Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is there hope for TV journos?

Having worked as a reporter for a good part of my professional life, I'm always curious to see how journalists are portrayed on TV shows and movies. I recall growing up, the depiction of ambulance-chasing hacks always elicited an eye-roll and a heavy sigh from my dad. And if a fake reporter asked the dreaded question - "How do you feel?" - immediately after a tragedy, it would usually prompt a succinct rant from him.

So it was interesting to see how reporters were played in two of my favourite shows this week. First, it was Glee. For those of you who don't watch it, a magazine reporter visited the school, assigned to write a story on the Cheerios, the cheerleading squad. In fact, he was going to write an expose on the show's villain, the squad coach played with venomous perfection by Jane Lynch. However, he may have been hoodwinked into thinking she was in fact an inclusive, groundbreaking breath of fresh air. He promised her a glowing review.

Now I'm hoping his whole, "This story is going to change your career," promise (don't hate me if I'm not getting it word for word - my memory isn't what it once was) could mean he will indeed change it for the worse. Fingers crossed. She's the bad guy after all. It would be a cool opportunity to put that rotten Sue Sylvester in her place. And that's what a real journalist would do. Only time will tell, I guess.

Then it was on to V. Yeah, I watch musicals and sci fi. I'm weird that way. Scott Wolf plays the douchey TV reporter, Chad Decker. Each episode has me wondering if he's really kissing some major alien ass or if he'll end up becoming part of team humans/Fifth Column that try to bring the V down. He plays the part of the vain TV reporter really well, but every now and then he shows a glimmer that there's more going on in his head than dreams of ratings or brain damage from all that hair product. Whether he has a true interest in doing what's best for humanity or just wants a really juicy story remains to be seen.

Anyway, my point is it's pretty cool to see some potential for how journos are played in our entertainment sources and see them break out of the, "How does it feel?" box. Keep it up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Summer memories reignited

Grandma & Me, 2004, by gscameraworks.

So I spoke with my mom on the weekend. My grandma isn't doing very well. She fell again and the doctor wants her to use a wheelchair. In fact, he doesn't want her trying to leave the wheelchair without help. This formidable woman who her younger sisters always lauded as the smart one is now mentally confined by dementia.

I wrote this story several years ago as part of a series based on my memories of the summers I spent on grandma and grandpa's farm. This one was her favorite.

That Beautiful Place

It was the middle of summer and the dreams were growing more frequent. I guess it’s only natural that I’d dream of the one place I spent so many summers growing up – the farm.

Sometimes the dreams were so real, I’d nearly cry when I woke up, angry that my beautiful trip had been interrupted by the alarm clock. Other times, the dreams were more abstract, almost like a Picasso painting – I knew where I was, but nothing was where I’d expect it to be, all a little off.

When I was a kid, I wished the house was the same, yet different. Always snooping around, I was forever hoping I’d find a secret stairwell to an unknown room full of, well, something exciting. Not money or anything so crass – rather I wanted to discover anything from generations past – old clothing, records, books, anything that could document times gone by. Sure, there was always the old storage room, but I was looking for…more.

Even though I never did find that secret room, I can remember the house had a very palpable soul – something that in hindsight, was way better than any jackpots I could have found. It certainly wasn’t haunted, not in the least. Rather there was a good old soul that had been there and seen everything through three generations. It was comforting.

Anyway, back to the dreams that got me thinking about that beautiful place. It’s funny, it’s not the big events that took place there that stand out. It’s all the small details that are etched in my mind. Like waking up before anyone except Grandpa – who almost always seemed to be awake before any other living being. The old timey music on the radio only seemed to exist in that one place – Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen. The plastic tablecloth would save the heavy table from any toast crumbs that would inevitably sprinkle from my mouth.

Sometimes I’d get outside early enough that the dew was still on the ground. I’d just go out and breathe in the fresh morning air and have a chat with the dogs. If I got up a little later, I’d be lucky enough to trek to the end of the laneway and get the mail, which seemed to be a pretty major event, at least for the person who got to do it. Wandering outside, barn to barn for what seemed like hours, in fact, it was probably only minutes before an encounter with a wayward wasp would send me running back to the safety of the house.

