Back to the drawing board

Having a resident geek is a mixed blessing. David has walked me through most of what I’ve learned about computer animation, and also coached me on how to use the more up-to-date and – he says – versatile image manipulation programme on my laptop. I’ve used the totally out-of-date one – Photoimpact – on my desktop computer for years, but apparently it is unsupported, save by my desk, and if the current computer croaks, I won’t be able to get the programme again. Time to learn something new, right? Keeps the brains limber.

On the other hand, David has a way with programmes the way I have a way with dogs. I look at Sky and know what she’s thinking. She’s thinking, “I want to jump up and give her a kiss!” and I put my hand down and say, “Settle”, and she does. But David gets ambushed by a flappy pink tongue, because he can’t read a dog’s mind.

So David looks at a graphics programme and says, “Oh, this is how you make a transparent background for the drawing, so you can run another background behind the figure, and it’ll show!” And it works for him, but it doesn’t for me. I can’t get my hand down fast enough, and here comes that flappy pink tongue!

So I’ve gone back to what I know. Instead of trying to run two animation tracks one on top of the other, I’m going to draw the second one right on the first one. I was hoping to avoid this, but there it is. Pencils and pens and erasers I can control; computer graphics, apparently, I can’t. Nemmind – it’s all art, and it’s all mini-movies and a lot of fun, even with the frustration.

I’m seriously hoping to have this video DONE this week and up before the 28th. No, really.

This time I mean it.

I’ve got a pencil, and I know how to use it.

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Chasing the Muse

…or running from her, as the case may be. Mine has taken tight hold of this new toy, video making, and isn’t about to let me pry her little fingers off it. Even when I think about illustrating a story, she says, “Isn’t there some way you could make the picture – you know – move? Just a bit?” She pokes me awake at three in the afternoon with new ideas and stands over my shoulder while I try to make my untutored hands do what her busy little brain wants.

There’s a certain level of frustration in learning a new skill. I’m used to being quick at what I do, practiced and competent. I’m not used to getting fifteen minutes of work done on something – or a couple of hours – and then figuring out that I needed to do something else first. I’ve done a lot of scrapping of work, a lot of re-doing. I’ve gritted my teeth and poked along as I learn the ins and outs of the video programme I’m using. I don’t cry. I don’t swear – okay, I might swear a little – and I don’t do that hand-wringing thing that makes David say “stop doing that, please!”

What I have learned to do is to say, at the point when I can feel that tightness in the chest or shoulders, “Done now”, and shut down what I’m doing. I go and do something else that I’m good at. I pick up the new skill when I am calm and ready to tackle it again. I also have learned that unrealistic deadlines are nothing but trouble, and that I need to cut myself some slack and give myself some time. I’m not very good at that. (I hear the rattle of my friends’ eyes rolling in their sockets!)

David also pointed out that all the animation I’m looking at is professional, and probably done by teams. What I need to look at is beginners’ animation. I don’t know why I had to have David point this out to me. Every single time I’ve ever taught art, whether it was pottery, poetry or manuscript illumination, I have counselled my students not to compare their work to mine. I’ve had years of practice before feeling competent enough to teach. They aren’t seeing my beginner’s pieces. They’re comparing their very first try with something I’ve worked at and refined.

I know that one of the ways to combat losing your marbles is to keep learning new things. The unexercised brain, like the unexercised bod, gets a bit flabby. I’d like to keep my brain sharp, and that means I need a challenge. Challenge is almost certainly bound to be a source of some frustration. You hit a wall and figure out how to get around it or over it, or just blow it down. But first you have to hit the wall.

So here I am, hitting the wall. The video I’m working on now I had hoped to have done and up for yesterday, the anniversary of the Periodic Table of the Elements. Din’t happen. That’s okay – it was never going to, because even with the drawings done, scanned and cleaned up, there’s a load of stuff still to do, like coordinating two animation tracks to run in sync. Can we say “learning curve”?

As always, however, art is absorbing, rewarding, and full of moments of delight and surprise. Just taking longer than expected.

