Past Slipping Away…

It’s always a little painful when pieces of your past begin to slip away, particularly when they had a big impact on your life. Every actor or singer that was big when I was in my teens who passes on is a little slice of that formative time, a little piece that shaped my youth.  It seems like more and more of them are happening now, almost like a meteor shower of them passing.

Yesterday, a huge chunk of my whole life passed on. I was a teenager when I fell in love with the Vulcan on Star Trek. I read fantasy and science fiction, but the series was the best thing to hit television for me. I became a Trekkie (we were Trekkies then and I am still a proud Trekkie!) – lock, stock and barrel! I campaigned to keep Star Trek on TV. I had a brief correspondence with Gene Roddenberry in the hopes of getting into television writing. I joined Star Base 36 when I moved to Reno where I made lasting friends and we worked then to encourage the first movie be made. I never ceased to support this amazing show and the actors in it. I was never the “too crazy” fan who went into the costume contests and wore alien makeup, although I did wear a hall costume now and then. But I knew a lot of the people who did really get into the costuming and what is now called cosplay.

When I was 19 or 20, I had two particular racing greyhounds, a pair of handsome black beauties named RA’s Star Trek and RA’s Moonraker. One evening the Juarez race track had a special event and Leonard Nimoy was the guest of honor. Both of my dogs were entered in races and I was thrilled to be at the track, even if the dogs weren’t likely to win, and didn’t. But I recall meeting Mr. Nimoy. He was tall, with almost jet black hair and he stood out like a beacon in the crowd of people at the track.   I had a chance to introduce myself and he was charmingly polite as I babbled about how much I enjoyed the Spock character and the whole series. It was a brief, but memorable meeting. Mostly, I simply recalled how dynamic and charismatic he was. How when you saw him, you were instantly drawn to him. He remained a favorite all my life and it was always a joy to see him in a show.

Leonard Nimoy was an icon. He represented so much to a young person who saw a brave new future ahead and one in which there was huge promise. His portrayal of Spock gave us hope for one day finding a friendly presence in the cosmos and Star Trek itself gave us hope that people would one day work together as citizens of Earth and not as the separate nations that still war against each other. That dream is not yet realized as Nimoy left this world yesterday, but the little seed that was planted may yet come to fruition, although not in my lifetime or maybe even in the next few generations, but the dream is not dead.

I trust that, in whatever realm awaits us beyond this one, Leonard’s spirit is reuniting with Dee Kelley, Gene Roddenberry and Jimmy Doohan for some great stories at a smashing galactic pub.

Before World’s 2015, a Reflection on Figure Skating

I have been a fan of ice skating for most of my life.  I loved going to ice shows when they came to town and loved to skate, even though my skating was confined to roller rinks since there wasn’t an ice rink in El Paso at the time.  When I was about 12, my mother gave me her old boot roller skates and I did all my skating a rink in the park near my house.  The floor was coated with rubber, so it was a quieter, and slightly slower, surface than wooden floor rinks.  I also came home frequently with rubber burns on my knees and hands from falls and the usual sprained wrist because I was always prone to catching myself on my hands or knees rather than my bottom.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I started ice skating.  One of my roommates was also a big skating fan and we used to go to the Laurel Canyon rink regularly.  We took lessons and as we began to learn more about skating, also learned to appreciate the show and competitive skaters more and more.  It’s easy to underestimate how difficult the jumps and spins they are doing actually are unless you’ve tried it and understand the difference between an inside and outside edge and how you actually the perform the jump properly.  I’ve known a lot of people who could hop around on ice and look like they’re jumping, but it isn’t with the technique that makes them a top ice skater.  I never reached that level either.  I was lucky to do a few simple spins, a waltz jump and some decent spirals.

I followed the successes of our American figure skaters, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi with passion and great pride.  Then in the mid-1990’s, a young lady named Michelle Kwan dominated the sport.  She was, and probably still is, the best and most consistent figure skater to ever compete.  She could bring tears to my eyes with the beauty, grace and quality of her skating.  It’s still incredible that she didn’t win an Olympic medal in her two attempts – that on those days, the most consistent and highly acclaimed skater in the world, didn’t quite make it.  Of course, she missed the mark now and then.  She was human and she had nerves, just like any other skater.  But she also was the most deserving.  Perhaps she failed because there was a greater lesson to be learned, for people who admired her, by her grace and attitude at “winning” the lesser silver medal and not seeing it as defeat.  I still question whether Tara Lipinski should have won the gold medal.  Yes, she did a triple, triple combination that Michelle did not do in the long program, but the long program was supposed to also put the emphasis on artistry and clearly, Michelle had the more artistic and beautiful program.

