Thursday, March 30, 2006

Practicing Poetry in Public

Weekend Assignment #105: Share a favorite poem.

Extra Credit: Ever write poetry yourself?

I'm going to share four poems that aren't mine, and a few more that are. Let's start with an obscure one:

1. The Sniffling Viking

No, that's not the title of the poem, as far as I know.

When I was in college the first time, back in Syracuse, there was a NEA project called "Poetry in Public Places." One of the public places used was the city buses. I memorized a poem that was on one of the buses. It was perfect for Syracuse:

If it's not one thing it's another
(Muffler I have to wear)
Don't you know I come from
A stronger breed of Vikings?
We ate you people for breakfast.

--Author unknown

I Googled this, but all I found was the time I previously posted this in a comment. It may be under copyright, but in the absence of further info, I'm reproducing it anyway, in the hope that someone who knows who wrote it will find this and help me give credit where it's due.

2. Death's Blue-Eyed Boy

onetwothreefourfiveThe only poem by E.E. Cummings that I've completely memorized is officially called

Buffalo Bill's

but I think of it as Buffalo Bill's Defunct. Somebody, I think Dick Cavett, recited it on the PBS show The Great American Dream Machine back around 1969. That night's show was all about death. Also featured that night was Tom Paxton's brilliant satirical song, Forest Lawn:

I want to go simply when I go;
They'll give me a simple funeral there, I know,
With a casket lined in fleece,
And fireworks spelling out "Rest in Peace"--
Oh, take me when I'm gone
To Forest Lawn.

But I digress. My other favorite E.E. Cummings poem is In Just-


when the world is puddle-wonderful

Incidentally, despite the widespread "decapitalization" of Cumming's name, the preferred spelling among Cummings experts is E.E. Cummings, not ee cummings. No less an authority than Cummings' widow was quite clear on this point. The poems themselves also use capital letters, albeit not conventionally or consistently. So all you bloggers and texters who like to write in all lower case, you don't have "ee cummings" to justify this practice. Not really.

3. In the Park. In the Dark.

Buffalo Bill'sYes, I had The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, If I Ran the Circus and Green Eggs & Ham, all by Dr. Seuss; and more obscurely, Ten Apples Up on Top! by Theo LeSeig. All of these books were written by Theodor Seuss Geisel, and I was fond of them all. But the Seuss book whose poems stick in my head after all these years is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. I can still recite two of them verbatim, and often do.

The best one is the next to last poem in the book, about a creature called Clark. I once wrote a parody of it, as part of my series of Tolkien mash-ups:

Look what I found
In a cave
Dark as a grave.
It's a magic ring.
It's a precious thing.
I put it on to vanish.
Its hold on my thoughts grows.
Should I pass it on now?
Gandalf knows.

The other poet I quote from the book with the fish involves a guy whose hat is old, whose teeth are gold, and who has a bird he likes to hold.

4. My Five Grey HairsMy five gray hairs...

Okay, last one. For me, the coolest poet before 1800 was not Shakespeare, but John Donne. Wikipedia calls him "a Jacobean metaphysical poet. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and sermons." What a range of work! Imagine an Anglican clergyman who once started a poem (The Canonization) this way:

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
My five grey hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout;

and asks,

What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?

I love his wit and relatively direct style, and the contradictions in his work, the sacred and the sexual in a single poem. And I always smile when I see the name "Donne" on a hymn at church. Even noticing grey hair on my own head used to remind me pleasantly of Donne's "five grey hairs." This is no longer as true as it was, though. I have many more than five of them these days.

Incidentally, today (March 31st) is Donne's commemorative day in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church.

Extra Credit:

a haikuYes, of course I've written poetry. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, or its predecessor, Musings, you've seen some of it. The earliest poem of mine I still have memorized dates back to first or second grade, a little ditty about birdwatching. I wrote my first blank verse in third grade. I've written lots of haiku, especially "epic haiku," which is what I call a series of haiku strung together. I've read my best poem, Pilate's Answer: And All Ye Need to Know, on KXCI's A Poet's Moment. And yesterday or the day before, I had the terrible anti-drug song I wrote in eighth grade stuck in my head for several hours:

Sue, stop your cryin';
Ain't no use tryin'
To bring back the dead with tears.
With a one-way 'ticket,'
The bucket, he kicked it
In a way you'll recall through the years.

Sure, go ahead and laugh at its maudlin mawkishness and awkward wording. It really is that bad.

Midnight slips behind.
Still I'm here, past my promise.
Stop my words. Good night!


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The Neighborhood Ruins the View

I'm caught up in watching the Gidget tv series on DVD, and so for tonight I'm just going to string a few words and pictures.

Last night I showed you a dead ocotillo in front of the back of the church sign. Well, here's what a live one looks like after a few days of rain. Most of the time, ocotillos are grayish brown, spiny and leafless. But after some rain they leaf out. When there's been a lot of rain, mostly during the monsoon, they also get tassel-shaped red flowers on top.

This particular ocotillo is the same one I meant to photograph a little over a week ago, as non-evidence of Spring. Apparently I didn't take the shot. Take my word for it: as of March 20th there were no leaves on it. A few better-late-than-never rainfalls since then made all the difference. Which is as good an excuse as any to mention that the next Round Robin Photo Challenge, as suggested by Sassy of Sassy's EYE, is "New Life." Like on an ocotillo! Check out the Round Robin blog for details on this latest challenge.

And here's another follow-up: a second stab at the Obstruction topic. You know I shoot a lot of sunset photos, but the fact is that I'm often in my own neighborhood around sunset. The falling sun does cool things to the western sky - right behind a backlit suburban ranch tract home. I've probably taken as many photos of the house across the street as of our own house - and the photos aren't as good.

sunset over  a neighbor's house

I have the same problem to the north. Neighborhood homes are between me and the Catalinas, lit as they are with reflections of sunset colors. Many times I've walked up and down the street, looking for a better shot. It never works. Other times I drive to a better view. That works a little better. But really, the best sunset shots are either from Safeway, of all places, or taken in the mountains. That takes planning, and I just don't have the time. So I take my obstructed shots of neighborhood sunsets.

houses block the Catalinas


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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Round Robin: Obstructed Signs and Non-Conforming Crosses

This is my entry for this week's Round Robin Photo Challenge: "Obstruction," as suggested by Nancy of Nancy Luvs Pix. As it happens, it's also a follow-up to the previous RR Photo Challenge, "Signs."

Despite the obstruction, a few of God's
children manage to wave hi.

Remember the St. Michael's "prophetic sign" I showed you last time? It's the one that says, "EITHER WE ARE ALL GOD'S CHILDREN...OR NO ONE IS." As you may recall, that sign has been covered up recently - in other words, obstructed - by a printed plastic sign advertising St. Michael's Parish Day School. You can just see a few children waving at the edges of the wooden one if you peek at the sides.

This past Sunday, I happened to notice that the plastic sign no longer covered the wooden one. I also noticed and remembered the other side of the sign, which is visible from the parking lot, a message to parishioners as we leave church. I set out to take a photo of both sides. The message "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" is partially obstructed by the pale, thorny sticks of a dead ocotillo. This is appropriate, I think, because the prickliness of our own tempers often gets in the way of our being peaceful and loving.