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And one of rage

I am sad and furious this morning – a very uncomfortable emotional state. We’ve been “tsk”-ing about political goings-on south of the border, and then one young man shoots six total strangers in their house of worship right here in smug, tolerant Canada. Six citizens are dead because somebody didn’t like the way they saw God. Okay, I know he wouldn’t have said that; probably he thought he was taking revenge for terrorist acts by some Muslim somewhere. Well, by that logic, we can just start taking potshots at people of his faith. Hell, all white Christians should have to pay for his insanity, right? White Christian terrorism, that’s what it is, and they’re all the same, we should kick them out, can’t trust a single one of the blue-eyed, pasty-skinned bastards, can ya? They should have to wear some kind of distinguishing clothing so you can tell who to avoid. We shouldn’t let any more of them in, that’s what, and them that are here, we should herd them into – um – special neighbourhoods, yeah, that’s what we oughta do.

Oh, I’m sorry, was that offensive? Yeah, it was, deliberately so. I know many, many people who are shocked and angry about this. Maybe one or two of them are Muslim, but the majority, as far as I know, either are Christian-by-default (the dominant faith in Canada, I think) or self-identify as atheists or agnostics. Those people who were murdered were our fellow Canadians, entitled, as we all are, to worship God in whatever form we conceive Deity to be – hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin – in safety and peace.

I am ashamed that such a thing could happen in Canada. At the same time, I am proud of my fellow Canadians who have spoken out in protest, even put on hijabs as a way of expressing solidarity with the Muslim community. And my rant in the first paragraph is intended to highlight the absolute stupidity of judging a whole community by the acts of a few. Nobody talks about White Christian terrorism, even when people like Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh commit acts of terror.

What we need to remember is that acts of terror are, in the end, committed by individuals. The organization can indoctrinate, but it is the individual who pulls the trigger or detonates the bomb. I am struggling with my own feelings of revenge. We cannot tolerate such a murderer any more than we can tolerate a rabid dog. Fortunately for Bissonette, the process for dealing with a murderer who is not killed at the scene is not the same as that for dealing with a rabid dog.

My anger is hotter because a few weeks ago a friend of mine was targeted for supporting Sault Ste Marie’s small Jewish community. The coward who scrawled Nazi and sexist graffiti on her lawn in the night is probably going to get away with it.

The people who perpetrate these acts threaten all of us, even if we aren’t part of the target group. We have to stand up to them – they are thugs and bullies and cowards.

Okay, rant over. And a lesson for Canada – Trump is still a jerk, but there are jerks north of the border as well.





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A moment of gratitude

Yesterday I turned sixty-three. It occurs to me that I’ve had a very interesting life so far, and that it looks like going on being interesting, and not in the “may you live in interesting times” way. I’ve been able to follow my heart and my Muse for quite a large chunk of my adult life, sometimes even earning my living. I figured out once that I’ve probably lived on my art for about eighteen years of my life, which is not too shabby on balance.

I’ve lived for the last twenty-five years in a place I really love. I’ve been warm, fed and sheltered, and I’ve had a good husband and good friends. I get along with most of my family most of the time, which is probably also normal. I’ve had beloved dogs and cats and other animals. I’m literate, which is a great pleasure. Every time I write one of my little humour articles for the Sault Star, I hear from someone that they enjoyed it, and that is also a great pleasure. I like to make people laugh, and it seems I can do it.

My health is reasonably good, and I’ve still got most of my marbles. There is more art to do than time to do it, which is the way I like it. I have a job that pays my bills, and while it’s not the job I would like best to do in this world, it’s far from the worst one I’ve held. I like a lot of the people I work with. One of the overnight supervisors (looking at you, Jeff!) sang “Happy Birthday” to me in a training meeting, and that has never happened anywhere else I’ve worked.

Now I’m going to go home and make meat pies for dinner, and probably banana bread, because there are a couple of bananas lurking in past-their-prime condition, and then work on a new animation and maybe another poem. Just because I can.

I don’t want to be “twenty-nine-and-holding” – I’m happy to be a crone and kind of a grandmother to some of the people I know. This is where I should be – an older, kick-ass sort of broad who makes good lasagna and writes good stories, and is always interested in learning something new. Best birthday ever. Until the next one.

