‘TIS A PALE STORY, AND GREEN!

English: engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'
English: engraving of ‘Emigrants leaving Ireland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it was early yet in my grade-school days when someone in the family, I suspect one of my parents, divulged to me that we were Irish.  Well, okay, better make that: IrishAmerican.  I “got” that it was supposed to be a good thing to be, and I thought I knew what being American meant from saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but the Irish bit didn’t ring my bells just yet.  I could read a map and spin a globe, though, so… yup, found it: Ireland was a tiny isle west of Great Britain – the “Emerald Isle”, which even I knew meant it was… green.

Seemed to me, at that tender age, like a strange thing to care about, especially since we had never been there, so far as I knew – of course, I could have slept through a visit, but if that happened, then I would have seen piles of photos of the place.  (I thought we were Vikings, because “Eric the Red” was a Viking… well, more on that later.)  I knew my parents had vacationed in Bermuda, but that wasn’t the same, and besides, I hadn’t gone with them.

Comes middle school; I’m, like most teens, trying to work out my part in the bigger play, living in California, where an “indoor complexion” (eventually, I did learn to call it a “moon-burn”) seemed like a character flaw to the sun worshipers in my student community, but some people don’t tan, we burn, because we’re so “fair”, which for me meant pale.  (I once looked like a surfer kid, with vanilla hair and copper skin, but that came from having been out in the  summer heat in Texas, when I was 9, 10 at most.)

High school, and I’m keen on it, at last, to a degree that amuses my friends, even now.  Some of my friends proclaimed themselves Scottish and/or Welsh and/or English, and I was the Irish one, even though we lived beside the Pacific Ocean, not the North Atlantic.  These are sub-sets, because we were considered various flavors of Celts, who – it works out – sprang from Spain, and then intermingled with Normans, whose ancestors in France and elsewhere were… Vikings – I was partly right!

University life in Texas, and I’m reading a pile of library books, from the Irish section, one summer: the mythological stories of Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cool, histories of multiple invasions, poems by William Butler Yeats, short stories by James Joyce.  I had wanted to visit England for a million years (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), so I figured it out that I should, if presented with the opportunity to do so, fit a side trip to the Auld Sod, too.  A coach (bus) and a ferry boat later, I watched Dublin harbor swallow us whole, and it… floored me, just how moving and emotional the experience was.  It all happened on the twenty-ninth of July, thus my posting this today.

We ran around, ate and drank, gave money to street musicians, the full-on tourist thing, but I think I felt “there” more than my non-Celtic schoolmates did.  (I had also met an Irish girl at my university in London… but ’tis a story for another time.)  In one pub I thanked the bar staff for the “Foreign Visitors Welcome” sign, only to be told by one friendly guy: “Yanks aren’t foreign to us.”  I don’t know if he was speaking for all of Ireland, or just that particular establishment, but given that something like 100 million people have emigrated from Ireland to the United States (and Britain, and Canada, and Australia, and South Africa, and what do you know, Bermuda), I just thanked him again, as a “local” for that night, and ordered another pint.

Advertisements

APOLLO XI: THE “STORY” HAS LANDED

Forty-four years ago today, Neil Armstrong did what so many of us have done: he burned up much of his ride’s fuel, looking for a better place to park.  What makes his experience of this stand out, of course, is that he had a T.V. audience of millions – which makes sense, as he was “parking” a Lunar Excursion Module on the Earth’s Moon, for the first time in history.

Armstrong chanced a “hard landing” – a crash – in order to land someplace without so many boulders; a wise precaution, but I’d expect it made for an adventurous descent.  As Michael Collins circled overhead in the command/service modules (nicknamed “Columbia”, after the moon-ship in the 1865 Jules Verne novel, From the Earth to the Moon), Armstrong and lunar-module pilot Edwin Aldrin touched down on another world in their patriotic-nicknamed LEM, “Eagle”, undertaking the biggest little walk two guys had ever taken. They ascended to rejoin Collins, and, less than twenty-four hours after having landed, they were Earth-bound once again, splashing down on July 24.