The sign's message to departing parishionersA message of peace, obstructed by thorns of ocotillo

As I set out to photograph the back side of the sign, three of my friends waited for me in my car, including 100-year-old Eva. I had put the air conditioning on, but I didn't want to keep them waiting for long. So I took a few shots of the "Go in peace" sign of the sign, and left re-photographing the "God's children" side for another day. This was a mistake, it turns out. On Monday, the sign for the school was back.

Hi there!Nails in the wood hold down the second sign,
and obstruct the children's view.

On Tuesday after work, I walked around and took more pictures of the sign from different sides, all the ones you see here and more. I thought about slipping a few of the grommets of the plastic sign off the nails that are holding it on, and getting a quick shot of the sign underneath before putting it back the way I found it. But it sounded tricky to do, and a lot of traffic was going by, and I was afraid people would think I was vandalizing the church. So I didn't do it.

While taking these shots, I discovered another sign. It's a Notice of Hearing before the City of Tucson's Sign Code Advisory and Appeals Board. It seems that St. Michael's is "requesting a variance to exceed the allowable sign area of twenty square feet frontage on Wilmot Road." The hearing took place on March 15th, but this is the first I've heard of it. Then again, I don't attend Vestry meetings.

A notice of hearing about the famous sign,
and noncomforming crosses.

According to the notice, the St. Michael's prophetic sign is 20.5 square feet, just over the limit for a "Single Family Residential District, Public Uses and Churches" zone. (St. Michael's is next door to the hospital and the public library on one side, houses on the other. The other side of the street is all businesses and offices.) In addition, the notice lists St. Michael's as having "six noncomforming 'crosses,'" which it says have a total area of "31.3 square foot." The requested variance is to increase the allowed signage area enough to include the sign, the crosses, and more. The leftover square footage is probably for the temporary signs the church puts up from time to time to promote such events as the English Faire and the Advent Bazaar.

two of the noncomforming crossesTwo of the noncomforming crosses, as seen from the parking lot.

Now there are two more points about this I find instructive - or rather, obstructive. For one thing, I can only find three "nonconforming crosses" at St. Michael's, at least without an exhaustive search. The ones I did find aren't right up against the "frontage" of Wilmot, anyway. One is over the end of the left wing of classrooms, one is over the arch that leads to the tree-lined walkway in front the the church proper, and one is directly over the church itself. They're not signs, either, in the sense of having words or pictures. They're crosses, and they're part of the architecture. Gee. Imagine a church having crosses on display! And from Wilmot Road, the view of the crosses I saw was partly obstructed anyway. So is the church itself, for that matter. What's visible from the street is mostly the school.

One of the crosses is near the white truck, above and to the leftOne of the crosses is near the white truck,
above and to the left

And the sign. That's very visible from the street. I have to wonder why this hearing took place just this month, when the wooden sign and the crosses have been there for many years. Did someone try to use zoning laws to achieve a political or religious purpose, namely the censorship of a sign the person found objectionable? Or was it simply a matter of the church trying to ensure it doesn't run afoul of city sign regulations in the future? I don't know, and I don't think I'm going to ask.

But I sure hope the Sign Code Advisory and Appeals Board agrees to the variance, and doesn't obstruct the church's ability to "sign" its messages to travelers on Wilmot Road.


Now go see what everyone else is posting for this challenge. And yes, you can still participate, anytime on Wednesday, March 29th, or up to a week afterward. See the Round Robin blog for details.

Linking List
as of Thursday, March 30th, 1:14 PM MST

Nancy - Nancy Luvs Pics Posted!

Karen - Outpost Mâvarin Posted!

Carly - Ellipsis...Suddenly Carly Posted!

Dorn - Through The Eyes Of The Beholder Posted!

Julie - Julie's Web Journal Posted!

Jessica - QuickSilver Posted!

Sara - Animated Seasons Posted!

T.J. - Photo Inclusions: Every Picture Tells A Story

Tammy- My Life As A Warrior Posted!

Steven - (sometimes)photoblog Posted!

Erica - Photograph Of My Soul New!

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Plastic Piercings

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Show off your piercings (or the piercings of someone you know). Ears, belly buttons, noses and etc -- but not, you know, the piercings you couldn't show off in public anyway. Remember, AOL's a "PG" kind of place.

You had me stumped for a moment on this one, J.S.. I seldom even notice other people's pierced ears (except on very small children), but I'm not into self-mutilation, which is what piercing is, IMO. Years ago a friend of mine got a tongue piercing, and I was never able to look him in the face again. It's not up to me what anyone else should do about such things, but my mom never got her ears pierced, and neither have I. Nobody in this house has a pierced anything, although my husband John offered to fake impaling himself for the photo shoot. Yep, that's the man I love!

As I considered the problem, though, I suddenly remembered that there are some pierced ears at Casa Blocher after all. They belong to Barbie:

early Malibu I think, plus paint

And Casey:

Casey, friend of Francie

And Stacey:

Talking Stacey from 1968

Look carefully at these photos, and you'll see the piercings: some in the ear, some just beneath it.

But do these dolls wear their earrings? As you can see, they do not. Here's what happens to a 1964 Barbie that's had metal earrings in for a few decades:

Bubble Cut with green ear...and the earrings that caused the condition

Mind you, that's how the ear looks after I've spent considerable time and effort cleaning up this doll as best I could, using the method recommended on the vintage Barbie fan sites. I probably need to try again, over a period of up to six months. It looked much worse to begin with, though. The camera and the flash accentuate the green a bit, but it's definitely visible to the eye. It looked better still after I originally worked on the head with Tarn-X and cotton, but "green ear disease" tends to come back, spreading outward from the tarnish inside the doll.

The pin-like objects on the left are the kind of earrings that caused all the trouble. Nowadays Mattel (and other makers of "repro" earrings for vintage dolls) make the posts out of plastic, usually nylon.

Barbie's "MODern" cousin's friend, Casey, is a bit hipper than Barbie herself. Casey came with just one earring instead of two - and it's a dangler! I dug out the earring and the swimsuit that came with the doll so you can get some idea how she looked originally.

Casey, friend of Francie

I hope I won't regret this. Even sticking in that corroded and corrosive bit of metal for two minutes deposited more tarnish in Casey's head, which could cause trouble later on. That would be a shame! Casey was my favorite doll as of 1967, when I was ten years old. My original dolls are long gone, but I went to a fair amount of trouble and expense to buy Casey again, and the best gold lamé fishnet swimsuit I could find on eBay, and the darn earring. I should use a pin to poke a little Tarn-Ex into the ear hole, just in case.

Somewhere in this house (Museum of the Weird, remember?) there's a Generation Girl Chelsie with a nose stud. Generation Girl was a line of Barbie and friends with less extreme proportions and hipper accoutrements. They were too hip for the room, though. Plans for multiple piercings, nose studs and tattoos on this line of dolls were scrapped after Mattel received complaints from parents about Butterfly Art Barbie and Butterfly Art Ken, which came with removable tattoos for both doll and child. The Butterfly Art dolls sold well and were not recalled, but only about 5000 Chelsie dolls with the nose stud made it onto the market.


