Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ghosts on the Windswept Moors

Everyone has ghosts in their past. Love affairs never resolved, unrealized dreams, failed competitions, family secrets. I planned a two-day excursion to the Yorkshire town of Haworth in search of the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine, two of literature’s most tortured lovers. The novel I’m currently writing is set in the moors, where three Victorian-era women of diverse backgrounds in the same great house are reading Wuthering Heights, the dark, brooding novel by a new author called Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte's original penname). How could I write with conviction about the stark beauty of the Yorkshire countryside without feeling the wind whipping across the moors, walking a craggy-path up a heather-strewn hillside, sleeping in a cottage built from Yorkshire stone, viewing the late evening sunset over the cobblestone village of Haworth?

My visit to Yorkshire drew ghosts from my own life—both past and present. I’ve been a member of an internet writing group for several years. Futurist author Marshall McLuhan was spot-on when he claimed the world would become a global village within my generation. The World Wide Web made that happen. I’ve built weblationships with people through careful participation in various internet bulletin boards. Ian is one of them. A writer from Manchester with whom I’ve traded critiques through the years, Ian met me at the train station in Keighley and drove me into Haworth where I had lodging at the charming Aitches Guest House. Meeting a person whom one’s known only by their words and an occasional posted photograph puts flesh on an internet ghost. Ian and I talked about our current novels, he brought me a copy of the UK computer magazine for which he is an editor, and together we toured the Bronte Museum. Ian’s no longer an internet ghost from a cyber community; he’s a flesh and blood friend.

The spirit of my mother accompanied me on this trip. Visiting England was an unrealized dream for her and one of the things I regretted not being able to do with her. Through the years my mother had developed friendships with several English women—pen pals not unlike my internet weblationships. These women were related to a pastor we had known for many years as I was growing up. Brother Miles had been killed tragically in an auto accident in 1979 and following his death, my mother corresponded with his mother, Mollie, and his daughter, Ruth. Mollie passed away two years before my mother, but still my mother kept her correspondence with Ruth, who is a year younger than me. I had heard about Ruth from her father while he was alive, and then from my mother in the next twenty or so years. When I looked at my itinerary and saw that Ruth lived only a handful of miles from Haworth, I knew I had to look her up. I wasn’t sure how she’d respond to this person who’d known her father more than she had, but I wanted to do it for my mother.

I dug up Ruth’s address from my mother’s address book, but there was no phone number recorded. One of the haunting things about the internet is the easy access to personal data. With Ruth and her husband Philip’s address in hand, I googled their phone number within minutes. Then I called. It was rather scary, calling across oceans for someone from the past. Of course, it was probably spookier for Ruth to be the receiving end of such a ghostly phone call. Ruth answered the phone and after I explained myself, she was eager to meet with me. In all her years, Ruth had never met anyone who knew her father in California. And so I took the spirit of her father back to Yorkshire.

This is where my tears still build as I recall the moment. Ruth and her husband Philip arrived at Aitches exactly on time; Ruth clutching a photo album. We hugged as if we’d known each other forever, and in a sense, we had. I’d known all about her through my mother, but I had no idea that she knew so much about me. She opened her photo album to display pictures of her father surrounded by members of my family—including a shot of me at about 14 years old. I had seen these same photos in my mother’s albums for years, but seeing them here in England transcended expectations.

Ruth’s father had always been something of a specter throughout her life. He felt called to the Christian mission field shortly after Ruth was born and for reasons only God knows, he left his toddling daughter with his wife in Yorkshire while he evangelized America. Ruth grew up trusting her father in doing “God’s work,” but like any child, longed for a daddy. Brother Miles planted himself in Southern California, where he became an itinerant evangelist holding Bible Studies in people’s homes. And that’s where he entered my life. My parents held a Friday night Bible study in our dining room while I hid out in my bedroom until all the preaching was over. And Brother Miles was okay with that. He never badgered me to attend, never preached at me, never cornered me with condemnation. But he did tell me about his daughter my age back in England, and her name was Ruth.

