Browne Barr: Vocation?

The poem below was written in the late 1930s by my father when he was an undergraduate student.

Vocation?

My friend, upon the world that lies below,
Now, look, this night, and think of all it knows.

The shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.
All joy in life is here at end of day.

A song we’ve sung; a prayer we’ve said; the crowd
Dissolved; the night is here; our faith we’ve vowed.

Today a politician’s pimple broke
And shot its friendly filth on simple folk.

The statistician raved and said we might
All be extinct before the fall of night.

The dietitian thought we could not live
Without the vitamins she had to give,

That clean and purge and make men strong.  She said
The children were obnoxious if well fed.

The politicians, statisticians, too
Know only of the Lilliputians’ view.

Perhaps they’ve never thought at end of day,
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away

That there is not abidance in the facts
When they alone administrate our acts.

Perhaps they’ve never felt the warmth of night
That mitigates all aching in its light

Or seen the hills that lie around their town
And heard their deathless call to eyes cast down,

“Lift up unto the hills.  There find the source
Of power, strength, tenacity and force.”

Tonight, my friend, we think of life ahead.
We see some bodies ache, some minds ‘most dead.

Let’s go awake their minds, relieve the pain
Of Lilliputian views that never gain

For them a favoured hour at end of day
When shrieks of sunlit sounds have passed away.

On The Road, Pittsburra: SFWA 2017 Nebula Awards Conference

All right, all right, it’s not Pittsburra, but rather Pittsburgh, but the last five letters are the same as in Edinburgh…

Anyway, long ago I could have become an active member of “SIF-wuh.”  (Speaking of pronunciation, that’s how they say SFWA, which stands for Science Fiction Writers of America.)  But I just joined.  This past weekend I went to their yearly Nebula Awards Conference for the first time, which was held in Pittsburra.

Considering that their Nebula Award is the most prestigious award for this genre, the Nobel Prize in Literature for those of us who write speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), the first thing that struck me was the open friendliness extended to me as a newcomer.  The president of the organization was kind enough to meet with me one-on-one, an honor I wasn’t expecting, and even bought one of my books from the bookstore.  A writer reputed to make six figures a year as an indie author was so intent on offering me marketing advise that he spent twice as long with me as he’d agreed to.  It didn’t take me long to realize, from everyone I came in contact with, that what I had joined was a family.

And then there was the banquet, during which the Nebula Awards were announced and given out to the winners for work published in the previous year.  Floral arrangements in the center of the tables?  No…and here I’ll start dropping names…a unique found-object robot sculpture on each table, compliments of Don L. Jones.  Dull, small talk among the strangers I was seated with?  No, I had two animated authors on one side and, on the other, Jim Fiscus who won a well-deserved special award and delighted me as we debated the merits of various Japanese film directors.  Toastmaster?  A real, live astronaut, Dr. Kjell Lindgren, who delighted us with his personal pictures and stories from four months of weightlessness with killer views.  This special guest, having watched our planet for so long from afar, stole our hearts when he expressed how he couldn’t understand why anyone fortunate to live on such a beautiful planet could do anything nasty to the rest of us living here.  Charlie Jane Anders stole our hearts when, having just won a Nebula for her novel All the Birds in the Sky, she said…in the small voice of someone who feels very deeply what they say…that everyone should have a voice.

In short, this writer had a truly wonderful time in…oh, all right…Pittsburgh.

 

Final Favorite Films (for foreseeable future)

If you need to search a little to find these, I think it’s worth it.

  1. THE THIN MAN (1934).  The camera makes its way through the tuxedoed gents at a posh bar to find our leading man, William Powell, the most elegant of them all.  So what if the character he plays is such a consummate alcoholic he can hardly stand?  Or if he’s living off his rich wife and sprawls across the sofa Christmas morning to amuse himself with his new BB gun by shooting the ornaments off the tree?  None can match this couple’s gentility with the possible exception of Astor, their dog.
  2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  Sizzling tale of insurance fraud.  Possibly the classic film noir of all time.
  3. DEAD RECKONING (1947).  Speaking of noir, this one with Humphrey Bogart includes Lizabeth Scott, the queen of noir.  I just hope I remember Bogie’s advise at the end when it’s my time to die.
  4. BLADE RUNNER (1982, original theatrical release with the old gumshoe-detective voiceovers).  Moving right along to neo-noir and in anticipation of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to be released in October, please don’t miss my all-time favorite film for many years.  Director Ridley Scott’s steamy, deliciously exotic but grubbily believable future haunts me still.
  5. THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003).  Worth it for the artistry of the animation alone, but a delightfully weird romp overall.

Further Favorite Films

You may also need to search for some of these.  Again, in my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. GUNGA DIN (1939).  Not to have seen this rollicking, Saturday-afternoon-matinee-style tale of British India isn’t an oversight; it’s a crime.  Afterwards (spoiler alert), treat yourself to both the Rudyard Kipling poem it’s based on and its 1939 movie review in The New York Times.
  2. D.O.A. (1950).  Starts with a guy staggering into a police station:  “I want to report a murder.”  Cop:  “Who was murdered?”  Guy:  “I was.”
  3. HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959).  Nothing has ever illustrated with such accuracy the nutty, optical-illusion-like reality shifts in a relationship.
  4. NIGHT ON EARTH (1991).  When I saw the Rome sequence with Roberto Benigni the first time, I laughed so hard I honestly feared choking.
  5. HORATIO’S DRIVE:  AMERICA’S FIRST ROAD TRIP (2003).  Folksy, fun and imaginatively convincing reconstruction of the true story of the first person to successfully cross the United States in a car in 1903.  The best part is that Horatio had no qualifications whatsoever to do this…starting with only a whim, a $50 bet, and no car.

 

Five Favorite Films

You may need to search for some of these.  In my opinion, it’s worth it.

  1. PICCADILLY (1929).  What could be better than seeing a gorgeous black-and-white exactly as it was seen in 1929?…which is to say not in black and white.  This rare theatrical-release version is tinted blue for the exterior shots at night, where stately vehicles discharge elegantly clad customers in front of a posh London nightclub.  The interior sparkles with warm, peachy brilliance from its amber tint.  The absolutely luscious Jameson Thomas, as the swanky nightclub owner, drips elegance with every move.  Anna May Wong, the immigrant kitchen worker who claws her way from rags to riches, is the consummate femme fatale.  Finally, the newly composed music for the soundtrack is magnificent.
  2. NOTORIOUS (1946).  Hitchcock directed this sizzling noir with a notorious Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains.
  3. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).  Poor Orson Welles is no match for Rita Hayworth.
  4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950).  How can you resist a film that starts with the camera looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool at the main character…who’s floating face down, dead, and about to tell us how he got that way?
  5. LIMELIGHT (1952).  You thought The Little Tramp was a soulful charmer in silent films?  Wait till you hear Charlie Chaplin talk!  He wrote and directed this story of a fading performer that fits him like the proverbial glove.