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Bonus Weirdness, But Not My Weirdness:

This strange and twisted story (as in lots of twists as the mystery unravels) caught my eye tonight in the online edition of the Tucson Citizen. It concerns the headstone of a little boy, a cobbler's son, who died of diptheria in 1911. The headstone is (or was, until very recently) at a trailer park in Pinal County. But where are the bones?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Deep Thoughts...and Theories of Nomenclature

"Great. Now I'm going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day.
- Cordelia Chase, "Beauty and the Beasts," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

As many people have pointed out before now, one of the cool and unique things about blogging is the way diversions, info, ideas, whole conversations spread from blog to blog, sometimes across a dozen or a hundred different venues, where hundreds of people read and comment on them. Some of these viral ideas - quizzes and other artificial memes, are designed to propagate in this way. Other stuff just happens to tap into what people are interested in and want to write about.

This has been another weekend of blog entries that inspire others to continue the conversation. First there was Pat's question about the origins of different screen names. Today she followed it up with an entry about place names and character names. Well, you know that's a topic that's pretty much guaranteed to get me blathering on about Mâvarin again. First, though, I'd like to offer my take on a couple of Carly's recent entries.

desert tortoise, Tucson, circa 1987Apparently a 250-year-old tortoise just died in India, one that belonged to a prominent Englishman at the beginning of that country's colonial era. (The critter shown here is not that Indian one, but a desert tortoise in our former back yard here in Tucson.) Carly tied this news in with a picture she took of some turtles recently, and the idea of being "comfortable in your shell," and the perspective that hundreds of years of life would bring.

That got me thinking about the way we look at the world now, we humans with our 60 to 90 years on the planet, assuming we aren't taken out early by murder, disease or accident. How often do we really think about what we'll be like - or what the planet will be like - decades from now? Most of the time, we're just trying to get through the week! Next week is a finite, comprehensible thing. We've got a pretty good idea what next week will be like. But 2016, 2026, 2036 - those years, and all the weeks in them, are abstractions to us. We may dutifully invest in an IRA if we can, buy insurance, or plan for the kid's eventual need for college tuition. But we don't really think about ourselves at age 80 until we're in our late 70s. We don't think about all the good and bad things that will be part of our lives by then - the latest gadgets, the medical advances, the depleted oil reserves, the changing planet itself. We can't really predict most of this stuff, so we don't. It's not real to us, anyway. The only perspective we can lay claim to is what we see looking back, when we compare today's world to the one we knew at the age of ten or twelve or twenty. Even that is filtered through imperfect memory, and limited by our ages. I can drive to downtown Tucson and onto a street that was built right over an 1865 graveyard, or learn more about a 2000 year old Hohokum pit house excavated near modern-day Church Ave. But I can't know what this place was truly like in 1865, let alone at the time of Christ. I wasn't here then.

Carly's next entry after the turtles and the tortoise was about predictions of the End Times, and how that relates to George W. Bush(!). She mentions "a reference to a recently published book that says, "members of the Bush administration have reached out to prophetic Christians, who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse." A woman asked the President about this, and he said, "I haven't really thought of it that way." Carly goes on to ask for the thoughts of her readers about the Apolcalypse. Here are mine:

From what I've read and learned in several venues (college course, sermons, etc.), Revelations was written in a literary genre called apocalyptic literature. It is an allegory, mostly commenting in code on the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. As my religion prof put it thirty years ago, "The author of Revelations was 'predicting' the recent past."

My beloved high school boyfriend Dan, a devoted reader of Hal Lindsay, was convinced the world would end in 1986. That year came and went, 20 years ago. Dan himself didn't make it to 1986, but the world goes on. Dan's world ended in 1978, and he presumably went on to the next one. The 1986 date was entirely irrelevent, it turns out, to his life and to ours, at least as far as the Apocalypse goes.

It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.
--Riley Finn, "A New Man," BtVS

It seems to me that it's terribly presumptuous to predict a certain date or year, especially one we expect to see ourselves. We can't even be sure when our individual lives on Earth will end, much less predict what God (or the human race) will do and when. All we can do is take good care of the Earth and ourselves, and live as though the Earth needs to last for millenia yet - and as though we may die tomorrow. People have been predicting the Apocalypse since St. Paul's day. Does it really make sense to think that the world really is ending soon, this time for sure! - and that we therefore don't need to care about global warming, our disappearing rain forests or the health of our oceans? Shouldn't we be taking care of such things, just in case our children are going to be living here - and because God was expecting us to be good stewards and not trash the place?

Do we really want to assume these kids won't need
a healthy planet to live on, fifty years from now?

As for Republicans reaching out to evangelical Christians, there's certainly nothing new about that. I once heard an interview with a former NeoCon who claimed to have attended tactical meetings about using social issues - basically conservative Christian issues - to induce people to "vote against their own economic self-interest." (Warning: rant ahead.) Many people, regardless of political or religious affiliation, will vote their consciences instead of their pocketbooks. However, the things they vote for don't always fit well with rationality or compassion. Sometimes it has more to do with indoctrination - being taught that some other group of people is a threat and must be fought by all means possible.

Like Carly, I reject the idea that the only true Christians are the ones who fear and loathe Them: liberals, gays, undocumented border-crossers, Muslims, Jews, the ACLU, even members of other Christian sects. To hate anyone is a betrayal of what Jesus taught, IMO. And to teach others to fear the "Not We" (to borrow a Star Trek reference) is a way to manipulate them, and to promote war and intolerance and misunderstanding. This is what's been happening in the Middle East for a long time, never more so than now. And it's what happens here as well. Mind you, I do not mean to imply that the average Republican or evangelical Christian is a hater or a hypocrite. But there are certainly people on the fringes of both groups who equate all Muslims with terrorism, or believe that Mexicans who sneak across the Arizona border are mostly here to smuggle drugs and murder decent Americans, or at least steal their jobs; or have little concern for the wellbeing of anything or anyone beyond their own friends, families and bank accounts.

Okay, on to a lighter topic. Pat (DesLily) has posted a list of character and place names from the books she wrote (mostly for herself), and explained a bit about their derivations. A lot of them come from Southern California place names, or are truncations or variations of more familiar names. She asks,

As I look down the list of names I notice how in Fantasy, very few names are simple, like John or Carol. I wonder how making up such fantastical names all began?? If anyone has a thought on that I think it would make a good post!

Overall, I think that can be laid squarely at J.R.R. Tolkien's doorstep. The man was an expert on the subject of dead languages, and created whole languages of his own. Names of people and places in The Lord of the Rings were derived from both Quenya (and other made-up tongues) and real words rooted in England's lingistic heritage. Tolkien's books inspired a whole genre, and not just in terms of what things were called.

We can't all be experts in Saxon and Old Norse words, so later writers of science fiction and fantasy generally fudge things a bit. For future colonists of another planet, Anne McCaffrey extrapolated a shift in the language over thousands of years, influenced by how she figured a dragon might pronounce a human name. A fantasy writer working in a mileu based on France might just go ahead and use French names, or tweak those names to represent the nomenclature of a fantasy country that isn't quite France. Some writers name characters after their friends, enemies, family members, even themselves, changing them just enough to avoid upsetting anyone or invoting a lawsuit. Still others do their best to develop a fictonal language as Tolkien did, or at least fudge it up from basic rules and sounds.