The Apollo 11 Prime Crew - GPN-2000-001164
The Apollo 11 Prime Crew – GPN-2000-001164 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Apollo XI “Eagle” had not even landed, before some conspiracy theories dismissed the whole enterprise as… a staged hoax.  One legend I enjoy: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hires Stanley Kubrick, having completed a little film entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey, to simulate the first two manned landings on the Moon… never mind how very different his film’s depiction of lunar terrain looked from news footage.

Six more of NASA’s Apollo missions, between 1969 and 1972, attempted to land men on the Moon; all of them reached the Moon (only Apollo XIII, thwarted by its oxygen-tank eruption, failed to visit the lunar surface).  Evidence of these adventures remains up there to this day: the flags, the LEM lower stages, abandoned effects of the pilots, and so on.  What amazes me is how so many people find all of this material unconvincing.

My mom credits anti-scientific bias for this; I think she’s got a point.  Forget the massive propaganda victory a “faked” American landing would have handed the Soviet Union; it seems like sour grapes to deny humanity this great achievement. It’s an odd thing to believe this didn’t happen, despite all the much evidence we have amassed to verify it, and what’s worse, some people seem to need for this to be a hoax.  This flight of fancy (perhaps fueled by Watergate-era cynicism) is misplaced. Neil, Mike and “Buzz” flew to the Moon; in doing so, they changed this world.

CONCERNING MY “UNSEEN” STORY

Orson Welles, March 1, 1937
Orson Welles, March 1, 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are awash in visual storytelling of all kinds, so – just to be difficult – I have been exploring the dramatic medium… of Radio. I studied shows: the Mercury Theater productions of Orson Welles, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, the X Minus One science-fiction series, and others.

I intended to write a selfcontained, halfhour science-fiction adventure play, but I had too little experience, and too much narrative, to resolve the piece within twenty-six pages. I had stumbled, by happy accident, upon a cliff-hanger ending. My respect for the audio medium has only grown; even after writing six half-hour episodic scripts (so far), I’m still learning how it’s done.

Radio seems the one storytelling medium in which “Show, don’t tell” does not work.  The audio character can only inform the listening audience what is happening, which would lead to a lot of clunky dialogue, stating what would be far too obvious, if we could see it.  These notes apply not only to writing dramatic or comedic stories, but to radio advertising; remember, my dad likened an ad to a short story – or a short play.

I first heard some recorded radio dramas in high school, and thought they were fantastic.  I could ‘recast’ the same story, each time I heard it, with someone new, and sound effects were enough to help me picture the scenery and the action. It was a best-of-both-worlds situation: coupling the intensity of watching a visual drama with the intimacy of reading a printed story.  I remember trying to picture what musicians looked like while they recorded some of my favorite songs; most actual ‘music videos’ later paled, by comparison.

Knowing that is one thing; writing one of these suckers turned out to be… a much bigger challenge.  I had the characters, I had the plot, but I had to “sell it” with dialogue, a narrating track to connect scenes, sound effects, and music, and nothing else. I wouldn’t write someone saying, “Look at that green dinosaur, charging towards us!”  I would write the stage direction, “SFX: [Dinosaur roars.]” and follow it up with more naturalistic dialogue, such as: “It sounds mad… is it supposed to be that green? I’d be sick, if I looked like that.” Modern audiences are sophisticated; they can fill in the blanks.

THE STORY IS OUT THERE

English: The Roswell UFO Museum which is a pop...
English: The Roswell UFO Museum which is a popular tourist destination. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something went bump in the night, we’re told, crashing into the dirt a few miles outside of Roswell, New Mexico, in July, 1947 – but… if true, for crying out loud, what was it?

Local newspaper accounts, of Air Force personnel recovering a flying “disk” from a local ranch, gave way to a less exciting (but more plausible) account: the retrieval of a downed weather balloon . Even many UFO believers find Roswell’s ‘narrative’ unlikely, if not a deliberate hoax. Secrecy, imposed under Cold War-era anxieties, made people speculate – and inquire – more, rather than less.

Eyewitness testimony is unreliable; recorded evidence can be faked. Triangular or other hull shapes do not qualify as saucers. Any visible object that is both mysterious and aloft fits the definition of a U.F.O. – that does not make it a craft of extraterrestrial origin/operation. It’s the science-fiction nerd in me that enjoys this topic, though I don’t know what to make of it.

