I have been lucky to travel and see many amazing places in the US and Europe, but my recent unemployment has reminded me of an old truism – one often forgets to visit the wonders in one’s own backyard. Shortly after I had purchased my townhome on the westside of Los Angeles over a decade ago, I purchased a bike to enjoy an occasional ride to the beach, but I allowed my job to turn that occasion into an annual or biennial event on the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend. When I was laid off over a year ago, I suddenly had extra time on my hands which I used to write and publish a novel as well as get myself into better shape by riding my bike two or three times a week down to Venice Beach. Just off the boardwalk, a concrete, two-way bike path snakes it way from Washington Boulevard to the Santa Monica pier and beyond towards Malibu. I found that I could head down Venice Boulevard straight to the bike path, turn and bike up to the northern end of the Venice boardwalk, take a pause and head back home all within an hour. Add an extra half hour and I could add the Santa Monica Pier to the round trip.
The boardwalk basically begins at Venice Boulevard North on the south side. The pedestrian strip does extend farther south to Washington Boulevard, but the adjoining buildings are all residential, out of sync with the eclectic vibe from the stores and sights to the north. A stark indication of this vibe is the first store at the Venice corner, a medical marijuana dispensary whose clerks come out into the boardwalk in green scrubs announcing, “The doctor is in.” The bike path at this location is separated from the boardwalk by a city parking lot. During mild weekdays in the winter, parking is a reasonable five dollars and readily available. Film and TV crews will often take up half the lot during these off season periods. During mild weekends in the winter, the parking rate doubles as traffic backs up on Venice. When the weather really warms up, the lot full sign pops up and the backup traffic is forced to turn around and find a way out of the jam. I wave to them as I navigate my bike through the traffic into the lot to the bike path entryway on the other side.
As I bike north on the path, I catch glimpses of the open-air gym of Muscle Beach, the handball and basketball courts, and the children’s playground grouped north of the parking lot. The bike path curves in just past the police station and then curves back north between Windward Plaza and the skateboard park. This is the busiest area of Venice Beach as Windward Plaza is the beach side’s extension of the open area plaza signifying the central entry point to Venice Beach and its boardwalk. Next to the skateboard park, a modern art sculpture of five iron bars stands vigil over two flat-top concrete cones and a couple of concrete walls painted over with graffiti art. Navigating through the pedestrian crosswalk and skateboarders can be tricky at this point even during light off-season days.
Past this point, the bike path curves in toward the boardwalk, turning back north to snake along in close proximity. Near this point in the boardwalk, there is an open air restaurant with a faded red-and-white canopy over the eating area that extends over the entry of a small independent bookstore, Small World Books. I pitched them to carry my book in their store as a local author, but the owner let me know that the store is too small to carry unknown books on consignment. One day, I hope to sell enough books to entice them to stock a few copies of Legacy Discovered on their shelves.
To be continued…
Last week, my neighbor invited me to enjoy a night of chamber music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was my first time within the iconic structure, built nearly ten years ago, and it gave me a chance to actually hear whether the acoustics were as good as the design of the building. I can honestly state the acoustics were wonderful, especially since the performances were mainly from four string instruments with the added exception of a guest oboe for Darius Milhaud’s The Dreams of Jacob. It made me yearn for a chance to hear a full orchestra within the theater.
It was during the final quartet piece, Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, that a small incident occurred which got me thinking heresy. In the middle of the performance, as the intensity of the music built within a movement, a short violin pause gave one of the violinists a quick moment to turn her page music, but the page did not turn fully and drooped on her. The violinist was superbly practiced and was able to power through with a less than perfect view of the music. At one point, during an even shorter pause, she made a quick stab at the page with her bow to straighten it, a valiant attempt that failed. Still, if I had not been looking at her at the time, I never would have known about her music sheet malfunction as the performance was played flawlessly. Yet it had to be frustrating to this violinist to try and read her sheet music in this drooping position. The heretical thought began to germinate in my mind.