To understand my feelings on this, you need to look at the quality of the skating.  There are very few skaters who appear to be one with the ice.  They seem to skate from the ice rather than on the ice.  Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean, Davis and White and Michelle Kwan are among those skaters.  There is a depth, smoothness and magic to their skating that comes from deep knees, strong edges and so much practice to make it look effortless.

As I watched the broadcast program of the 2015 Four Continents competition, I was dismayed by how much the skaters appear to be struggling.  The jumps are harder for the men with the quads being the tough one.  Jason Brown, who is a delight to watch, is still trying to nail one.  The Japanese and Chinese skaters seem to have an advantage in this area as they are smaller and more compact, which means a quicker rotation in the air.  They are also fearless with some of the highest jumps to give them time to get the rotations done.  Evan Lysacek had a definite height disadvantage with being six feet tall, while most skaters are much shorter.  Evan had to work harder to get those rotations in because it’s harder to compact that larger frame in the air.

In the women’s competition, the skating is a mixed bag.  Yuna Kim was the best of the recent skaters, a beautiful technician who listed Michelle Kwan as her idol and inspiration.  She emulated Michelle on the ice and in some ways, it was almost like seeing Michelle. But in the competition, since changing to the point scoring system, the women have almost become cookie-cutter skaters, most of them doing the exact same moves, reaching to stretch their legs over their heads in a Beilman and sometimes achieving positions that are neither graceful nor pretty.  But they get the points.

They are also falling, skating to boring music and showing little flair in their skating.  Gracie Gold and Polina Edmonds show promise.  Ashley Wagner comes across as a spoiled and insincere brat and has been a very inconsistent skater.  Whether Ashley is a nice person is an unknown, but what the viewer sees is someone who seems like a phony.  And none of them seem to skate with the skill, the heart and the joy that Michelle Kwan gave us for over a decade.

Artistry is becoming hard to accomplish amongst all the required elements for scoring. The competition now is laced with required moves and connecting steps that many skaters seem to be struggling to accomplish.  The music has slowed to many piano and violin concertos that lack any dramatic effect to slow songs from pop stars.  Sometimes the music is fast, but then the skaters seem to struggle to keep up with it and sometimes fail.  There are some programs where the music is just background noise if you judge the skating by how well the skater utilizes it.

Well, it’s much harder now with all the required moves.  How well would Michelle Kwan have stood up with the new scoring system?   Consider this, Michelle did seven triple jumps in one program, including a triple-triple.  She also had a beautiful spiral that she extended, changing edges across the whole rink, not just for a few seconds.  She had elegant, well-centered spins and who do you think inspired adding the required added footwork to the scores?  Long before it was something that earned points, Michelle was using connecting footwork, turns and unusual entry positions into the jumps.  When she began working with Lori Nicholl, the wonderful choreographer, Michelle discovered the power of music, took it into her soul and interpreted it on ice.  There was joy in her skating and a deep love of it that transcended the program.  I think if Michelle had not been injured and unable to heal completely prior to the Torino Olympics, that she might well have excelled under the points scoring system and won the gold medal that she so deserved.

Take a look at the video of Michelle’s program from the 2001 World Competition, which she won in spite of problems with her short program.

Perhaps the most beautiful example of Michelle’s artistry and exquisite skating is evident in this exhibition skate from 1998.  She is always in motion, always changing and feeling every beat of the music of “Dante’s Prayer”.  I still grow teary-eyed when I watch it and I long for the artistry that the skaters now seem to lack.

By the way, the first time I saw the three-jump combination done was by Michelle’s main rival, Irena Slutskaya, and she was the only one doing it.  So that was Irena’s contribution to the new points system.   Michelle and Irena traded World titles many times and neither one walked away with a gold Olympic medal.  Both were accomplished and brilliant skaters, but Michelle won the hearts of the world.  That is a hard act to follow, and so far, no one has quite managed it.