I’d grab a book from the endless pile I’d picked up during a trip to the library with Grandma. When I was older, I’d snag one of her many Harlequin Romance books. My parents and usually an aunt or uncle would tsk that I was inside on such a beautiful day. They just seemed incapable of understanding that it could be a beautiful day inside too.

Sometimes my mind would wander. I’d stare at the door in the living room that didn’t lead anywhere since the veranda outside it was torn down – the veranda that was long gone before my day, but still there in all the old photos. I’d imagine what the house was like then and for whatever reason in my child’s mind, I imagined things would be a whole lot different with a veranda. Maybe it was the soul of the house talking to me, igniting my imagination so it would run wild.

Eventually, I’d tire of the reading and mind games and retreat upstairs for a nap in Grandma’s bed. I remember waking up, and still groggy, walking to the window. The pink curtains were moving slightly in the breeze. I’d look out at the trees and a sadness welled up inside me, knowing one day I would have to leave.

Then I’d push the sad feelings away and simply bask in all the house had to offer – warmth, contentment and safety. Those are the feelings I remember, the true treasures I ended up finding all those summer days at the farm.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why not a writer?

I was chatting with another writer this week about what we wanted to be when we were in high school. Turns out both of us wanted to be actors.

I didn't pursue it because the university programs I looked at required a singing audition. (Those of you who know me can pick yourselves up off of the floor now. I know I can't sing. Well, my son thinks I can, but he's only 3.)

My fellow scribe, on the other hand, didn't pursue acting because her parents wouldn't accept it and likely wouldn't have paid the bill for a fine arts degree. She did get a degree in another area that lead to writing, but she still feels like she disappointed her parents. I just don't get it.

Here's why. I ended up getting my first BA in Law. I flitted between Mass Communications and Law but ended up in Law because a) I was fascinated by it, b) second-year stats in Mass Comm nearly killed me and I just couldn't fathom doing it in my third year and c) one of the mandatory third-year Mass Comm courses was full and I would have had to take it in fourth year, dragging my degree into five years. No thanks. Law it was.

I toyed with the whole law school idea and even wrote the L-SAT once. I barely passed it and didn't get into any of the law schools I applied for. I worked a year of full-time retail knowing it would force me to make a decision one way or the other. I liked Mass Comm because I got to study the media. And I always enjoyed story-telling. Journalism it was. I somehow managed to get into the two-year program at Ryerson University. And then I managed to get work in the field when I graduated. I'm still plugging away, now as a technical writer.

My point is, there was never any point at which my parents told me or even hinted to me that I was a disappointment. Now, some of that may be because my dad was a reporter for many years. But I think most of it was because they had experienced moments where they were told they had to do something because it was expected of them.

My dad came from a poor family so the school system of the day tried to force him into hands-on courses like shop. I guess the reasoning then was that without money, you couldn't afford to continue your education at a university, so needed a trade. Or it could have been as mean-spirited and unfounded as if you didn't have money, you simply weren't suited for the more "academic" courses. (I know some brilliant mechanics, including my father-in-law, so I don't subscribe to this sort of outdated thinking). If you met my dad you would know how ridiculous this is. My sister told him how to put the gas barbecue together when she was 9. Handy he's not.

My mom, even though she came of age in the late 60s, grew up in a conservative, rural area. She was accepted by every university she applied to. But she decided to get married and have kids. You simply didn't do both where she was from.

So I guess my parents figured they wouldn't inflict their own expectations on us when it came to the professions my sister and I chose (she has a fine arts degree and worked for many years as a photographer). They never made me feel like they needed a lawyer in the family. They made me get my pictures taken for both graduations so they could send them to the extended family. My dad's media friends knew who I was by the time I graduated because he wouldn't shut up about me and how bloody proud he was.

I'll just never get people who can't encourage their children's dreams and goals. I'd like to thank my parents for being cool enough to let me figure it out on my own. I plan to do the same for my kid. And now I've said it on the internets, so you guys can keep me honest.