Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The price is wrong

"I guess I seem ungrateful with my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things I really can't give up just yet."

It's time to play First World Problems again!

If I wasn't the luckiest girl in the world, leading a charmed life full of great family and fun travel and good health and the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I'd say that if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck.

Of course that's not true at all, but sometimes it's the little things that get blown way out of proportion and sometimes there are too many little things all in a row.

We've been watching Series 6 of Vera and when I bought the first episode for $1.99 there was no option to buy the season. When I bought the third episode (of four), an option appeared to buy the season for $5.99. So when I was ready to buy the fourth episode, I called Amazon, who told me to buy the season and they'd refund the first three episodes. So I did. Only there was a little problem. I'd used promotional credits to buy the first three episodes. I earn these $1 at a time toward digital media by choosing free no-rush shipping on Amazon Prime whenever I order.

It turns out that promotional credits are not refundable. So I called Amazon again and went through a complicated explanation and the rep agreed to make a one-time exception and give me a courtesy credit. Right. Thanks for giving me back my own money. I know, it's just semantics. Ironically, the entire credit applied against the next order I placed - for cat food.

Sometimes I wonder why I get so wound up about $6. Or really, $2. Why couldn't I just shrug and pay $1.99 for that last episode and save myself a headache.

Why ask why. I couldn't. I can't.

I was looking at my bank statements online and noticed a $16 monthly fee. The fee was charged for most but not all months going back at least a year. This is very bad on me for not having noticed. But now that I had, I read the fine print. You can avoid the fee several ways, among them this. "Maintain a $3,000 minimum daily balance in your primary checking account." I assumed this meant my personal account which has never had less than ten times that amount in recent years. My personal account is in my name. My business account is also in my name dba Elizaebth Beads.

So, you guessed it, I called the bank, and they said my primary account in this context was my business account, which I think is confusing. Why not say, maintain a $3,000 minimum daily balance in this account? I must have been - cough - persuasive. I played the "I've had this account since 1981" card and the bank credited me for the fees for the past year. I'll make sure to keep that minimum balance there going forward. I'd been keeping it lower because my business account is attached to my PayPal account and for a while there were reports of hackings. I haven't heard about that lately, so I guess I'll take my chances to avoid that $16 monthly fee.

One last $6 agony aunt story. We bought a Jamba Juice punch card in some kind of fund raiser that has ten punches for a buy-one-get-one-free smoothie discount. We used it over the weekend and the cashier punched two punches on the card instead of one. I was upset way out of proportion to the crime. Another cashier came over to try to solve the problem. In gold magic marker she drew a little arrow on my card pointing at the last punch and wrote "still valid" and "ignore." Only the words were illegible. I read "ignore" as "Laura" and asked if that was her name. (Her name was Jasmine.)

She assured me that they'd honor the punched punch the next time I came in. I asked, what if I go to a different Jamba Juice. She said, just have them call us. Hah. I asked her to write it all out on the back of a receipt and she did. But it weighs on me. We usually get Jamba Juice about once a month, but I'll probably go back this week, because it will haunt me until it's sorted. Yeah. I'm ridiculous.

So on to more important things. Like art for art's sake.

The age-old discussion about pricing beads reared its jaded head on Facebook again this week. It started with a question from a beginner about pricing by the hour plus the cost of materials. As usual people camped out on both sides of the issue. I contributed my very-unscientific opinion, which tends to change over time.
I price somewhat by gut feeling. Sometimes I spend a lot of time on a bead but it's a design fail for me. Someone else might love it but I can't rationalize a high price. That's one reason auctions are good. The market decides. Other times I spend less time on a bead and it turns out delightful. I'd price it higher. It's art, not science. But that's just me. One size doesn't fit all. Pricing is a personal decision. Some may use a formula, I don't.
Right after my comment, another artist said she used a combination of hourly plus overhead, and provided a link to a blog post she wrote about pricing.