Writing Status and Coercing the Dragon

Here I am at the start of February and I still have lots on my plate, so to speak. I am a little disappointed with myself that I haven’t worked on my WIP, my young adult novel, since the first week of January.  After the month before NaNo when I completed my fantasy novel and the month of NaNo where I wrote my paranormal thriller and started my YA, I had hoped to complete it in December, but got bogged down with the holidays and other projects.  Then I wrote a little in January and started on the first edit of Funeral Singer: A Song for Marielle.

Sending the Bird into the Beta World

The good news is that the first edit is completed and the book is now out with a few beta readers for the first feedback.  I admit, I am a little nervous about setting my little bird free in the big, bad world, but I hope that the beta readers are enjoying it and will be gentle with the comments.  But I also want them to be honest.  Only if the feedback is honest will the writer grow and learn from the process.  Yes, I hope people like the story and my writing, but I am not perfect and even the best attempt to catch all the problems in a story by the writer is not going to manage it.  I’ve already found things in just glimpsing through it after I sent it out that I need to change or didn’t get caught in the edit.

With the relief of the edit done and another project or two that had to be completed, I’d hoped to get back to the YA in January, but it didn’t happen.  I just put it on my schedule for February with the hope that I can regain my writing pace and complete the first draft this month.

Capturing an Old Novel and Editing for Others

As a side-project, I went back to trying to get the second novel I’d written way back when converted to digital form so that I can revise it and perhaps publish it this year.  This one is a suspense romance along the lines of Mary Stewart’s novels.  I typed a lot of it in, wished a few more times that my scanner had an OCR application on it and tried at least three times to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to read the book to the computer.  More about this in a minute.  I did finally finish getting that novel into digital form this past week, so that’s another in the queue to rewrite.  I have been productive over the past two months, so that’s the good part.

I’ve also taken on a beta read/editing for another writer and that is always an interesting project.  His story is good, but it needs a lot of work.  I’m catching many punctuation and spelling errors, but also quite a few other issues.  I try to beta and edit the way that I hope that my beta readers will with me.  When something puzzles me or causes me to stumble in the reading, I make a note of it.  When the phrasing is awkward or confusing, I suggest changes or point out why it bothers me.  I think all writers have their blind spots when writing.  I know I do and I sometimes cringe when I read it through a month or so after writing it.  But while editing for someone else, I think you also become more aware of your own faults in your writing.  You see something the writer has done and realize that you also do it or something similar to it.  So you learn from the process as well.

Taking on the Dragon

Back to Dragon.

I have to talk about this experience a little bit.  I am on my third version of the program and I have resisted buying any more updates, although there are at least three newer versions of it now.  When I bought my current copy, version 10.0, it was a vast improvement on how it handled the interpretation of my words, but still not perfect.  For those who don’t know, you need to “train” dragon to your own speech pattern, so you read pre-designed texts to it so that it can learn your pronunciations and speech rhythm.  In spite of that, Dragon often stumbles when I try to read my own writing into it.  I think I enunciate pretty clearly, but sometimes it seems like the program makes a wild guess at what you just said because the words it types are so far off.

Using the program has been challenging and oft times frustrating for me.  I have given up more than a few times and returned to typing because I can type faster than the program can analyze, interpret, force me to correct and repeat the words.  I have tried several different mics with it, hoping that it will work better with one of them.

I just recently learned that it does better when I open the Dragon Pad (the word processing program within the program) than if I try to have it type directly into Word.  I then copy and paste from Dragon Pad to Word after a couple of pages of text have been entered.  After about one chapter, it begins to get sluggish, so I delete everything in the Dragon Pad, close it and reopen it and it performs better.  I find it doesn’t recognize words that end in n’t very well and I have to pronounce them with “ent” in order to get them entered correctly, so “couldn’t’ becomes “could-ent” in order for Dragon to understand.  I think voice recognition software has a ways to go to reach Star Trek capability.  I admit, I was amused when the computer had difficulty recognizing Chekov’s instructions in the first reboot movie.

So, that’s been my experience with the Dragon program.  Have any of you used it?  What was your experience?  Tell me about it.