I know that the artistry of music has been recorded and performed with the language of notes and bars printed on sheets for centuries, but it would seem that the newly modern technology of the tablet computer could easily relieve the musician of the gyrations of turning his or her own music during a performance. It isn’t just that the touch screen would be easier to shift screens of music, but a computer programmer could help relieve the musician of needing to even touch the screen during the performance by setting the musical score to scroll on the screen at a pace with the music. The tablets in front of all of the musicians can be synced to start at the same time remotely with the conductor’s signal for a full orchestra or from a selected member’s signal from a smaller quartet. Of course, allowing modern technology to intrude on classic orchestral music would upset the traditions of symphonies around the world, but why should they be immune to the forces that has already affected bookstores, art and postal services. Just a thought.
It is Valentine’s Day and for the second year in a row, I have not been able to carry out a personal tradition of mine to celebrate the day. When I first graduated from college, I got a job driving a messenger route for a title insurance office. I got to know many of the receptionists and representatives in the escrow offices well on my route, so on Valentine’s Day, I would buy a couple of dozen carnations and hand out single carnations to the women along the route. When I finally found a job with ABC Television and later transitioned into the publicity department, I carried the tradition over to my female co-workers in the office. Every year, I would bring in two or three dozen carnations in mixed colors and allow each woman to choose one from the batch as I brought them around. The only year I knowingly passed on my tradition while working for ABC and Disney ABC was in 1994 when Valentine’s Day came less than a month after the Northridge earthquake. Instead, I sent all of the women a message that instead of flowers that year, a donation was being made to the Los Angeles Food Bank to assist victims of the disaster.
I truly believe that a little act of acknowledgement makes a bigger difference than a grandiose display. It does not create a heavy sense of gratitude debt or imply a hidden agenda. It simply says I notice you make a difference, a message spread evenly to all of my female co-workers. As for my fellow male compatriots, there never were any jealous reactions – either in not receiving their own acknowledgement or in the momentary interest I presented to each woman. Instead, I helped represent the male side of the staff, gave a lift to the female side of the staff and helped raise a more pleasant interactive atmosphere to all members of the staff.
However, this will be the second year that I have not had a job on Valentine’s Day, so there has not been a group to distribute flowers. Instead, I have had to be content sending out a virtual acknowledgement to my Facebook friends. Still, the message is the same in acknowledging that they make a difference in my life.
In September of 2007, I was selected as part of the support team sent to London to handle the publicity events promoting the launch of High School Musical 2 in Europe. The week of press events led up to a “blue carpet” premiere screening at the O2 Arena. During this event, I was stationed next to the stanchion and rope holding back the throng of British teens and tweens hoping to see Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens walk down the carpet. Just before the cast was scheduled to arrive, I was handed a stash of posters to hand out to the fans. I started to pass them out, occasionally waving a poster and calling out, “I have posters for you. Get a poster here!” Suddenly, I heard a plaintive admiring cry from the back of the crowd, “Oh! He’s American!” As if on cue, a young lass looked up at me and said with a sweet English inflection, “I just love your accent.” Maintaining my composure, I politely thanked the young woman for her compliment and continued to hand out posters. However, inside, I was floored.
I had grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, but my parents were from upstate New York and we lived in a suburb next to a naval air station, so my speech never picked up a distinctive Southern drawl. It blended to match closer to a Midwestern tone that later fit in perfectly with my fellow classmates at UCLA. I did not consider myself to be much of a speaker or conversationalist and felt my voice and speaking style was somewhat bland. The way I saw it, my voice did not carry the interesting proper tone of the British Isles, the romantic flair of Paris or the playful lilt of the Italian peninsula. It was just a straightforward work-a-day way of speaking. Yet here I was in front of a group of English teens who were enraptured by my American accent. What was it that enthralled them?