Ruling out mundane explanations for aerial phenomena whittles down the ‘unexplained’ sightings to a handful… if there was nothing awry going on, it should whittle them down to zero – but it does not. Any universe as vast as ours is should have millions (if not more) of inhabited planets – so where are these galactic tourists? Absent hard evidence of either military/spy craft or alien star ships, all that is left is a mystery, and those are magnetic…

THIS IS NOT A “NUMBER”, IT’S A “FREE” STORY

Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene fro...
Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene from the episode “Free for All”, appears on the cover of the first continuation novel based upon the series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I became a fan of the brilliant and weird T.V. series, The Prisoner, before I was wizened enough to comprehend just what made it so great.  It’s become a classic of Sixties television and the pop culture of that decade although it strained to be not of its time, but outside of it. Irish-American actor Patrick McGoohan had already played a “more realistic” variation of James Bond in the series Danger Man – renamed Secret Agent for U.S. viewers – but he wanted The Prisoner to push hard in the opposite direction, so his ex-secret agent is abducted to “The Village”, an Orwellian mind-control experiment wrapped in the phony elegance of a resort community (the show filmed at a real Welsh beach hotel), employing all manner of fantasy gadgets and bizarre schemes to break his will.

Each of its 17 episodes forced the protagonist, “Number Six” (his real name is never used) to defend his physical and mental freedom from the creepy minions of an unseen interrogator, the inevitable “Number One” – who “only” wants to know why Six resigned, what he knows, and whether he’d be willing to “join the team”. Six wants to escape, to unmask One, and to shut down the Village. Each scheme to conquer him would involve some fantastic device: a machine to televise his dreams; a mind-swap, with another agent; even a double who apes him so well, he is forced to impersonate himself.  A giant, roaring balloon enforces “permanent guest” status; it’s called Rover, but this is no playful pet.

Some of the materials may feel like Swinging Sixties artifacts (i.e. the “speed-learning” computer, designed to brainwash Villagers, takes up one entire wall; it would fit on your desktop today) but the ideas discussed have real power, even today. Watch any scene in which a control-room team scrutinizes Six in his dwelling – see if it doesn’t remind you of the current firestorm surrounding corporate and government surveillance of our citizenry. Even the ritual hand salute of Villagers looks somewhat like an eye peering through a keyhole; that surely cannot be a coincidence. In a final twist, Six [REDACTED]… well, as the Villagers are fond of saying: “That would be telling.” You’ll have to watch and decide what happens.

THE HERO’S DAYTRIP: AN “EPIC STORY” EXPERT

Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.’ And so it starts.”
Joseph Campbell

The modern master of myth behind The Hero With a Thousand Faces might add: This could apply to anyone’s life, including yours and mine, because we’re all on our individual quests; even if we think our adventures aren’t so much, everyone has a potential to be Luke (or Lucy) Skywalker, and an exhortation to raid the unknown somehow.

LIKE A ROLLING STORY

English: Trade ad for 1965 Rolling Stones' Nor...
English: Trade ad for 1965 Rolling Stones’ North American tour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Best if you toss the tourist map, look for your own special places, when you travel.  One July day in London, England, an accidental number of years ago, I took a walk in search of the apartment where, decades earlier, the Rolling Stones almost died.

An exaggeration, you say?  Correct, for I refer here to only three members of the band: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  I had read stories about these skinny young dudes who, crammed together into a tiny apartment, lacking musical (or other) employment, during a punishing winter, had to feed coins into a space heater, time and again, to get through the nights.

The “sensible lads” of the group – Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and “Sixth Stone” Ian Stewart – lived elsewhere, and presumably had regular work.  The frosty air and bare refrigerator must have forced these skinny guys to focus, like industrial-grade lasers, on music.  Imagine these kids – nobody’s future rock stars, back then – trying to stop shivering long enough, while they practiced their songbook, to ignore how hungry they were.

Hard to reconcile that sympathetic image, in the years since, with all the nonsense about how “devilish” they were supposed to be!  (I didn’t find the place, of course, but it’s the voyage that matters; the place could have been knocked down, for all that I knew, or cared.)  Indeed, it wasn’t the place where they had “almost died”; it’s closer to true to deem it to be the spot where the Stones’ unity was born.   It’s not exactly a spoiler to reveal that they persisted, well past springtime.