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things i think of while i try to fall asleep
may 1, 2010
I have certain things I think about while I try to fall asleep.
I assume everyone else does, too.
But we never talk about that.
The truth is, I never have trouble falling asleep once we turn off the TV around eight-thirty (usually after watching a DVR-recorded episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, which in its heyday (the first five years) was better than most any other TV network show. I love the Gothic aspect. Great acting, great writing, great directing, with one of the cruelest detectives ever shown in a series.)
My trouble starts when I wake up, around ten or eleven, and try to fall asleep again.
My favorite things to then think about? Trying to drift back under?
The colonization of Mars, and various moons of Saturn and Jupiter. I get into all kinds of details while I shift my profile left, right on my pillow.
Next most popular thing for me to think about while trying to fall asleep?
I'm at work. Where I used to work, before I got laid off along with everyone else. A two-story building in Richardson, Texas, isolated by about a mile from any other building. Mary arrives in our Honda CRV to pick me up, at the end of the workweek, Friday at 5:00.
We hear on the car radio that the dead are rising from their graves, tearing apart the living and eating them. Travel is unsafe. Stay off the roads.
We decide to retreat inside my building. Lock the tall glass front doors. Move most of the food vending machines up to the second floor, via elevator, where we'll take our stand behind the locked door of a conference room with a TV where we can keep up with breaking news, and an adjoining bathroom (a nice convenience in such trying times.)
The third scenario I think of is I'm on a corporate plane flying with Mary from Dallas to Ohio. It's winter. The plane crashes, plowing violently, orange sparks rising, in the snow of Colorado. The pilot is killed. It's bloody. Red, red, red in the cockpit. Even on the curved metal ceiling. We can't stay in the plane because big brown bears, walking on fours, raising their black snouts, smelling the pilot's blood in the cold air, are going to come trundling from miles around, yellow fangs spreading apart once they reach the tall tear in the fuselage, through which their furry hips can wiggle. Mary and I have to slog across the snow to find shelter. We happen upon a cabin (which I spot.) Break in through the front door. Get a fire going in the fireplace. Water, but no food. The next day, we trod hunch-backed under the weight of the spiraling snow to a nearby stream. Hook a few silvery trout. Which we gut and clean in the cabin's kitchen. Fry them up, using a valuable match from our limited supply, as the wind whips outside the cabin's windows, snow piling up. Glorioski! The smell of fresh-caught fish frying, the big black pupils in the pan getting bigger and paler. No lemon in the cabin's refrigerator, nor jar of capers, to make tartar sauce, bit of a disappointment, but we'll make do.
All three scenarios are very comforting to me, and usually help me fall asleep, but around eleven-thirty I'm again awake. Lots of shifting my profile. Left side of my face on the pillow, then the right side, then the left side, etc. This is really the hardest time for me to get back asleep. That and one o'clock in the morning, when I again wake up, and three o'clock, when my eyes also pop open. I think of my favorite scenarios, but often I get so caught up in the details I feel the details are keeping me awake, rather than lolling me.
At some point, four or five, I give up, realize there's too much yellow sunshine behind my eyelids, sandy crescent of beach, gulls high up in the sky like dirty laundry, and just pull myself out of bed.
Once I slept until six. I couldn't believe how good I felt. Like I had died and gone to Heaven. Instead, I got out of bed and went to the bathroom.
A truly innovative artist died this past month, but very few people took notice, which really shocks me.
I'm talking about Dede Allen.
I'm currently working on a feature-length documentary on my father-in-law's life. I love editing the project, but let's face it, I'm an amateur at film editing.
Dede Allen was one of the greatest film editors who ever existed.
Allen was the first film editor ever-male or female-to receive sole editing credit on a movie (for Bonnie and Clyde.)
She started out as a messenger at Columbia Pictures before World War II, hoping that would help her make the right connections to become a director, which is what she really wanted to do. That dream didn't happen, but she did manage to move up the ranks to a "cutter", which is what editors were called back then. Allen once said that cutters were often women, "because women have always been good at little details, like sewing."
Experimenting with the basic ideas of editing, she was the first editor in America to take up the French new wave techniques of eliminating smooth transitions by beginning a new scene with a close-up, rather than an establishing shot, then a medium shot, then a close-up. She also pioneered the idea of what became known as the "shock cut"-cutting a scene sooner than expected to move to the next scene, to increase tension.
Greg S. Faller, professor of film studies at Towson University in Maryland, is quoted in Allen's obituary in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "The Hustler and Bonnie and Clyde must be considered benchmark films in the history of editing. It's hard to see the changes she made because most of what she did has been so fully embraced by the industry."
Quoting from the Los Angeles Times obituary:
Kael had special praise for the movie's editing, especially the "rag-doll dance of death" at the end of the picture, which she called "brilliant."