I read the article. After reviewing the reasons people give for shying away from pricing beads from a business perspective, she mused as follows.
But how many times have I also heard someone say they wished they could make a living doing their art? Whenever I hear this statement, I feel a little sad for the person. Are they really doing what they were put on the earth to do? How powerful would we all be collectively if more of us lived our lives using the gifts the creator gave us to our very best ability? Would we treat each other a little nicer because we were happier? Would the cultural “affluenza” so prevalent, so damaging to the planet be alleviated? Would more people feeding their creativity be turned into creative problem solving for the world's increasingly (seemingly!) complex problems? Would the world be a better place, ultimately?
Wow. From pricing beads to world peace. That's quite a quantum leap.

She goes on to say that "pricing is a factor of two things: direct costs and indirect costs, and it can be difficult to corral those indirect costs and attach that to the price of of bead." And that "every bead you make has a fixed cost attached to it before your hourly rate kicks in." And that "that is the same approximate amount or percentage whether you are making a spacer or a fancy focal." And also that "profitable does not mean 'in the black' by a few bucks – that's closer to 'breaking even.'"

It did make some sense to me. It's not rocket science that to make a bead you need studio space, equipment and tools, raw materials (glass, embellishments such as fine silver, pure gold, cubic zirconia, shards, frit, to name some). You also need power and fuel. If you are selling online, you need a computer, a camera, office supplies, furniture. If you are selling at shows you need displays, transportation, maybe lodging and meals.

It almost makes one want to get a "real" job instead. If you take into account the time to do the mathematical calculations to determine your costs per bead, well, I'd have no time to actually make any beads.

She talked a lot more about spacer beads, those simple little single color donut rounds, maybe rolled in some frit, that are the bread and butter of many beadmakers.
It doesn't matter how many of 'em you can make in an hour if you are selling them for less than their fixed cost. You are then selling your spacers at a loss, which only works if you make A LOT of other fancier beads and sell them at a price that factors in the hundreds of spacers you are selling at a loss. I would point out that you still need to know how much you are losing on the spacers and lower end beads to figure out how much extra to charge on the higher end one.
This has been a sore point with me lately. When I see beadmakers selling spacers for less than a dollar, I want to break my own rule which says that how you price your beads is none of my business. Because you still have to dip a mandrel, you still have to clean them, you still have to string them together in some way to present them for sale, photograph, list, package and ship them.

I had to poke the beast a little. You know, I can't help myself sometimes. All right, oftentimes.
I really appreciate your blog post and the work you put into it. I especially agree that "Here in the U.S. you cannot make a spacer that costs less than $1 to make and my assertion is that it's closer to $2 these days." I'd love to see you give an example of how you price a specific bead or set of beads. Do you factor out the overhead, time and materials cost for each bead you sell? Since I have no left brain, that boggles my (unbalanced) mind.
She wrote a very long response that boiled down to this.
For one quarter, I literally kept time sheets/diaries to keep track of how many beads I made ... and how much hands on time I spent making them. I also kept track of all the other tasks I did. ... I determined that every single bead at it's most basic cost me $1.25-1.50 BEFORE I did any actual hands on work to make it, that is BEFORE my hourly rate. Then, on top of that, the hourly rate has to cover all my hands on time and that includes paying myself a reasonable salary.
I had a lot more questions but I decided in service of peace, harmony and my hallmark walk-the-line avoid-confrontation philosophy, to hold it to one.
Thanks, that is very helpful. One more question - what happens when you price your beads accordingly and they don't sell? Sometimes what I think is a fair price seems to be more than customers are willing to pay (speaking not strictly for myself, but from what I see in the larger lampwork world).
Here is the condensed version of her response.
Well, I might cave eventually, but there's really no need to cave on the lower end stuff, right? By that I mean, it's really okay if I don't sell a spacer, and honestly, the higher end stuff usually eventually sells it seems, thank goodness. ... I will say that the "what the market will bear" argument only has us all racing to the lowest common denominator, and you can only sustain that level for a small period of time ... if I'm going to "fail" I'd like to do it in the most highest, spectacular, giving-it-my-all way possible!
Well, it's nice for her that her higher end beads all sell eventually. I wish mine did. I'm not even sure what higher end stuff means for me. Is it everything above and beyond a simple spacer? I wouldn't call my $6-$8 dollar dot pairs higher end stuff, but they do sell better than my focal beads.