I mostly fall in the latter category with the Mâvarin books. I've got a general idea how the names of people work - no doubled vowels or consonants (not the same consonant, anyway), one or two syllable names for most regular people, three or four syllables for mages, who add the extra one as part of their Robing as qualified mages. Beyond that, though, I either go for basic sounds, or base a name on a real-world one, or tack a few vowels and consonants behind some first letter that I haven't already used to begin twenty other character names. This is a real problem, because the books have over 150 names characters...and counting! But my Rani (rhymes with Danny) was probably derived from Randy, although it turns out "Rani" is a real name in India. Del is also a real name, but it's meant to rhyme with the name of Del's twin, Crel, which isn't. Del was originally called Dag, a name derived by changing one letter in the word Dan. But Dag is a real Scandanavian name. I saw several protagonists named Dag go by in fantasy novels, and endured a lot of teasing from John about "Dag!" sounding like a kid's fake swear word, before I finally changed it.

Rutana is named after my mom. Jamek (JAH-meck) is a weird misspelling of James. All four main Beatles have had their names twisted into Mâvarin and Mâton character names, but I hope that most people won't notice. And Fayubi - well, I just liked the sound of that.

Place names follow other rules in my books. The ending -mar means a city. The ending -beth is a village. A place that ends in -mak is a forest. The accent mark for long vowels is allowed in place names, but not in modern-day human names.

Foreign place names, though, are treated a bit differently. You'll probably know the source of the country name Londer if I tell you that its capital is Gerbrin, and that Londer's Prince Talber is named after a famous 19th Century queen's consort. I figure it's fair to name countries an ocean away from Mâvarin based on the real countries an ocean away from us. After, what is Londer but another reality's version of Britain?

That's enough for now. Good night!


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Saturday, March 25, 2006


Pat, a.k.a. DesLily or, we now learn, De's Lily, asks in her blog for the stories behind our screen names. I think I've pretty much covered this ground before, but not as a whole entry. Onward!

My first online service, back in 1991 or so, was Prodigy. This is where I first encountered Julie, Sara and Sarah, among others. The way it worked, we each had an alphanumeric sine in code (mine was TFWK80A) that appeared on our posts, followed by our real name. Pseudonyms weren't allowed. (However, there actually was a mentally ill leaper who created several false names for herself over there, an early example of the problems with online anonymity. She stalked and harrassed a number of people, and it took a while to root out all her identities.)

Over on the HG boards we developed "handles" anyway, naming ourselves after people or elements from the Hitchhiker's books. Sara was Cricket Ball, Sarah was Lordy the Cat, and another friend was The Voice of the Book. Me, I refused to limit myself to one handle, so I became a Being Connected to the Nature of the Universe, specifically the idea that the moment you finally understand it, the Universe you know is replaced by something "even more bizarrely inexplicable." In practical terms, this meant that I found a different thing from the books / radio shows / records / tv series / tapes / towel to call myself, every time, for about two years. One time I might be the Story of the Reason, another time the Newspapers at Arthur's Door.

P* wasn't the world's greatest program, though. It was monochrome, email cost 25 cents each to send, and there was no copy or paste except through third-party add-ons. Then they raised the price. Julie told me about the then-new service AOL, which was much better, so I made the switch.

My first AOL screen name was KFB of PQL, as in Karen Funk Blocher of Project Quantum Leap, the fan club that consumed most of my free time during that era. A second screen name, KFB UWOT, referred to United Whovians of Tucson.

I don't look at those screen names much any more. Once or twice a month, I force myself to clean out the email a bit, but mavarin @ aol is my "home" name now. If I ever get the wireless connection to cable up and running, get my old post transferred here and quit AOL, I'll probably rely on Karen @, or mavarin @

a magazine that does not existMost of you know by name that Mâvarin is a reference to my Mâvarin novels. Mâvarin is a place name, the name of the country where Rani and his friends live. I started this screen name specifically to write about my work on the novels over on the AOL sf / fantasy writers' boards. Later I registered the domain and got the web site up and running. The idea was to promote the books, both in anticipation and, more importantly, after I get them completed, sold and published. Meanwhile, it's a place where people can learn more about this Mâvarin stuff I'm always going on about, along with other pages like a tribute to my mom, the church web site and a recommended authors page.

So what does Mâvarin actually mean, beyond just being a place name? And how is it pronounced, anyway?

The accent denotes a long vowel, so it's pronounced MAY vah rinn. The Mâ part means Sun, which was added onto the land's previous name, "Varin," by the Londran colonists, in recognition of their sailing into the sunset to get to it. "Varin" means River-land, due to the river Misis that dominates the eastern part of the country. Think of the Mississippi running where I-81 and I-95 are, from New York down through Pennsylvania and Virginia and down into Florida. That's the Misis.

Oh, and how did I come up with the name, all those years ago in high school? I dunno. I just liked the sound of it. The deconstruction and translation of it came a little bit later, after I realized there was a reason why Mâvarin and the island nation of Mâton ("Sun-Rock") had the same syllable at the beginning.

Beyond all that, Mâvarin means me, my dreams, my hopes, my imagination, my writing life, my private world. It means Rani and Carli and Cathma, Fayubi and all the other characters I love so much, and want to share with you all, in this reality. As my license plate holder says, "Follow me to the country in my mind."


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An Excuse, an Update, Congratulations and a Reminder

Despite the four subjects mentioned in the title, this entry will be shorter than usual. I'm in the middle of reading a book, and watching a movie; and I want to get back to both. I want to finish the book so that I can concentrate on reading the end of another book, all fourteen single-spaced pages up it. Yep, my friend Sara finished the first draft of her novel on Monday, hours before her self-imposed deadline. Way to go, Sara!

(This concludes the congratulatons part of this entry.)

Okay, the update. An old friend of mine emailed today, asking what happened with my latest doctor's appointment yesterday. I looked up who belonged to the only-vaguely-familiar email address before answering. It's okay, though. I'm reasonably sure he's who he says he is. (Long story. Not telling it.) So I told him, and it occured to me that I shouldn't keep you folks hanging, either.

Bottom line: Dr. L. is pretty sure the edema is from obesity. I'm pretty sure that my falling in the street the evening we took care of lost doggie Snow made things much worse. But that's over now, except for a weird little bump where the knot of extra swelling was.

Anyway, Dr. L. gave me a prescription for a stronger diurectic, which I'll fill tomorrow, along with one for some special potassium and one for an inhaler for my occasional asthma. She recommended Weight Watchers or South Beach. I have issues with Weight Watcher, so South Beach it will be. And she ordered more blood work, this time checking my electrolytes. I didn't press her for any further alternatives. Really, there's no evidence of any other conditions friends and/or my imagination have suggested as possibilities.

I remembered today that I should have done a full-fledged promo for the latest Round Robin Photo Challenge a couple of days ago. I'm not going to do one tonight, either, but I will mention it again. You know what it is, right? The topic is "Obstruction." You can take that literally or figuratively. I seem to keep using up all my obstructed photos just promoting this, so I have no idea what I'll use when the day of the challenge comes. What day is that, you ask? Well, the posting date of the RRPC is always a Wednesday. In this case it's Wednesday, March 29th, 2006, any time between midnight and midnight. See the Round Robin blog for details and to RSVP.

Movie's over. Back to the book!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wonderful Worlds of Color

John Scalzi asks:

Weekend Assignment #104: Tell us your favorite color. Give no less than three reasons why it is so.