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Open mouth, remove foot

A few days ago I had a little rant about the revised deadlines for literature grants. This morning in my email box I found a message from Jack Illingworth, literature officer for the Ontario Arts Council. He briefly addressed the concerns I’d voiced, and pointed me to the comment he’d left on my blog for my approval.

I am reassured in more ways than one. First, the budget for literature hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is the number of available opportunities for entry, and that has changed for everyone.

Second, the changes reflect the numbers, which I rather suspected for the northern deadline anyway. If you read the comment on my post, you’ll see the proportions and numbers of entries that have driven the changes.

Third, it’s not going to be one jury dealing with poetry, young adult, non-fiction and so on – it will be separate juries, including a separate jury for Northern Ontario writers. In that respect, I think the granting process will be improved. When I served on a jury I had several graphic-novel entries to look at, and I didn’t feel I really knew enough about the genre to make a truly educated judgement.

So I extract my foot from my mouth herewith, very glad I didn’t say anything either truly nasty or actionable. Yes, I flew off the handle a bit. I’ll admit that when I first looked at the entry in the brochure, I was upset almost to tears by the way the situation looked to me. Passion won out over scholarship, which is sometimes a good thing, but clearly not always conducive to accuracy. Mea culpa. Kind of a trademark mea culpa, as those of you who know me can confirm.

What really, really reassures me is that the OAC is listening. The communications team flagged my blog post and brought it to Mr Illingworth’s attention. He responded promptly, with tact and a good deal more kindness than he might have used, for which I am deeply grateful.

I’m very glad that the situation is so much better than the necessarily brief writeup in the brochure led me to believe. We have lost a couple of application opportunities, but the money is still there, and hence the support. As I said in the original post, I still don’t know how it will play out. But after hearing from Mr Illingworth, I am very much more optimistic.



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Bring on the unicorns

I intended to post this earlier, but my outrage over the cuts to literature funding in the Ontario Arts Council sidetracked me. We now return to your regularly scheduled rant.

I’ve had three reminders this week that it is the time of year when we take stock and resolve to do better. I caught the tail end of a news article about Lake State University’s annual Unicorn List of words that should be banned, my niece posted a link to a book by Steven Pinker on language use, and my friend Jennifer tweeted a link to an article on the top twenty-five irritating business phrases. Yes, boys and girls, it is the time of year when we are reminded of our individual and collective offences against language and meaning.

What you intend to say is important; it is equally important how you say it. Verbal quirks such as turning? a statement? into multiple questions? or, like adding meaningless, like, words, y’know, or even, y’know, phrases, right, into a sentence that, like, add nothing to its meaning, y’know, are bloody irritating. They make it difficult for the listener to stick with you to the end of the sentence. It’s still possible, however, to glean a correct meaning from such a sentence. The most damaging offences are those against meaning, and they are legion.

I once pointed out to a presenter in a meeting that “meretricious”, the word he’d used, conveyed the exact opposite of what he intended to say, which was “meritorious”. He pointed at me and cried out, “English major! English major!” His response shocked me; he didn’t give a damn that he’d just called someone’s work cheap and showy, without substance, when he’d meant it was worthy and excellent, and he also mocked me as a snobbish academic because I did know the correct word. *

I’m a writer, a storyteller and, occasionally, a teacher. Words are the stock in trade for those professions, the tools we use in our work. Carpenters need to know when to use a plane and when to use sandpaper; doctors have to know when and where to use a speculum or tongue depressor; writers and speakers have to know which words will do the job and how to use them.

I realize that every profession has its jargon, the specialized words of the trade. The place to use those is when you’re talking to others who know the trade, or are learning it. When talking to people who don’t have that same specialized knowledge, it’s the mark of a true expert to be able to give information clearly and, if possible, without making the listener feel stupid.

I’ll admit I enjoy having an arsenal of sesquipedalian words, such as “sesquipedalian”, (essentially, a-foot-and-a-half long) and of smaller, obscure words like “wenis”(the flap of skin on the point of the elbow). I like knowing the proper names for things, even if I’m never likely to need those words in day-to-day conversation. I find as a poet that a large vocabulary gives me more off-the-cuff possibilities for rhyme. I also get a rather surprising amount of pleasure out of a new word. Perhaps it’s the same kind of pleasure a sports fan gets from knowing trivia about a favourite player. When I drag my big words out, it’s in the company of others who also enjoy them, or to make fun of myself.