I just don't think you can really boil art down to a fixed cost plus hourly rate. I'm not that consistent. I have more inspired days at the torch and days where I make a lot of dreck and if I have to roll up the financials for all the dreck into the decent stuff, I'm pretty sure I'd never sell a thing.

I keep coming back to the same thought. If you are going to look at art strictly as a business, you might be better off finding another line of work. At least I might, and that just might be because I'm not conistently talented enough. I'm glad I don't have to though. I've already put in my 35 years working for a paycheck, so I can make art my work now, whether or not I make a profit at it.

As I said, art for art's sake.

Here are some new lizard beads I'm chuffed about. I'm upping my prices on these, partly as an experiment and partly because they have a higher degree of difficulty than the other beads in my repertoire.

We'll see who does the flag salute.

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Did you get a round resounding for you
Way up here
It seems like many dim years ago
Since I heard that face to face
Or seen you face to face
Though tonight I can feel you here
I get these notes
On butterflies and lilac sprays
From girls who just have to tell me
They saw you somewhere

In some office sits a poet
And he trembles as he sings
And he asks some guy
To circulate his soul around
On your mark red ribbon runner
The caressing rev of motors
Finely tuned like fancy women
In thirties evening gowns
Up the charts
Off to the airport
Your name's in the news
Everything's first class
The lights go down
And it's just you up there
Getting them to feel like that

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation well who's to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so

I guess I seem ungrateful
With my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things
I really can't give up just yet
Now I sit up here the critic
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you're getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Chilly now
End of summer
No more shiny hot nights
It was just the arbutus rustling
And the bumping of the logs
And the moon swept down black water
Like an empty spotlight.

(Joni Mitchell, For the Roses)

Friday, August 19, 2016

City of angels and traffic

"His eyes were the color of the sand and the sea
And the more he talked to me, you know, the more he reached me
But I couldn't let go of L.A.
City of the fallen angels."

I thought I'd just do a quick recap of our California trip this past week. We flew to L.A. on Tuesday afternoon, went to Disneyland on Wednesday, the ANA Money Show on Thursday, Channel Islands National Park on Friday and the La Brea Tar Pits on Saturday before a late flight home.

But seeing as it's me writing, and knowing that the devil is in the details, you may guess that I've got a whole lot more words to say about our trip.

Right you are.

We were upgraded to First Class on the outbound flight. I'd forgotten how much fun that is. Drinks before takeoff, hot towels, chairs that recline into beds, movies and headsets, a hot meal with real china and silverware and - get this - freshly baked cookies and milk served for desert. When Neil retires, our premier perks will go away, but until then I'll enjoy the heck out of them.

Disneyland. My first visit to the west coast park, 20 years after my first trip to Disney World in Orlando. And I think it may be possible that I'm done with Disney. The unexpected love affair is finis.

My first trip to Disney World was in the summer of 1996, when Kandace and her competition dance troup danced at the park. The way that works is that the studio sends an audition tape and when the the group is accepted to perform, Disney cooks up a park-hopper package where the girls get to pay to dance and their 50 or so adoring families get to pay to watch them.

This was about 18 months before my first marriage gave up the ghost and the first time our family had taken a real vacation, one that didn't mean a visit to grandparents, although my parents did drive up from Pompano Beach to spend a couple of days with us.

I didn't expect to like Disney World. I thought it was everything that I didn't like, hot in June, crowded and expensive. I'm not much for rollercoaster rides. But the magic got me. I loved it. That was before the advent of FastPass, so we stood in a lot of long lines and I still loved it. We ate pricey meals, including the Polynesian Luau, and I still loved it. It was a splurge (but a bargain compared to today's prices) and I still loved it.

It was also at the height of the Beanie Baby craze, when you couldn't get them anywhere, and Disney had them everywhere. Magic.

The best ride ever was the cable cars. We floated over the Kingdom at Sunset and it was lovely. The worst ride was the Thunder Mountain Railroad, billed as a moderate coaster. It traumatized my mom, who was holding on to her front teeth (which like the stars, come out at night).