Extra credit: A picture that is primarily of your favorite color.

It seems to me that when I was three or four years old, my favorite color was pink. That would explain the ballerina wallpaper I was stuck with for the next ten years. My mom's favorite color was definitely blue, and that became mine, too, at least nominally. I liked our living room, with its two walls on the dark side of French blue.

By the early 1980s, though, I was heavily into red and black, at least in my clothing choices. There was Spandex and vinyl; there were rivets and zippers; but it was the color scheme that made it work. Hey, I was still in my twenties, and still thin enough to (almost) get away with it.

Nowadays, I live in a house with low-end 1950s decor. My favorite part is an area dominated by turquoise (or teal), accented by salmon and black and white. Our Cugat picture is pink with turquoise, and our no-name cityscape has a turquoise sky.

And of course, our kitchen is decorated in red. Here's one of John's birthday presents from this week: a red-rimmed clock to replace the vintage deco-style red clock that stopped keeping time.

What, you want just one favorite color? Sorry, not gonna happen. I love colors - bright colors, mostly, but the important thing is that they're fun and cheerful and varied. Reason #1: back in the 1950s and 1960s, even through into the beginning of the 1970s, all those colors, especially pinks and blues, conveyed an optimism and a sense of playfulness that was later confined mostly to children's bedrooms. I hate the white and beige world of contemporary decor and don't-upset-the-office attire. It's dull, dull, dull, with no imagination or originality or fun. That's why I love Maryanne's and Judi's always-colorful art. They don't limit themselves to the muted conformity of a limited palette.

So here we go with reason #2:

And she said...
Flowers are red, young man.
Green leaves are green.
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen.

But the little boy said...
There are so many colors in the rainbow,
So many colors in the morning sun!
So many colors in the flower, and I see every one!
--Flowers Are Red by Harry Chapin

The little boy got it right. For example, here's a sunset picture from tonight, taken with one of the three "sunset" settings on my new camera:

It's not just in vintage decor that different shades of pink and blue look great together. Reason #3:

The miracle of imagination,
The marvels of Earth, Sea and Sky.
These wonders untold are ours to behold,
In the wonderful world of color.
The Wonderful World of Color,
by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman

Okay, okay. I will admit that I still have a slight preference for certain shades of blue and red. Here's my current jacket. No Spandex or studs, but it is red and black! And notice the turquoise /Leap Blue wall reflected behind it.

And here's my teal-colored car, photographed after sunset using the "dusk" setting on my camera. Note the red brick behind it. Those last two shots are for the extra credit.

If I apply the "at least three reasons" thing to blue, specifically the turquoise and teal part of the color range, I come up with this:

  1. It was my mom's favorite color, and the color of our unusual living room, which I once depicted in watercolor in a kindergarten art class.
  2. Turquoise is a very Arizona color, because the mineral is used extensively in native arts. And of course, the sky here is very blue, most of the time--unlike in Manlius!
  3. Sam Beckett's Imaging Chamber is primarily "leap blue," as is the show's main title.
  4. Several of Arizona's prettiest birds ae unusual shades of blue, most notably the indigo bunting.
  5. Blue represents both river and sky in the national symbol and royal seal of Mâvarin. (See the top of this blog.)
  6. It's calm and cheerful at the same time.

I'm not going to do a list of reasons for red, but I could if I had to.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I No Go Pro

Does this subject line qualify as pidgeon English? It's certainly "nonstandard" or incorrect English, but I can't resist the sound of it.

In his comment to last night's entry here at the Outpost, Paul latched onto a curious, almost shameful fact about my writing, quite aside from the typos I initially missed in the opening paragraph:

Also, she rejected one piece, and "that was that"? [insert incredulous smiley here] It seems to me that everything I've ever read about writing tells us to expect rejection, ignore rejection, and keep submitting. Of course, I'm one to talk. Never submitted anything anywhere. I think we're a lot alike.

Yes, it's true. The first time a review of mine was rejected by the editor to whom I'd previously sold several other music articles, I stopped writing them. If memory serves, Teresa and I did much the same thing again a decade later, quitting our collaboration on science fiction-related articles for Starlog the moment we ran out of easy pickings. And when a Dell puzzles editor bought my "Five Proud Mothers" submission and offered me a shot as a regular contributor of logic problems, I glanced over the writers' guidelines and never submitted another puzzle.

As a professional writer, I make a lousy role model. Perhaps that's because I'm not a professional writer. Call me, at best, a semi-pro.

Yes, I've sold bits of writing from time to time, and I've cashed the checks. That means I've been professionally published. But to really be a professional writer, I'd need to make a living at it, or close to it. Aside from a thick skin about rejection, being a professional writer would require much more of a commitment to the business of writing than I'm prepared to make.

People who make their living as writers, as for example John Scalzi does, tend to be writing something new all the time, often geared to specific markets, whether they are interested in the subject matter or not. (Yes, this is a gross over-generalization.) My personal history as a writer shows that I'm not at all good at that. The real reason I stopped writing the music articles wasn't so much the single rejection as the fact that I'd pretty much already said what I wanted to say on the subject. I'd written about the Beatles and the Clash, and said some long-overdue positive things about Yoko Ono. Anything beyond that would have just been reviews of Ohio rock concerts - and a New York-based rock magazine wasn't an ideal market for a review of Talking Heads at Blossom Music Center outside Akron. A professional writer would have either found a market for Ohio concert reviews or found something else to write about. Instead I stopped writing for about four years. Shame on me!

Then in 1985, I discovered the tv series Route 66 on Nick at Nite. I taped all the episodes, and got interested in writing a book about the show, or at least a TV Guide article. When John and I got to drive around the country for several months in 1986, with Jenny Dog on a mattress in the back of the van, part of the purpose of the trip was to research Route 66 the road, which didn't officially exist any more. We bought a Route 66 sign in Oklahoma, followed a bit of frontage road until in dead-ended in a cemetery full of browsing cows, fell in love with Gallup and an obscure county park north of Winslow, and took lots of notes. We even interviewed the stars and producers of Route 66, the series.

Then Nick at Nite stopped running the show, and it became obvious that at least two other people were writing books about the road. So all the material for the book, some of it in these red folders, the rest on Commodore 64 floppies, was essentially abandoned.

It appears that I'm a dilettante when it comes to writing. I write in spurts, and then quit as soon as I hit an obstacle. Yeah, it seems like that. But really, except for a few brief periods, I've been writing all along. I just haven't always been writing professionally.

Take that fallow period in the early 1980s, for example. I'm sure I pulled out The Tengrim Sword a few times, and at least tried to write it. Then there was the Route 66 project, and the Critters book, another abandoned project. In 1989 I co-wrote the Christmas Trivia book with John, and finally finished the novel, by then called Lost Heirs of Mâvarin.

In the 1990s, aside from the Starlog articles, I was in fanzine mode. For a while I was editing about eight magazines a year, writing about a third to half of the material myself. Later on, we cut back drastically on that schedule, but that was also the period during which I wrote several series of Doctor Who trading cards, revised the first novel, and started the second one. Eventually I gave up editing the two fanzines, but I continued to write for The Observer, and designed the covers - for a while. But I was terribly bored with the fan stuff by then. It had become a chore instead of a pleasure. So I stopped--mostly.

