutter approach, to the individualistic, a la carte menu. I find the number of TV channels available for a digital subscriber to be bewildering.

As a curious kid, I used to ask myself questions about my life or my world. Occasionally, I'd read a book to seek an answer, but most often, I'd watch a TV show. TV made us consumers of images and sounds. It changed us from page turners to channel flippers, and as a race, it probably trained us to absorb information in multiple different modes, like pictures AND sound AND text.

The next step was interactivity. Video games and other multimedia presentations showed us how immersive an interactive experience could be. We now live in an era where cinema and interactive games are becoming more and more integrated. Video games look like 3D animated action movies, and big-budget action movies possess sequences that make for good video games.

To me, the Internet, and Google in particular, is the most significant reference tool that has entered popular life in the past 20 years. Where would I be now if I wanted to research something for my next novel? There's no way in hell I could ever find the time to go down to the library and dig through some stacks or whatever. But, I can pull out my Palm Pre, enter some keywords into Google and email the results back to my Desktop PC at home. Google has replaced the Librarian, and Wikipedia has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica. Convenience and instant access have surmounted the authority of institutionalized experts. And, it's freaky how quickly and easily I accepted Wikipedia as a reliable source of facts.

So, is it ironic that I'd use modern wireless networking and Internet-based research tools to create an old-fashioned paperback novel? Are printed books dead? Will people continue to read once they start seeing books that can read to them, or show them a video, or act out the scenes in high-res 3D? Although for years now, I've received my daily news text on my smartphone (and have read a few novels in PDF or eReader formats), I think that I'm still in the transitional phase of print. Nothing seems to legitimize the written word like a physical book, a good ol' paperback novel. I don't know anyone who owns a Kindle eBook reader, but maybe it's just a matter of time.

The Good Son

The Good Son writes love letters to his old family whenever he can. He writes of how he remembers them, together and whole, with sun peeking down from between the pine trees and the smell of freshly-cut lumber in the breeze. These are some of the nice things that he wants to remember and memorialize. The Good Son feels loved now, and wants to portray to his world a lasting image of a family that did love each other once.

The Good Son writes other letters sometimes: letters asking his parents to forgive him for not saving them if he could. Or, he writes angry letters asking why they did unforgivable things to each other and themselves, and he wonders how he can forgive them.

The Good Son tries to be the Good Husband, the Good Uncle, the Good Colleague, the Good Friend, and the Good Samaritan. He wonders how good he is, or why he needs to be good at all.

One Good part of him builds and maintains a relationship with his familiar family of ghosts. The other Good part is in training: learning more and more each day to reach out to the descendants of those ghosts, and build real relationships for the future.

December 22, 2009

Bittersweet, those little twinkling lights...

Do you know that quiet moment, that happens around Christmas time? That beautiful, gentle, sweet moment? That calm, peaceful moment when all the lights in the house are off and everyone is in bed, but you're still awake? That moment when you get up and the only lights that are still on are those on the Christmas Tree or on that string of lights that you hung up as a decoration in the living room?

Although the lights are very small, they seem to emit more than their capacity in brightness and warmth. Joy isn't even physically possible from a light bulb, yet somehow they seem to beam that out too.

I have the same reaction every year: The warmth I feel is the warmth of security, where I'm part of my own loving little family. The satisfaction of having built a home where the lights can shine warmly, and where a boy doesn't have to decorate the Christmas tree all by himself because his parents are passed out.

Christmas can be bittersweet. Indeed, there were a few sad and nasty, painful Christmases, but that same kid remembers lots of good ones too. The kid remembers a real tree that smelled like pine, and the texture and weight of 40-year-old Christmas lights that probably were hung up dozens of times by his Dad's Dad, with their wrinkled cords and cracked, faded bulbs that had all but lost their tint.

The kid remembers elegant and beautiful tinted glass baubles that spoke of his Mother's family with their sense of fashion and style. Then, there were also those home-made decorations composed of egg cartons, pipe cleaners and glitter that spoke of school projects, leaner times, or of your parents back when they were kids themselves.

So, during these nights, sitting with that little string of sparkling lights glowing warmly at you in the dark, many of those old memories and feelings will creep out as you look back into your past. They're the tiny, twinkling reflections of you as you once were. They're the last remnants of the people you loved, and the magic moments from your youth, streaming back out to your adult self like million year-old light from ancient stars.

December 20, 2009

Words of Wisdom, from a wise and gentle man...

Each year, my wife receives a letter from the man who was her Special Education professor at the University of British Columbia. His name is Bob Poutt, and he instructed teachers at UBC for many years. His students are known as "Pouttians", and there are many, many of them.

Each year without fail, we receive a Christmas letter from Bob. He is always eloquent. This year, Bob 's Christmas letter contained some very beautiful words, poetry, really, and to me, it illustrates Bob's spirituality, and his humanistic, compassionate approach towards living. Please take these words to heart:
"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years. Instead it may be counted in awe and intimacy, in triumphs, in benefits of belief, in laugh lines, in personal intensities.

"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years, but in plans accomplished with effort and surprise, with possibilities we followed boldly, with compassionate responses, with hopes and beliefs kept alive.

"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years that have flown. Instead it may be counted in devotion and delight, in deepending friendships, in connecting with loved ones, in building family, and in all the sweet momewnts we've known."

December 07, 2009

Hell is other people's bathrooms.

Sometimes I think that Big Brother isn't in the Government like how George Orwell predicted. Real life is even more subtle and insidious...

Sometimes, I think it's found in the mundane everyday things that are embedded in my world:

In the prescribed amounts of soap and water doled out by well-meaning ergonomicists and accountants in public washrooms.

In the watchful gaze of overly-interested cops, litigious lawyers and over-active doctors.

In some Engineer's idea of how much length of paper towel should be dispensed so you can dry your hands.

Hell really is other people.
Or maybe, Hell is just other people's bathrooms.