The park in Anaheim is more or less Magic Kingdom from Disney World (before Disney World ditched Mickey's Toontown) right down to the layout. Main Street to the Castle, all the lands, Adventure, Frontier, Fantasy and Tomorrow. We got a FastPass for an Indiana Jones ride and stood in line for the Jungle Cruise. We got a FastPass for Splash Mountain and stood in line for the Haunted Mansion.

We went back to Main Street and got ice cream and sat and people watched while we ate it. We got Fast Passes for Star Tours and stood in line for Autopia. By then the sun was high and hot, the crowds overwhelming. I had made a dinner reservation at the Grand Californian (or the Hotel California as I kept calling it).

At World we've enjoyed a lot of character dinners and meals at the various hotels, such as Sanaa at the African Kingdom Lodge and Cape May at the Yacht Club Resort. We've dined with Disney Princesses at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot and enjoyed high tea in the Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian.

We've also played Disney on No Dollars a Day, riding the monorail round trip and ferrying across the Seven Seas Lagoon. We've watched the fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian resort and traveled by water taxi to Fort Wilderness.

Disneyland is different. For $18 parking you can enjoy the Disney Marketplace, but that's about it. You can't so much as get on the monorail without a park ticket. Fortuitously, the monorail ran between Tomorrowland and the Grand Californian. Unfortuitously we had to wait in line for that privilege.

We did take a nice break at the Grand Californian and had a light dinner which was mostly OK. We could have waited about 30 minutes and had the buffet (which looked amazing when we passed it on our way out) but Neil wanted to sit down and order right then. Then we monorailed back to Tomorrowland where we tried to get a FastPass for Finding Nemo (they don't do FastPasses and the wait was 90 minutes) and for Hyperspace Mountain (none left for the day even though the park is open until midnight).

So we wandered over to Toontown (bypassing It's a Small World) and stood in line for 30 minutes for Goofy's Barn Stormer, a coaster ride that Neil timed at 50 seconds. All right, enough whining. We went back for the Star Tours simulation (I kept my eyes closed mostly) and decided we were done. I'm not sure we had $210 worth of fun, but we'd sawed the park in half, multiple times, getting FastPasses and going back and forth to used them. We were tired.

We walked back past the Castle and down Main Street, stopping to buy our due-in-December grandson a stuffie. We also stopped at Jamba Juice in the Marketplace. Did I mention I bought some cute earrings at a little silver jewelry shop? In for a penny, in for a pound I guess. Then we hiked out to our rented car and headed for our hotel home.

And I realized my 20-year love affair with Disney had fizzled. It's time to forget the magic.

OK, it really was fun, hot, crowded, expensive fun. And I carried beads for Beads of Courage.

Thursday, I'll be brief. We went to a coin show. I walked the bourse, bought a silver chain because that is what I do, and then sat in the Legacy Suite drinking coffee and eating chocolate and reading until Neil was ready to go hours later. We split for Camarillo and endured 3 hours of LA traffic to travel 80 miles, arriving at Lure Fish House with literally minutes to spare in time to order from their Happy Hour menu. Chowder, calamari and seafood tacos. We didn't leave room for dessert.

The second picture is me in our hotel room. I'm a huge fan of Dar Williams and this rolled by on FB: In honor of the 20th anniversary of Dar's Mortal City album, we’d like to make a lyric video for the song “Iowa” starring YOU! In the comments below, post a photo of yourself holding up a line of your choice from the song for a chance to be included in the video.

Friday we had reservations with Island Packers for a trip to Santa Cruz Island, one of the five (of eight) Channel Islands composing the Channel Islands National Park. Some of the islands currently are only accessible by plane. We docked at Scorpion Anchorage where, due to storrm damage to the pier, we were shuttled in skiffs to shore.

Most of our fellow travelers were kayakers, some outfitted with their own paddleboats. A few were hikers like us. We hiked to Cavern Point and along the elevated coastline to Potato Harbor. We skipped the strenuous hike to the summit. At Potato Harbor we picnicked on bagels with peanut butter and honey, skavenged from the hotel breakfast buffet. We took an inland route back, with a quick stop at the historic Scorpion Ranch.