Even then, I was still writing. I was on to the second novel, which kept getting longer and longer as the plot turned in unexpected directions. And as that draft wound down, I got sidetracked by school, and wrote a bunch of papers and group projects. And two years ago today, I started blogging, in Musings from Mâvarin.

Yes, I'm terrible at the business end of writing. I don't write a variety of stuff for paying markets, I hardly ever submit anything anywhere, and I tend not to write anything that isn't fun or interesting to me.

Am I doing it wrong?


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For the Credit, not the Cash

I've posted this picture before:

I wrote the cover story for this.

It's funny how key moments in your life can happen largely by accident. The cover story in this issue of Relix Magazine was my first professional sale as a writer, and I didn't even need a query letter. Les and Toni of Relix were wholesalers of some of the buttons and stickers we used to sell at Rockarama, as well as publishers of the magazine. I was on the phone with them about once a week, placing orders. We carried the magazine as well. Sometime in mid-December, 1980, right after John Lennon's death, Toni happen to mention that she was having trouble getting an article on Lennon by the time she needed to go to press. I offered to write it overnight, and she gratefully agreed. I sent it off the next day.

If you look closely at the [photocopy of the] check, you'll see it's for $35. That wasn't exactly a princely sum, even in 1981, but I didn't care. I was a professionally published writer! Yay, me! I even got to autograph a copy of the magazine later, at a Beatles memorabilia show in Akron. Or was it the one at the Cleveland Agora? I forget.

I went on to write a two-part article on Beatles memorabilia for Toni, and a review of The Clash at Bond's, and I think a review of Yoko Ono's Season of Glass video. Then Toni rejected some other concert review, and that was pretty much the end of that. I'd come to the end of what I had both the interest and the opportunity to write about on the subject of rock and roll, at least while living in Columbus, Ohio. It was nice while it lasted, though.

Fast forward about ten years. Rockarama was long gone. We were in Tucson by then. I was editing TARDIS Time Lore for United Whovians of Tucson. We were also launching Project Quantum Leap and its fanzine, The Observer. Teresa Murray and I started interviewing actors and writers from both Doctor Who and Quantum Leap, ostensibly for the two zines. This was easy to do at the time. For a few years in the early 1990s, Gallifrey One and the Quantum Leap conventions took place the same weekend. Most of the guests at both cons were happy to be interviewed. Teresa's twin, the late Tracy Ann Murray, helped us with the taping, not only of the interviews, but also of some of the Q&A panels at the cons themselves. She also asked the occasional question.

This two-part profile of John Nathan-Turner
(half for past, half for future) came from a Q&A.

Somewhere in there, a guy from an obscure publishing concern called me at a Burbank hotel, offering to have us write a Quantum Leap book. That's another long story for another time, but it got us interested in doing something more with our interviews, something professional. So we approached editor David McDonnell of Starlog about doing some articles, based on the interviews and Q&As we'd captured on tape and transcribed. He agreed--but only for Doctor Who articles. He already had assignments out to other writers for Quantum Leap.

The beginning of the John Levene article

Writing to Starlog's guidelines turned out to be much harder than putting together an interview for the two zines. The TARDIS Time Lore pieces were straight Q&A format. From memory:

TERESA: Would you take on the role of the Sixth Doctor again, under the right conditions?
COLIN BAKER: Never say never!

But if you look at an interview in Starlog, you'll see it's not like that. Starlog publishes "profiles," not raw interviews. What the actor, writer or producer said needs to be woven into essay form, with each paragraph setting up the quote being used, and then sequeing gracefully into the subject of the next quote. The interviewer shouldn't be quoted at all.

The second half of the JN-T piece. We had nothing to do with
the art direction or photo selection. Nice layout, though, isn't it?

That's not all. We had to negotiate over the fact that we'd already used some of the raw quotes in the fanzines. Fortunately, he let us get away with that one. Years later, I obtained similar permission to use some of the quotes again, this time in the Doctor Who trading cards.

There were also style and formatting rules. I learned not to start two concecutive paragraphs with the same word, and when to use a number and when to spell it out. Proofreaders' marks had to be hand-entered on the manuscripts. We even had a minor virus problem on one of the floppies--a Mac virus, yet. And we had to work to a deadline. Overall, it was so stressful that Teresa made an ER visit at the end of one night-long writing and editing session.

It was worth it. I don't even remember how much we were paid for each of the four articles, but I'm sure it was more than the Relix ones brought in. Far more important to us were the writing credits, the names Karen Funk Blocher and Teresa Murray printed on glossy paper. After all, Starlog is a science fiction media magazine. This was the next best thing to having professional fiction credits of our own. It was also a potential stepping stone to the book about Doctor Who that we wanted to write. (That we never actually wrote the book is irrelevant.)

And frankly, fifteen years later I treasure the learning experience even more than the writing credits or the money. I still keep in mind some of the principles Dave McDonnell taught us, whether I'm writing fiction, a cover letter for my first novel...or a blog entry, like this one. Thanks, Dave! You've probably forgotten us by now, but thanks.


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Monday, March 20, 2006

It Might As Well [Not] Be Spring

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Snap a shot of something that lets you know Spring has come around.

Spring? What's that? Tucson doesn't really have a spring. Does this look like spring to you?

Or this? Today's weather was a carryover from the winter conditions we had this weekend and last, but not in between. After three months of mild, seriously dry weather, instead of the winter rains needed to produce seasonal wildflowers and prevent wildfires, we've suddenly had two weekends of cold, wet weather. There's been snow in the mountains, rain down below. (No snow here in town. Drat!)

Has the late rain done anything to bring about spring? Not really. It's too little, too late. There won't be a bumper crop of flowers this year. The ones that are around, were equally around in January.

We don't really get the traditional signs of spring around here anyway. It just goes from pleasant and cool to pleasant and warmer, with a quick seque to too darn hot! Oh, some stuff will probably happen, but it hasn't happened yet. The ocotillo aren't leafing out, as they do during the monsoon...

...and the palo verdes and mesquites aren't particularly in bloom, or even looking as though they're gearing up for it. On the other hand, my allergies are up, so something somewhere is growing!

The only bits I saw today that looked like buds were on this bush near Unnamed Largish Company. For all I know, it may look like this all year long.

I did some experimenting with Technorati tags tonight, but so far it's not working out. Technorati is still claiming that this blog hasn't been updated since the first week in December, no matter how many times I "ping" it. And when I pull up a Technorati list of entries tagged as doctor+who or "writing" or even "mavarin," neither this blog nor Messages appears in the results. I've tried reading the help screens about pinging, and turned the ping for this blog off and on, with no result. Unless someone can help me fix the problem, my only hope is that maybe the rest of you will get different results from mine. Shelly? Julie? Carly? When you pull up Technorati, does it say that Outpost was last updated 105 or 106 days ago, or does a more current dating appear? If you look for one of the tagged categories I've added, does Outpost come up? Please let me know. Thanks!