After we shared our memories and poured over photos, Ruth and her wonderful husband, Philip took me in their Land Rover on a tour throughout Yorkshire. Both native to Yorkshire, Ruth and Philip shared a wealth of information about the geography, the climate, the culture, the architecture, and the history. Ruth amused me with tales of how she and her cousins played in the countryside, running through the moors calling “Heathcliff!” and “Cathy!” I shot dozens of photos: a stone house vision of Wuthering Heights rising from a hilltop contrasts with a courtly manor reminiscent of Thrushcross Grange; Yorkshire sheep stopping traffic as they meander down the road; aged stone bridges where automobiles now cross; sacred graveyards surrounding ancient church ruins; heathered hillsides budded in wait of summer’s purple bloom. I saw no ghostly phantoms haunting the moors, but specters of history in legend, in love, and in life haunt my imagination. And so I write.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

London--The Most Livable City

It was drizzling in London when my flight touched down at Heathrow. After a short hop on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, I passed the huge line of travelers waiting in the taxi queue and stepped into the London drizzle. This is why I purchased a raincoat before leaving California—not that we don’t have rain in California, Lord knows we had rain this last winter, but Californians don’t live outside their cars, houses, offices and shopping malls where they need a raincoat.

I packed light for this trip—only one rolling suitcase and my carry-on office on wheels. They stacked nicely together, giving me a free hand to throw upwards to hail a taxi outside Paddington. Adjacent to Paddington is a Hilton where I hovered, knowing it would be only a matter of minutes before a taxi would drop off a Hilton guest and need to pick up a new fare. The Hilton doorman, splendid in his top hat and traditional livery, winked and stepped out to hail for me. I dug into my change pocket and pulled him a tip of a pound coin; equal at the day’s exchange rate of about two American dollars. He tipped his hat and closed the taxi door.

London is the most livable big city I’ve ever visited. Perhaps it was the idyllic time of year to visit—mild mornings with gentle breezes, warm afternoons of blue-sky sunshine, crisp evenings perfect for a light sweater—for I found myself charmed from every angle. Convenient and clean city transit, along with well-marked street names and neighborhoods, make London the easiest city to navigate. Victoria Station was a quick walk from my host’s flat in Westminister. From Victoria I could hop on a bus or the Tube (the underground rail system that snakes throughout London) and go anywhere in a matter of minutes. Despite the London drizzle, I took the big red bus tour on the day I arrived, taking in all of the historic sites so familiar to me from history, literature and art.

The Chelsea Flower Show

England is to flowers and gardens what Los Angeles is to beaches and hillside homes. The Chelsea Flower Show, the granddame of gardening expos, had just opened in London when my colleague at The NoteWorthy Group generously handed me a ticket. Buzz about the show was the top design award going to the Royal Hospital Chelsea's garden commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

A tribute to a soldier’s dream of his home in Britain, this picturesque garden, complete with flowering meadow, duck pond, victory vegetable garden, and thatch-roof pub, is the vision that inspired British soldiers of World War II. Living history completed the garden scene with the presence of several Chelsea Pensioners wearing with pride the red dress uniform of their station.

The Dorchester Hotel: Accommodations in Grand British Style

Tradition meets tomorrow at London’s Dorchester Hotel where I enjoyed a room larger than my first apartment in Laguna Beach. I met for tea with Victoria Batten, the hotel’s senior sales manager, in the hotel’s Promenade, where Victoria told me that only last night Rod Stewart had been spotted. Renovations to meet exacting standards for tomorrow’s travelers are underway at this venerable London property. I just missed the mid-June opening of The Park Lane Suite, a high-tech banqueting/meeting suite in deco-style. Other renovations include China Tang, a sophisticated new restaurant which will serve extensive cocktails and dim sum from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; a champagne bar in the Promenade; a complete redesign of The Dorchester Bar (thank goodness, as I found the current bar to be stuffy and dank with the stench of rancid tobacco), and finally a restoration of the hotel’s celebrated Grill Room. From its setting on Park Lane, across from Hyde Park and near Piccadilly, The Dorchester tops my list for luxury, tradition, and convenience. Read the complete history of this London landmark hotel here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Bound for Britain

One week from today I will embark on my first ever trip to Europe. This trip is exciting for me on several levels. In April I agreed to represent NoteWorthy Events, a travel services and destination management company that specializes in luxury travel. Along with another travel professional, Christy Campbell, we are opening up the US incentive travel market for this distinctive British company. While I’ve had a research trip to Britain in mind for a couple of years, my association with NoteWorthy Events led me to put the trip on the calendar and learn everything I could about the nation and company I now represent.