Perhaps the standard American accent presents an egalitarian confidence, presenting information in a uncomplicated classless manner. Of course, maybe this is how I expect the rest of the world to hear and admire the American accent. Perhaps the unique tones of my American accent conjured up images of a foreign land separated from these girls by a major ocean, but seen often on television and publications as a country sharing a common mother tongue and a connected history. It is possible my voice identified me as a person who has personally experienced the skyscrapers of New York, the beaches of Southern California or the ability to drive a car for days over a vast landscape without crossing an international border. These are wonderfully wild conjectures on my part, but there is one thing I now know for sure – everyone who speaks on this Earth has an accent that someone else in this world will find fascinating, if only the world gets small enough for them to meet.
When I was in high school, I bought a sixty-cent paperback of Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, perhaps intrigued after seeing the 1965 movie version, The Alphabet Murders, on TV. The movie did not take the story seriously and can be easily dismissed, but the original book was a revelation into the classic world of the murder mystery as presented by Dame Christie. I followed up by purchasing the sixty-cent paperbacks of Murder in the Calais Coach (more famously known as Murder on the Orient Express) and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I was amazed at how the revelation of the truth made perfect sense even though I had been fooled like millions of readers before me. I was hooked on the Christie style which presented the suspects and provided the clues fairly, but still misdirected me in trying to outsmart the detective in the story. I started adding to my paperback collection and now have all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in paperback in my library, all of them bought well over thirty years ago. There are a few of her short stories that did not appear in the collections I purchased, but I did add a collection of her plays which included The Mousetrap, a play that continues to be performed in London’s West End.
I cannot say that every one of her novels reaches the standard of a five star classic, but there is not a one that I did not wind up liking and the number of her novels that did reach the five star level far exceeded her contemporaries and the many that have since followed her. Her plots generally followed a set path, but this did not keep her from upending convention. The novel that made her famous, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, demonstrates this perfectly by subverting the Dr. Watson storytelling convention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (For those few who have not read this book, I will not go any further on this point.) In general, the reader is introduced to a set of characters within an environment where a murder takes place. These characters may have quirks but they are never one-dimensional which makes us care for them throughout the story. There is a balance between characters who feel the seriousness of the situation and characters who comically accept the situation as a puzzle to be solved. This is a delicate balance at which I find many modern mystery writers fail. In The Body in the Library, a young blonde woman is found dead in the library of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry’s estate. Instead of having a lot of anguish and dread about the dead woman in her home, Mrs. Bantry quickly gets her friend, Miss Marple, to come over before the detectives arrive to show her how “unreal” the body appears. Readers eventually come to learn about the young woman and how she unknowingly became the object of greed and jealousy, but they are not dragged down by heavy emotional introspection as Miss Marple helps the police solve the case.
Perhaps the most interesting theme within Agatha Christie’s mysteries is her sense of justice and its value to social order. Two of her most famous novels reveal how she believes in justice – Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None. In Murder on the Orient Express, a man is murdered in his cabin in the end railway coach of the Orient Express. Because the train was trapped by a snow drift, it becomes obvious to Hercule Poirot that the murderer was one of the twelve other passengers on the coach, but he also discovers that the victim was responsible for a child kidnapping and murder in America, yet avoided justice. When Poirot gives his dissertation about his investigation at the end of the book, he provides two solutions to the Orient Express manager and suspects – one true and one simplistically false. Since readers realize that the true motive for the murder is appropriate justice, they accept that the eventual authorities will be given the simple but false solution. In And Then There Were None, ten people are invited to an island for a weekend retreat and discover that one of them is out to kill the others one at a time. A recording that plays to them on the first night informs them that they have all committed murder which is why they have been sentenced to death over the course of the weekend. In the original novel, no one survives. A letter to the authorities later reveals who was responsible. (I find it interesting that Christie herself had to change the ending allowing survivors in order to adapt the story to the stage, which is the plotline seen in all of the movie versions.) The basic concept seems to be that murder in the role of justice was a valid concept to Agatha Christie, and considering some of the crimes with which her victims were accused in And Then There Were None, the level of culpability to be eligible for the death penalty was very low.