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Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Man Named John

In one of my husband John's favorite films, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, every employee at the Yoyodyne factory is named John. They are all aliens from Planet 10, but that's not important right now. The point is that they have names like John Ya Ya, John Bigboote, John Smallberries, even John Manyjohns. So when my friends and I met an actor in 1990, who himself had gone under the names John Woods, Johnny Redboots, Johnny Bingo, John Anthony Blake and more, depending on the context, we thought of those fictional people named John, and gave our actor friend a private nickname of our own: John Manynames. He's a great guy, one of my favorite people in the world. He was born John Anthony Woods, and works professionally these days as John Anthony Blake. You may know him as John Levene, who played Sergeant John Benton on Doctor Who. (There--is that enough John names for one paragraph? I thought so.)

John Anthony Blake with Karen, August 1990. Photo by Tracy Ann Murray.

Tracy and Teresa Murray, Dimitra Catsaros and I first met and interviewed John Anthony Blake at the first Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles in early 1990. We met and interviewed him again at a Fuddrucker's in Burbank later that year, and renewed the acquaintance at a number of Gallifrey One and other conventions throughout the 1990s. I last saw him on New Year's Day, 2000, but have spoken on the phone with him many times since then. He's funny, energetic, personable, humble, opinionated, ruthlessly honest, loyal and compassionate - in short, a really interesting person to know and to listen to. Teresa and I wrote an article about him for Starlog ("Sergeant At Arms," Starlog #165, April, 1991), which contributed slightly to the actor getting his "green card" to live and work in the U.S. John more than returned the favor by coming to Tucson for KUAT pledge breaks in 1995. He also signed a bunch of autograph cards for the Doctor Who trading cards series, designed and produced by my husband John for Cornerstone Productions, 1994-1997. I wrote the backs of the cards that did not have autographs on them.

John enjoys an issue of TARDIS Time Lore,
edited by Karen, with cover by Sherlock.

Let me give you a bit of background on John's career, and the most famous character he's played. John was working at a menswear shop in London when Telly Savalas came in to buy a coat. Savalas was working on The Dirty Dozen at the time, and encouraged John to try out for a role in the film. That didn't work out due to John's lack of an Equity card; but John did later find work as an extra in British tv, and worked his way up to speaking parts.

Before he could do that, though, he had to get into British Equity. The problem was, Equity was a closed shop--and besides, all the good names were already taken. Equity already had a John Wood and a John Woods, a John Anthony and an Anthony John, and every other variant on John's birth name and family names. Finally he glanced out the window of the Equity office, and happened to see a sign with the name Harry Levene, a boxing promoter. Eureka! The name John Levene was not already taken, so John Levene he became - at least on our tv screens. He never cared for the name, but it was the one under which he became famous, especially in the U.K.

John played a Yeti robot and a Cyberman on Doctor Who, and then Corporal Benton in the Doctor Who story "The Invasion" (1968), which also introduced UNIT (originally United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), the outfit for which Benton (and eventually the Doctor) worked. Director Douglas Camfield was the one who repeatedly cast the young actor on Doctor Who, an opportunity for which John has always been grateful.

In those early stories, John appeared opposite Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. But it was with the coming of the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, that Benton, now a sergeant, came into his own. It wasn't always a large part, but loyal, down-to-earth Sgt. Benton quickly became a fan favorite. In some of the stories, such as "The Time Monster" and "The Three Doctors," Benton's role was positively crucial to the story. Benton was such an important part of Doctor Who during this era that he is considered a "Companion," one of the Doctor's particular friends who traveled and had adventures with him. Of all the other UNIT soldiers, only Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) achieved a similar status, with Benton often considered the most beloved of the three.

Benton was eventually promoted all the way up to Regimental Sergeant-Major (RSM) before disappearing from our tv screens during the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) era of Doctor Who. Benton also appeared in an independent spin-off video, Wartime (Reeltime Pictures, 1988), where the character finally acquired the first name John on screen.

After Doctor Who, John ran a production company for a while, Genesis Communications, worked on cruise ships (during which he contacted tuberculosis, but survived), and eventually moved to the Los Angeles area, where he is now happily married, and still works as an actor from time to time. He also appears at conventions and charity events, where his skills as an emcee, raconteur and standup comic are in high demand. I often borrow his jokes to tell to friends, but always with attribution, and never online. (Okay, I told one of them online, once, as part of a tribute to the humor of Jon and John. But that's all!)

I'm going to shut up now, and pass on a special treat. I spoke with John Anthony Blake earlier today, and he graciously passed along a greeting to all of you. I did my best to type up his words in real time, but you know how bad my typing is, so the following may not be perfect. Still, I've done my best to faithfully render his message. Here it is:

Greetings from John Anthony Blake

It's nice to say hello to you again. Like yourselves, I am thrilled to see that Doctor Who is back again where it belongs, on your television screens, and bringing thousands of new fans with it. My pride is, as always, that I was in Doctor Who in the early days; and I’m proud to have revisited the BBC last June to complete voice-over commentaries for the DVD releases. The ones that my voice is attached to are “Inferno,” whose release is in about 5 weeks’ time, “The Time Monster,” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” I will be returning to England in September to engage in even more commentaries to Doctor Who stories.

Also in September, I am attending the Regenerations convention in Swansea in Wales, run by two excellent young men who have brought honesty back to Doctor Who conventions, Ben and Cary. I look forward to seeing them at that time. Also we will be visiting my close friend, Douglas Camfield's son.

Last week, I received a copy of Nicholas Courtney’s new book, entitled Still Getting Away With It. And for those of you who enjoy my character, Sergeant Benton, you will enjoy the Brig's references to me. [He’s on pages 56, 58, 69, 70, 84, 88, 99, 104, 129 and 132.- KFB] I was thrilled to see that I was involved in Nick's memories, and they were, in the main, true.

As one gets older and reflects back on one’s life, when you add up the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the equation I inevitably arrive at is without a doubt my joy at having been involved in Doctor Who. There is no question that few of us achieve our ultimate dreams, but my God, the places and people that I have visited and met along the way has indeed been beyond the wildest dreams I had as a child. There is no doubt that at the top of the tree, standing there like a glowing angel on a Christmas tree, was the man who helped me most in my life, a man who bothered to teach me, and to show me how to be a better person in life and in acting, was my one and only Doctor, Mr. Jon Pertwee. His trust in my ability, and his compliments over the decades, certainly made me a better man.

And as the years do slip by so quickly, I must also proclaim quite loudly that the second layer of heroes that helped me grow and believe in myself were the delightful Roger Delgado and the man that quietly made us all shine with his wisdom and pure undiluted dedication to everything he touched: producer, director, writer, actor, the one and only Barry Letts; assisted as ever by the brilliant Terrance Dicks. And as I’m on this subject of memories and emotions, I should love to share the fact that I shed many tears over the loss of a man whose phone calls and letters over the years of my awful divorce not only saved my sanity but made me laugh, with his humor and deep concern. That man was Mr. Anthony Ainley.

So back to a slightly happier mood: to all of you wonderful fans, who include us in your dreams, because we helped create the fantasy that you enjoy so deeply: you have no idea how empty the world and our lives would be without your tender affection. I have always been on the fans' side, and will remain so for the rest of time. For this is simply the way I am.

I would like to finish this interview with Karen to say that over the last few months, I have been involved in some wonderful events. One of them was spending an evening with Larry Hagman, when I was invited to stand in for Jay Leno of The Tonight Show at a most prestigious gala down at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California, where 27 million dollars was raised for a cardiovascular hospital. I also had a brief but wonderful meeting with Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days.