Santa Cruz Island and the Park has a complex history. The islands were designated a National Monument in 1938 and became a National Park in 1980. The six nautical miles around the park are a National Marine Sanctuary . However the Park Service owns just 24% of Santa Cruz Island's 60,00 acres. The rest is owned by The Nature Conservancy, a charitable ecological conservation organization, and there is no public access.

Historically privately owned, Santa Cruz Island was ranched with imported livestock and planted with non-native vegitation. Feral pigs were introduced and decimated the native fox population. Golden eagles invaded and displaced native bald eagles. Ongoing conservation efforts have restored much of the native habitat and species. We saw island foxes, hanging around the campgrounds of course.

We also saw scores of dolphins and a humpback whale on the ride back to the mainland. I'd say the whale was awesome, but I mostly caught the splash and the water spouting from the blowhole. Ashore we just missed Happy Hour at Lure in Ventura, so we went the whole hog, if that's the right way to describe a seafood dinner.

Our flight home Saturday wasn't until evening so we went to the La Brea Tar Pits. We didn't get an especially early start but traffic in LA on Saturday is like every other day in LA. We didn't leave enough time for the price of museum admission to be worthwhile so we just walked around the Pleistocene Garden and checked out some of the excavations and free exhibits. It was hot and stinky in the garden, but interesting too. We cooled off at Starbucks where I ordered two drinks, a cold smoothie and a hot latte for the caffeine.

Our flight home was routine, slightly delayed and a little turbulent thanks to the storm systems related to the flooding in Louisiana. We got home in the small hours and the cats were happy. On Sunday we met Laurie for breakfast and I did a lot of nothing, including binge-watching the one and only season of Awake.

It's been rainy and gray since we've been back, which is great for beadmaking at this time of year. I've had some good days at the torch and as usual after a break from Facebook, sales picked up. I have some cute new beads, including a really stupid (but cute) Sharon Peters-inspired lizzard that I think I'll keep. For a while anyway. He's the middle one.

It's hard to believe, but a week from Friday has us heading out on another trip, to the right coast this time. Till then, there's still time for more beads and stories.

Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman's soul
He thought for sure I'd seen him
Dancing up a river in the dark
Looking for a woman
To court and spark

He was playing on the sidewalk
For passing change
When something strange happened
Glory train passed through him
So he buried the coins he made
In People's Park
And went looking for a woman
To court and spark

It seemed like he read my mind
He saw me mistrusting him
And still acting kind
He saw how I worried, sometimes
I worry sometimes

All the guilty people, he said
They've all seen the stain
On their daily bread
On their christian names
I cleared myself
I sacrificed my blues
And you could complete me
I'd complete you

His eyes were the color of the sand
And the sea
And the more he talked to me, you know
The more he reached me
But I couldn't let go of L.A.
City of the fallen angels.

(Joni Mitchel)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Move on, Warrior

"You can leave this house, leave this town
All that's left to chart is nothing less than your own heart."

Well, that didn't take long.

In the two weeks since I received, read and blogged about Glennon Doyle Melton's memoir Love Warrior, the story of the breakdown and rebuilding of her marriage, she announced on her blog, Momastery, that she and Craig are separating.

The official book release date isn't until Sept. 6.

Here are some of her words couching the reasons for the split.
You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.

But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. ... And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. ...

And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. ... You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.
Of course that leaves us wondering, what really went down. I suspect we may never know, or at least not for a long time. Even if there is more to the story than just deciding you don't fit in the life and love you fought for so hard and wrote about so eloquently, there are children involved, three children who can read and who may come in contact with people who read and who might be damaged by knowing any more than some perfect fiction right now.

It's not wholly shocking either. Marriage is hard. Even great marriages are hard. Marriage when one of you is a sort of celebrity, a writer living out loud, so to speak, sharing all the blemishes, hurdles and shortcomings, would not make it anything but harder.

In my post about the story, here is what I said.
Fairy tale endings are wonderful, but there is only one real ending in life and many more pages to fill and potential books to write before the final curtain falls. All we can do is hope that, for Glennon and Craig, the happily will be ever after.
Color me cynical but, much as I love happy endings, I instinctively wasn't giving them very long odds.