In August, I had a friend who felt I was “too good a person” not to have found a partner in my life and pretty much strong-armed me to join eHarmony. I completed the complex personality questionnaire with her at my shoulder and then balked at paying the sixty dollar monthly subscription fee, considering my current employment situation. After all, the ads do promise that I can see my matches for free. However, what was available to be seen was just words, the descriptive answers in the member’s profile, as photos are blocked as well as the ability to communicate with the matched members. Even though eHarmony’s advertising is not very upfront about this, it seemed reasonable in order to justify the subscription fee for full membership. Then some of the women reached out to me, sending me a smile or a selection of five questions to initiate contact. I felt it was only proper to respond, but discovered that no communication included responses. Naively, I expected at the time that these paying members would receive some indication that I would not be able to respond at the time since I was not a paying member.
During the next few weeks, I kept receiving daily notifications of new matches, averaging five to seven a day. Then, I received a promotional e-mail offering a three-month-for-one deal. I signed up for the deal and started to go through the 100+ matches I had already accumulated. I felt compelled to start by responding to the women who had reached out to me with initial five questions. This led to five meet-and-greet dates over the next several weeks, providing me with a couple of new Facebook friends, but the “One” was not in these dates. Among the initial group of women who had reached out to me, I was disappointed that the guided communication with the most promising match suddenly stopped in process without reaching the meet-and-greet stage. I was still getting the daily five to seven new matches during this time and now had well over 200 matches. It was time for me to choose from this group and reach out to a few of these matches. There was no way that I could even consider sending a smile to every match in the ever growing pool, but I suddenly had no luck in getting any response from the few I chose to send a smile or an initial set of five questions.
After getting several new matches from profiles that had not been active for over a month, plus a few that were obviously phony, I realized that a portion of my matches were with non-paying members who would never be able to communicate with me. I also realized that no profile contained any indication to a paying member on whether that profile was open to communication or not. I went back to the profile of the promising match that suddenly ended and realized that all of her communication to me occurred during the Labor Day weekend which had been promoted as a free communication period for all members. As soon as the promotion ended, her communication ended with me. This meant she was likely a non-paying member, perhaps a new member signing up for a free trial. Even though I was now paying for the service of finding and connecting with women, I was cut off from completing a connection with a very positive match because she was not a paying member and we could not complete the guided communication over a three day free weekend.
What I began to wonder was what percentage of my matches were members who had just signed up for free or had gone inactive. There was no way to determine this, but the sudden inability to get any responses from my initial communications made it seem likely that this percentage was substantial. I felt like I was part of a roulette game which had been partially rigged by the House. There was no way I could put a chip on every number on the table, but many of the numbers were already foregone losers. The point is I was paying expressly for a service that was being undercut by the business model. I was paying more to be an ad for eHarmony than to find that special connection. I truly suspect that the best ratio of paying communicable matches was when I first joined for free and decreased gradually up to the time my three month reduced fee subscription ended. Since I determined not to extend my subscription, I wanted to be sure that my profile would not be used to bait-and-switch another trial member. I changed my membership settings to not receive any more new matches and then added in the additional information section of my profile for my current matches that I was no longer a paying subscriber able to communicate or respond to any initial outreach. I did add that if anyone wanted to know more about me, I could be found by searching for Legacy Discovered on Amazon.com. If I was being used to promote eHarmony to others, I felt I should be able to put in a little self-promotion of my own.
Every Christmas season, I make time for an annual viewing of movie holiday classics among the multitude of new offerings presented by Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel. Many would recognize the classics in my DVD collection – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, The Apartment. However, I have one favorite standard in my collection that may not be as well-known, The Gathering. For years, I had to be content with watching it on the VHS recording I had made when it aired on PBS over twenty years ago. Last year, it was finally released on DVD and I was able to retire the VHS tape to the recycle bin.