At the return of Doctor Who, offers are beginning to increase, as people who watch the new show are reminded of us, we in the old show. So welcome, one and all, to this wonderful world of Doctor Who, and all of the goodness and happiness that this kind of television show spawns. I remain always, your humble RSM Benton, and I hope to meet some of you in the future. Goodbye and God bless.

John Anthony Blake, a.k.a. John Levene
Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benton.

Next time (well, maybe Tuesday or so): more on the Starlog Doctor Who articles.


See also:

Wikipedia: Sergeant Benton
Wikipedia: John Levene
IMDb: John Levene
John Levene's fan site: Sergeant at Arms
BBC website: Sergeant Benton


There's a chance that it will snow tonight here. If it does, I'll try to get some pictures for you. The Winter Weather Advisory is talking about snow above 3000 feet - and the city of Tucson has an average elevation of 2400 to 2500 feet. It's 41 degrees and falling, and it's been drizzling all day so...well, we'll see!

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Saturday, March 18, 2006


I've got nine minutes to write this by midnight. Think I'll make it?

Today I slept in after a very late night (I had trouble tearing myself away from a 4 AM show about dogs, narrated by Kelsey Grammer). Then I caught up my blog jogging, watched I-forget-what and a show about the science of Star Trek with John, and IMed with a friend.

a.k.a. John Anthony Blake (but I like to think of him as John Manynames)I also got distracted for a while with Wikipedia, mostly the Doctor Who-related pages. Wikipedia is a wonderful thing, especially with pop culture entries. Besides, I wanted to see what they had about my friend, John Anthony Blake. I could provide some additional details to the entry, if I knew how; but it also had some stuff I didn't know about him. Someday I'll tell you all about John, but not tonight.

Then tonight I got sucked in, watching parts of two standup comedy specials by a cross-dressing British comedian, whose name I've since forgotten. (Yes, Julie - you're right. It was Eddie Izzard.) He is so not Graham Norton, and very good. After that I finished writing up the music of the Quantum Leap episode "Permanent Wave," popped in another Quantum Leap tape and made it through another episode before quitting for the night. This article is going extremely slowly. I get into watching the episode for the story, because it's been years since I watched them. And the reward for 45 minutes of viewing, plus typing and research time, is one tiny paragraph that basically says, "There is no licensed music in this episode, but the guy who does the scoring (Velton Ray Bunch) has an instrumental during this one scene."

Bleah. Boring.

But all this is meanwhile, because I also ate boring food, picked up really tiny, annoying burs off the carpet that Tuffy tracks in for me to step on with bare feet, received another installment of Sara's novel...and blogged. Saturday night is the night that I post my weekly fiction entry over at Messages from Mâvarin. I'm getting down toward the end of my two chapters from Heirs of Mâvarin. After that, I'll have to figure out what to post next. Do I start a new serial, or resume writing little snippets of entries from the letters and diaries of Mâvarin characters? If anybody at all is reading that blog, I'd appreciate hearing what you'd like to see there next.

And with all my work on this blog, and all the problems Blogger has had this week, I forgot to mention here that the next Round Robin Photo Challenge topic has been announced: "Obstruction." Do you have a great but obstructed view of something you'd like to share? Or maybe there's a more metaphorical obstruction in your life. Find a way to photograph it, RSVP over on the Round Robin blog, and get ready to post it on Sunday, March 29th. That is, if you want to join in, and I hope you will. Okay? Okay!

Oh, and there's one other thing I need to mention. Nat has asked me to write about the magazine articles I've had published over the years. I'll tell that story - and about my friend John Manynames - tomorrow night.


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I've just watched two and a half hours of the premiere two episodes of the 2005 BBC series of Doctor Who on Sci Fi. The last half hour of that was watching the beginning of the first one all over again. I've actually seen it before, but mostly just on a computer screen. And besides, it's good enough to watch again - and again.

Doctor Who is back!

For those of you who may not know, Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction series in the history of television. It premiered in England in November 1963, the day after JFK was shot. It ran for 26 seasons, with a hiatus in the mid-1980s, came back, and ended its original run in December, 1989. A Fox tv movie in 1996 failed to get the franchise up and running again, so for years the only new Doctor Who consisted of brief sketches for charity.

Then last year, Doctor Who returned to the Beeb, as masterminded by Who fan and novelist Russell T. Davies. I was more than a little worried by the advance word on the show. It was being "reimagined" for the new millennium, with a younger, more contemporary Doctor, and less of the continuity that had built up over the decades, the complex backstory that I loved. In short, it sounded awful.

Christopher Eccleston's Doctor looks nothing like
the guy with the curly hair and the long scarf.

But it isn't awful, as it turns out. It's witty, intelligent, and the companion (the Doctor pretty much always has at least one companion) is every bit as brave and resourceful as my favorite previous companion, Ace. Yeah. Good stuff!

Rose Tyler has saved the Doctor's life more than once.

Here's the premise, both of the original series and the new one: a human meets a mysterious traveler, who seems to know exactly what to do about an alien invasion, although he's just as clearly improvising as he goes along. The traveler calls himself The Doctor. (Doctor Who is a joke and a question, not the character's name.) He is a Time Lord, a Gallifreyan. (He once claimed to be half human, but this may have been a joke or a lie; on many other occasions strongly denied being human at all.) He travels though time and space in a blue box called a TARDIS, which is bigger on the inside than the outside. The human gradually learns all this, helps him defeat the alien invasion (or whatever), and becomes The Doctor's traveling companion. They visit other planets, the future and the past, always get in trouble, and tend to witness a lot of death. They win the day with cleverness and technology, and sometimes by blowing stuff up. The Doctor is compassionate but not sentimental. He tends not to kill anyone or anything while there's a chance he can reason with it instead.

Different companions come and go, but The Doctor remains - albeit not always intact. When he is on the point of death, he regenerates, taking on a new appearance and a slightly altered persona. This is how the show has kept going all these years: 10 actors have starred as The Doctor on tv, and it's all part of the backstory that from time to time he looks and sounds different than he did before. The catch is that he only gets to do this twelve times.

Yes, well, it's better than it sounds.

The Doctor and Rose confront a murderer.

Anyway, the new series makes one major change in all this, but I won't mention what it is here. If you haven't seen the new versoon of the show yet, I don't want to issue any "spoilers."

The Doctor negotiates with the Nestene Consciousness.

Into the TARDIS - quick!

If you like British humor and science fiction, and have or can get The Sci Fi Channel, I recommend that you watch this. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the 2006 series, starring David Tennant instead of Christopher Eccleston. That's right - The Doctor has regenerated yet again.


Continuing with my theme of continuation, I was going to write another music bit tonight, but I need more time to work on it. I also need to continue work on my Quantum Leap music article for The Observer. It seems to be impossible to do serious research during the week.

Finally, continuing the subject of Signs, I'd like to direct your attention to a whole blog full of photos of signs:

Book of Signs

Matthew is putting together a whole book of sign photos he's taken over the years - hence the title. He seems to specialize mostly in my favorite kind of sign, the vintage and retro ones left over from the 1950s and 1960s. Great stuff!

Oh, and a few of you have speculated on the meaning of the *1 sign. Do you guys truly not know what it is? Here's another clue:


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