Jennifer Ball, who I referenced in my post had this to say.
Wow! I never thought she'd be joining our ranks.
But it was one of her commenters who made me laugh when she said this.
Listen, with nothing but respect for Glennon, she's amazing, her reasons for divorce are none of my business, but she's like the third personal development professional this year that's separated from their spouse because there was just too much light and love.
When my first marriage ended, although there was no infidelity, feelings ran high and I'd have to say our divorce was acrimonious. I used to say that if I could have had an amicable divorce, if I could have stayed friends with my ex-husband, I'd probably still be married to him.

Not that that would have been a good thing.

The biggest favor my ex did for me, was to not show up at my door with roses and remorse and promises to change. Because I'd have cratered. And it would only have postponed the inevitable.

Change is very hard, even when someone wants to change.

Getting unmarried is hard too. When you have children, your heart will ache as you witness their sorrow. Even though you are doing it for them as much as for you. Because you don't want them to grow up thinking the way their dad speaks to you is OK. You don't want them to grow up to marry men like him because they think that lack of respect, communication and affection is acceptable or normal.

If you are the one intitiating the demise of the marriage, you may feel acute guilt and remorse, despite knowing that what you are doing is right and necessary. Your soon to be ex-partner may make this easier or harder. Mine chose to make it harder. He may not have loved me but he did love some of the perks of being married to me and he did not like being thrown off the gravy train. Even if things had not been so one-sided, he still would have been bitter about having his choice co-opted. His pride was hurt.

He could not accept that I was doing this for him, as much as for me and the kids. He deserved to have someone to love him. That would never be me. Too much spilled milk under too many burned bridges, too many doors slammed, too many profane words spoken that could never be unsaid.

He could not see it then. All he could see was that I was destroying the family. I'm not sure he sees it even now, going on 20 years later. Not even after he met and married someone so much more like him. He held tight to his bitterness even as he watched me suffer through the pain of a failed new relationship and struggle to thrive on my own.

Oh yes, dissolving a marriage is hard. It is not any kind of easy way out, at least not for me. There are doubts and second guesses and grief, even is the grief is not for the man but for the loss of the American family dream.

For the rest of your lives you will be sharing your children with your former spouse on holidays. You may remarry and be very, very happy, but your kids will never be shared kids, your new husband's kids will never be your kids, your kids will never be his.

So, marriage is hard, divorce is hard. Decisions about marriage and divorce are hard.

I shoulder my share of blame for the demise of my marriage. I make plenty of mistakes. I could have been more supportive, less critical, more accepting, less resentful. I could have made my marital relationship a priority, instead of choosing to put my children first because I was so frustrated by having to work so hard leaving so little quality time, at the end of the day, to divide.

But the biggest mistake I made was marrying a starving artist and then becoming angry that he wasn't a successful businessman and a good provider. And that was a mistake that could not be fixed, not once I had chosen to fly the red flags rather than to run from them.

Given the givens, all we can do is ask ourselves if we have done our best. And since nobody ever really does their best, we can ask ourselves if we have made a reasonable effort to do the right things. And then we have to choose what we believe is the lesser evil.

Staying unhappily married does no one any favors. Getting happily unmarried may be the better alternative, but it's never an easy one when kids are in the frame.

However Glennon or anyone else wants to couch it, ending a marriage means a trip through the muddle. And sometimes that's the only way.

You can leave this house, leave this town
Leave it all to me, or you'll never leave the ground

Look at that tiny screen's too small for you
I think you should learn to dream, just like the dreamers do

Am I the habit you're too tired to break?
I want you to love me with every step you take

What can you do with a day?
What will you wake up and see?
The farther you get, the closer to me

You can leave this house, leave this town
All that's left to chart is nothing less than your own heart.

What can you do with a day? (Your day?)
What will you wake up and see?
The farther you get, the closer to me

Down the river, down the road,
Little Rock, Tokyo,
Dusty trail, Flagstaff,
in a faded photograph
Thunderstorm, Golden Sands
Cape of Horn, Pakistan
Surinam, Highway One
Chinatown, smoking gun
Golden Gate, Baltic Sea
Painted Desert, Laramie
Taj Mahal, Cameroon
Back in time, to the moon
Frozen lake, cypress trees
Florida's missing keys
El Dorado, Spain or bust
Eiffel Tower, Paris, just
Find your way in.