So is correct, clear language strictly the business of elitist academic snobs – such as, apparently, yours truly? No, it is not. Until we develop telepathy, language is the tool we have to convey meaning. Even people who aren’t professional writers or speakers should know how to use their native tongue, its diction, punctuation and grammar. We can each make a commitment in this new year to make our words clear and understandable to our listeners or readers. Or, at the very least, as in the case of the presenter above, to avoid making ourselves look stupid by using words we don’t understand. If in doubt, look it up, say I.

And, now and again, compliment someone on how nice their wenis is looking today, just for a laugh.

*I’m also not an English major – my degree is in fine art and mediaeval studies.

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Some are more equal than others

I had a post prepared about language for my first one of the year, but this morning I received something in the mail that changed my mind.

Every January the Ontario Arts Council puts out a brochure detailing the arts grants for the coming year. When I looked at the literature grants for 2017, I was shocked to see that they’ve been drastically reduced.

What do I mean by “drastically”? How about two granting programmes, Word of Mouth and Writers’ Works in Progress, being reduced to a single one called Literary Creation Projects? How about four deadlines for Works in Progress, and whatever deadlines the Word of Mouth programme used to have, being reduced to two, total, one of which is reserved for adult fiction writers only?

Let me expand on that a bit. This means that writers in Ontario who write fiction for adults get one deadline all to themselves. The other deadline is designated for “comic arts, non-fiction, northern writers, performance literatures, poetry and young adult fiction/non-fiction”. So writers of comics and graphic novels, poets, performance artists and people who write anything for young adults are all lumped into one grant deadline. Oh, yes, and the Northern deadline, the one that guaranteed that not every grant would go to a writer in Toronto, is now a mere subset of “all you guys who don’t write fiction for adults”.

I don’t know how these grants will be allotted. When I served on the WIP jury a few years back, there were twenty grants, three of which were earmarked for poetry. Poetry was judged by a separate group of jurors. I can see how it might be possible to split up the grants, allotting three for poetry, three for performance literature, whatever numbers and proportions the OAC folk decide. But with only four jurors, will those grants be decided by people who have enough knowledge of all these categories to judge pieces against each other not only within their category, but against others?

This division of the two deadlines essentially says that if you aren’t writing adult fiction, you aren’t as important. You’re in the “other” pool. That seems like a pretty high-handed and short-sighted decision, given the expanding popularity of graphic novels, young-adult literature and performance literature, not to mention the enduring appeal of poetry.

But what I’m really pissed about is the loss of the Northern grant. See, in the five years before John Degen introduced that grant during his tenure as Literature Officer, there had been exactly one Works in Progress grant awarded to a writer north of Parry Sound. One out of three hundred grants. So this lumping of Northern Ontarians into the “other” category means that, once again, Northern writers could easily be left out of the artistic support that is supposed to be for all Ontarians.

I’m sure we Northern Ontario writers are in part to blame for the loss of our own deadline. If the entry numbers didn’t justify the money and effort of a separate deadline, it was going to go. I’ve wondered for several years when the axe would fall. I’ve encouraged writers to do what was necessary to make the cut – get two paid publication credits and put together a polished, forty-page entry – because I didn’t want us to lose that grant. Now we have.

The thing about artists is that they will do art, even without support. I was a writer before I ever got a grant, and I’ll still be a writer if I never get one again. But I am unhappy that the support that we used to have is gone, and that the appreciation of our particular style and sense of place, and of the value of writing that is not fiction for adults, has been so greatly diminished.

How this new literature granting programme will play out is anyone’s guess. If arts money is cut, then the OAC has to make cuts, too. I’m sure other granting programmes have also lost funding, but literature is the one I know. And I’m disappointed to find that the OAC has decided that fiction for adults is as important as poetry, non-fiction, young-adult writing, graphic novels, performance and absolutely anything written by a northerner, all lumped together.

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