The Gathering was a 1977 TV holiday movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Special. Edward Asner stars as Adam Thornton, a gruff, stubborn business owner who is separated from his wife and estranged from his four grown-up children. As the movie opens, he has just been informed that he has only weeks to live. He realizes that he needs to rebuild the relationships with his children, so he goes to see his wife, Kate, portrayed by Maureen Stapleton, to get their addresses or some means of communicating with them. Despite his attempt to display normalcy, she instantly realizes that something is wrong and confronts him, forcing him to confess his medical condition. She declares that they together will invite the children back home for a Thornton family Christmas. Will they come and give their father a chance at redemption and reconciliation? Since this is a warm holiday movie, we already know the answer to this, but it goes to the power of the story that we become so emotionally invested in the process.
During my years with Disney ABC, I was fortunate to meet and interact with many well-known actors and television personalities while producing satellite interview tours and interview junkets. It was during one of these satellite tours that I had a chance to meet Ed Asner. I told him that The Gathering was one of my favorite Christmas movies and his first response was “Great script by James Poe.” His comment went to the essence of what makes this movie so great. This was a writer’s vehicle, a well-structured story with wonderful dialogue. It weaves the individual tales of each relationship into a redemptive drama about the rebuilding of a family.
In Legacy Discovered, I used references to classic literature that reflected themes within my novel. I had read many of the referenced works, but one classic I had not read was Pride and Prejudice. My use of Jane Austen’s classic as a high school English assignment for Sue was based upon my general knowledge of the book’s story and themes. However, after I published Legacy Discovered, I felt I should take the time to read Pride and Prejudice for myself, so I downloaded the free e-book. Last week, I had time to finally read this literary romance classic.
In order to read and understand Pride and Prejudice, the reader must consider the social and historical environment at the time it was written. In order to project refinement and social bearing within mid-nineteenth century English society, conversation and narration was less direct and presented very grammatically and more subtly with a polite surfeit of words to please modern English teachers. For the LOL generation, this is TMI for attention-challenged minds. However, for those willing to look under the puffery language, Pride and Prejudice is a light, yet thoughtful story about a woman, Elizabeth Bennet, who is the second oldest in a family of five daughters, whose mother is very intent on finding suitable – read higher social class – husbands for them. But Elizabeth is too proud and honest, brutally so, to play the game her mother expects her and her sisters to play. Elizabeth attracts the attention of a well-to-do reserved gentleman, Mr. Darcy, which she determines to be arrogant. Stories about Darcy that she later hears from a suave regiment officer just reinforces her prejudices toward him. It is only when Darcy gains the courage to express his intentions and gets an earful on his perceived shortcomings, that he begins to show her just how wrong she was about him. The plot has become a standard in many romantic comedies since, which is why it deserves its reputation as a classic in English literature.
I mailed my holiday cards today. Everybody has their favorite traditions for the Christmas season and mine is to create my own cards for my family, friends and associates. When I first started making my own cards years ago, I painted unique designs on watercolor sheets and wrote individual messages inside the folded sheets. However, computer technology has greatly improved the process, especially when my mailing list grew to cover an expanding directory of business associates . Basically, I would select an appropriate photo from my travels in the previous year, compose a poetic message for the interior and use the creative tools of Photoshop and Microsoft Word to build the theme for the year. A recipient database in Excel and mail merge made sure each card was personalized. It is an annual labor of love.
The one thing I will not totally give over to technology is the replacement of the physical card with the trend towards the virtual card. I think there is nothing so personal as feeling and viewing the work of art in your hand, then slowly opening the card up to read the original poetry inside. So my close friends and family will receive their personalized cards inside envelopes through the US Postal Service. However, a single frame image of the card will be posted on Facebook so my ever-growing sphere of social media friends will get to enjoy my annual creative endeavor.
On Thanksgiving Sunday, November 25, I will be interviewed live on Storytellers Campfire at 8pm Pacific Time on their BlogTalkRadio program. The show will be available over BlogTalkRadio, iTunes and Puget Sound Radio live, provided to other radio stations to air within a 24 hour period and available in the blogtalkradio archives for 90 days. The weblink to the interview is:
Update: As of January 2017, the interview is still available at the above link.