(John T. Williams, William Brown, Julius Green, Robert Philips)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The spoils of serial drama

"Well there's no time for doubt right now, and less time to explain
So get back on your horses, kiss my ring, join our next campaign."

Spoiler Alert! On the off chance that you are watching the French crime drama Engrenages [Spiral] or the slightly less off chance that you are watching the British crime drama Vera, I'm going to talk about specific plot details. I may refer to other shows too, so proceed with care - if you care.

Not long ago, within the last month, Neil and I were talking about regular characters in series and cliffhangers. For example, I was working my way through four seasons of Spiral on Netflix and so many episodes end with a cliffhanger, someone shot, someone beaten, someone slitting their wrists in a bathtub. Yet within the first five minutes of the next episode, they wake up in the hospital and pretty soon they are back on their feet, with a bandaid or a bruise or a few stitches for an episode or two.

Peaky Blinders may be the best (worst) example of that. People are mowed down in every episode like your lawn on the day that the yard crew comes. And all of the regular characters are regularly beaten to a pulp, but no one seems much the worse for wear for very long. Hell, Tommy had his skull hand crushed against a wall by a very strong and evil priest, had his gold tooth cut out of his mouth, and not by a dentist, was kicked where it hurts by men wearing hard pointy boots, and not only lived to tell but healed beautifully with no long-term cosmetic damage. (Too bad he's still bent on killing himself with smokes and coke.)

Bottom line, it seems like the only time a regular character is killed off is when the actor who plays that characters wants to leave a show, like Dan Stevens, who played Matthew on Downton Abbey.

I should mention that I like spoilers. I often read episode summaries ahead of time. I hate being blindsided by things like Sybil's death and Matthew's death. I frequently do the same for the books Neil and I read. I read the Wikipedia entries. I like to know where things are going and patience is not my strong point.

So Neil and I were watching the first episode of Season 6 of Vera. Truthfully, that show has few regulars, only two characters have been in 23 or more of the 25 episodes to date. But most of the turnover happens between seasons and the only one that I remember being acknowledged was Joe Ashworth, Vera's second in command, who disappeared between Seasons 4 and 5 (there was a reference to a long-awaited promotion). Everyone else missing from Vera's staff is just gone, and new officers are just on board.

So it was quite shocking when DC Bethany Whelan (Cush Jumbo), who's been around, on and off, since Season 2, is shot in the back and has the audacity to actually die. She wasn't just rushed to the hospital, put on life support, and expected to make a full recovery.

I liked Bethany, the character anyway, and it blew my theory.

And the very next day I watched the last episode of Season 4 of Spiral. A little background. The French police, legal and judicial system are bound together closely and virtually everyone is corrupt. Some are corrupt for better reasons than others. For some, self-interest governs, for others, it's simply an expedient way to achieve justice, for example, in lieu of non-circumstantial evidence, the good cops just knock the suspected guilty party about until he confesses.

The police squad featured is run by Laure. Her two seconds are Gilou and Tin-tin. She is single and likes her sex casual, but in Season 2 she hooks up with Sami, who joins the squad for an undercover assignment. In the season finale, the drug bust is made but Sami is outed, brutally beaten and seemingly disposed of by the soulless perps. Ultimately, after more knockings about and a shooting or two, a flunkie spills the beans. Sami is located in the trunk of an abandoned car in some godforsaken wasteland. He is alive! He and Laure smile at each. The credits roll.

This brings up another anomalous point. The drug-dealing scoundrels have no morals, they execute people regularly, including their own cousins and brothers. But rather than kill Sami, they go to the bother of trussing him up, sticking him in the trunk of a car and driving it to a remote locale, where they leave him for dead. Why not just kill him? Why leave all that extra DNA evidence? Why take the chance that he will live to tell? And who just ditches a car?

No answers here. Sami is conveniently absent from Season 3 and never mentioned. Laure begins a real relationship with Vincent, a fellow copper who seems like a nice enough guy. True, she seduces him in the first place as a smokescreen, in order to get back evidence that would have sent Gilou to prison for accidentally killing a drug dealer. But she likes him and things seem to be going well. At least she's not sleeping in her car because she doesn't want to be home alone anymore.