Films Allen edited include Dog Day Afternoon, Reds, Wonder Boys, Bonnie and Clyde, The Hustler, Alice's Restaurant, Little Big Man, The Breakfast Club, Night Moves, The Missouri Breaks, Slaughterhouse Five, The Milagro Beanfield War, Serpico, and Mike's Murder (one of the best noir films of the nineteen-eighties, starring Debra Winger, which virtually no one has ever heard about.)
Allen died April 17, 2010 from a stroke. She was 86.
There is almost not a single film or TV show made today that does not use her groundbreaking editing work.
Ever see a movie or TV show where the sound for the next scene begins while the current scene is still playing? Dede Allen invented that editing technique.
I guess it had to happen, and I'm glad it did.
Ten years ago, I created an online experiment in fiction where I posted a tourist site for Antarctica.
I wanted to explore a 'what if' idea. What if Antarctica, rather than being a cold, barren wasteland, was instead a populous nation of beautiful cities, green forests, blue lakes, pink glaciers, with a history going back 40,000 years? Rather than simply writing a story about that notion, I decided to create a fictional tourist-type website devoted to Antarctica, much like sites created on behalf of Germany, New Zealand, or Brazil.
The site has received an enormous number of hits over the years. If you Google "cities in Antarctica", my site comes up number one in the search results, out of over three million search returns.
Over the years, I've received a tremendous amount of emails reacting to my site.
Many are from people who, entranced by the perfect world I describe, want to move to Antarctica. I have to let them know my Antarctica is a fiction, a land that should exist, but unfortunately doesn't.
I also get a lot of letters from school teachers who are somewhat peeved I've tricked their students (these teachers receive a lot of essays in geography class that report on my Antarctica as if it were real.) My response: This is a great opportunity to teach your students not to believe everything they read on the Internet. And in fact, a lot of school systems in America now use my Antarctica site as a tool to train their students in distinguishing fact from fiction while researching a paper.
And I've also received a number of emails from scientists actually living in Antarctica, who enjoy what I'm doing. These emails I appreciate the most.
Anyway, so many people visit my Antarctica site and believe it's real that I am delighted to see that Wikipedia now has a "stub" article off their main Antarctica article for Bus.
The stub article on Wikipedia reads, "The Bus language is a language spoken in Antarctica."
Except, I made up the Bus language out of thin air. It doesn't exist.
I don't know who posted the information about Bus on Wikipedia, but I sincerely appreciate it that they did.
There's no better way to get to truth than through fiction.
My short story Rain Turns to Snow is in the current issue (number 56) of Dark Horizons, published by the British Fantasy Society.
The video Lately this month is an excerpt from The Rob and Mary Show - The Movie, a ninety-minute film Mary and I made in 1987 while living in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
The first few years Mary and I were together, we didn't own a TV set. We actually didn't buy one until the mid-eighties, after we had left California and moved to Maine, when videotapes emerged, and we realized that if we did buy a TV set, we could rent and watch a huge library of movies.
Before that time, we'd amuse ourselves in the evening by reading, and by creating Rob and Mary Shows, which were different comedy skits we'd write and act in on audio tape. Like a radio show. Each show lasted about an hour.
Once we were ready to leave Maine to find a new home, we knew we'd be traveling across the country looking for that new home and wanted a way of recording our experiences on the road, so we bought a Panasonic VHS camcorder (we ended up spending 80 days wandering around lower-48 America, Canada and Alaska before deciding on Texas, where we still are.) We bought the camcorder a year before we actually left Maine. Playing with it, we realized we could now, instead of making Rob and Mary radio shows, make a Rob and Mary movie.
We shot the film in 1987. Every scene except one takes place in our apartment in Cape Elizabeth. It is impossible to put in words how much fun we had doing this. We'd write each skit, choose the appropriate clothes, build whatever sets or props we'd need, rehearse, then film. This was before home film editing software existed (it was essentially before home pc's existed), so all editing had to take place "in camera."
The movie consists of about a dozen skits. One of my favorites was our Shirley MacLaine skit. The skit probably requires some background information. Back in the eighties, Shirley MacLaine was a highly successful actress who had started writing a series of books about her "new age" beliefs. (I'm using "new age" to describe her beliefs because that's the term most people used back then. Basically, it's belief in spirituality, alternate realities, UFO's, etc. I actually share many of her beliefs.) Anyway, she wrote a book called Out on a Limb. We decided to do a parody called Up the Creek.
Each scene in the skit was carefully blocked-out by us, but the dialogue was improvised-Mary and I would agree on what should be covered in each shot, then we'd basically wing it.
I absolutely love The Rob and Mary Show - The Movie. It brings back so many great memories of Mary and me working together on the project, and how much fun we shared. I hope you enjoy it too.
So from 23 years ago, here it is: The Shirley MacLaine skit. Because it is from so long ago, the quality of the video is not top notch. But that's okay. It's the spirit of the piece that counts.