And then, who shows up in the middle of Season 4 but Sami. Yeah, he had to leave without saying goodbye because he was sent undercover again, but trust him, Laure, he never stopped thinking of you, he came back for you. And he doesn't want to share you. That old chemistry is there and Laure can only resist for so long.

I kept saying, don't do it, don't screw up what you have with Vincent, but does she listen to me? Of course not. And of course Vincent is standing at the window when Sami drops her at the house, and of course she lies and says Gilou dropped her off, and oh, she's just going to hop in the shower now.

So Vincent suspects, but it's all circumstantial isn't it, and when he suggests that Laure might want to stay at her own place, she immediately seduces him. She's really torn, Sami is putting on the pressure, she's buying time.

And in the last episode it all boils down to a cell-phone controlled bomb in the police station. Sami and Tin-tin find it, Sami orders Tin-tin away saying he is trained to defuse bombs. What is that ringing? Why didn't Sami turn off the cell phone before it could ring? The explosives go boom, Tin-tin is hurled down the hallway by the blast. Sami is blown to kingdom come. Laure cries broken-heartedly and we go to the credit crawl.

So, yeah, another semi-regular character annihilated. At least it resolve's Laure's plight of being caught between two lovers. Not as satisfying as having her do the right thing, whatever that would have been, since both were nice guys. Vincent just had a little more stability to offer, and I'm all for that.

I recovered from all that drama by binge-watching Season 4 of Whitechapel. That was about as dark and eerie as they come, rife with images of the supernatural, and plot lines centering around ergot poisoning, humans flayed alive (literally) and cannibalism. I thought there were a few loose ends left, but since the show was not recommissioned, we'll never know.

Things are a bit crazy busy here and will be for most of August. I just got home from four days with my daughter, who had outpatient surgery. The silver lining there was some (but never enough) grandson bonding time.

I'm home for a day, then I have a two-day lampwork class with Sharon Peters at Glass Sorbet. I'm excited about spending time with local glass friends. Then I'm home for another day and off we go to Anaheim. Disneyland! Channel Islands National Park! Beads to carry!

After that, there will be a week or two of life as usual, followed by our annual pilgramage to the Poconos with Neil's family. More beads to carry!

This will be one of the longest breaks for me from making beads and selling beads. I'm curious how it will feel. I think it's needed and probably well overdue.

Between the class this weekend and some time off, maybe I'll emerge re-energized and inspired. It's too much to hope for that I'll have a major talent breakthrough but some new design ideas are not out of the ballpark.

Thanks to technology, I'm hoping to keep writing here through the month. In fact, I'm eager to finish this post because I've already started writing the next one in my head.

And since we all know that doesn't count, I'd best get on with it.

Who's afraid of the sun?
Who would question the goodness of the mighty?
We who banish the threat
When your little ones all go nighty nighty

Well there's no time for doubt right now
And less time to explain
So get back on your horses
Kiss my ring, join our next campaign

And the Empire grows
With the news that we're winning
With more fear to conquer
And more gold thread for spinning
Bright as the sun
Shining on everyone

Some would say that we've forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish
We like strong, happy people
Who don't think there's something wrong with pride
Work makes them free
And we spread that freedom far and wide

And the empire grows the seeds of its glory
For every five tanks plant a sentimental story
'Til they worship the sun
Even Christ loving ones

And we'll kill the terrorizers
And a million of their races
But when our people torture you
that's a few random cases
Don't question the sun
It doesn't help anyone

But the journalists cried out
When it was too late to stop us
Everyone had awakened
To the dream they could enter our colossus
And now I'm right, yeah, you said I'm right
There's nothing that can harm me
Cause the sun never sets on my dungeons or my army

And the empire fell on its own splintered axis
And the emperor wanes as the silver moon waxes
And the farmers will find old coins
In their strawberry fields
While somebody somewhere twists his ring
And someone kneels

Oh, where is the sun shining for everyone?

(Dar Williams - Empire)