I will spend several days in London, one of them working in the NoteWorthy Events office and getting to know the staff, the operations, and the business culture that has made this company one of the top in its class. While in London, I’ll stay one fabulous night at the famous Dorchester Hotel, a five-star property where NWE often books its groups. How can I promote such service until I’ve enjoyed it myself? The remaining days in London will find me sightseeing and researching for The Muse, the sequel to my novel The Nexus.

The Nexus is set in the twelfth century in a fictional setting on the Kent coast. Having not been to England when I wrote The Nexus, I relied on travel videos, books and online research for the setting. Even though it’s a fictional burgh set eight hundred years ago, the geography, weather, history and culture must ring true. I would love to spend weeks on the coast, exploring from the New Forest up to the Thames Estuary, alas, I have only two days.

Bronte Country is next on my itinerary. The novel I’m currently writing, Whispering Nights, is set in the Yorkshire Dales, where Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was set. I’ll be touring around the moors, visiting with residents and learning more about the history of that rich area.

Of course, I hope for some side trips to the home of Shakespeare, the haunts of Dickens, the Bath of Jane Austen, and the Oxford community of CS Lewis.

As I’ve planned this trip, I’m reminded of my mother’s dream of visiting England. She had corresponded with several English women for more than 35 years, sharing stories of their children, then their grandchildren. Over the last three years each of these ladies has passed; my mother’s been gone two years now and the remaining friend only a month ago. For years, my mother and I had talked about visiting England together. I may be traveling by myself, but I know I won’t be alone.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Where No Man--or Woman--Has Gone Before

The final episode of the final Star Trek series (so far) ends tonight. Star Trek: Enterprise will be decommissioned and sent to TV drydock, possibly to appear in syndicated reruns like its predecessors. I’ve grown up with Gene Roddenberry's view of the future, wishing that humanity could evolve into benign, peace-loving explorers like Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway. Some of my favorite television moments as a child were watching the good ship Enterprise gallop across the galaxy, discovering new worlds and going where no man—or woman—had gone before. Roddenberry’s world enriched my imagination with ideas and opportunities beyond what my white, poor-folk, under-achieving upbringing had yet to offer.

My family didn’t have a color TV in those days. On Friday nights we’d drive in our old International Scout to the home of my parent’s best friends to watch Star Trek on their color TV. They didn’t have kids and they treated us to home delivery foods from “Pizza Man: He Delivers” and “Want chicken tonight? Call Chicken Delight.” While my mama and Jane played canasta, my stepdad and Jim wrestled with the world’s problems in deep, existential debates that I loved to eavesdrop into. They were both latent beatniks, with brilliant minds, but lackluster motivation. Sometimes they played Joan Baez records, which swept me away in rich balladic episodes that nourished something deep inside I’ve yet to discover. But I regress.

Star Trek was broadcast on Friday nights in my viewing area. Running prior to Star Trek were those quintessential 1970s sitcoms, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. The middle of three sisters, it’s no surprise that I found The Brady Bunch about as exciting as a baloney sandwich. Was I jealous of Marcia and did I find my identity with poor middle sister Jan? In truth, while The Brady Bunch amused me in those hours before Star Trek, the posh world of the Bradys was so far from my reality that I could not suspend my disbelief to appreciate it. My mother was divorced, not widowed. I had a stepfather, but no fun and frisky brothers. We lived in a stucco cubicle with old cars and hand-me-down clothes. I was short and brunette and cursed with a warped body image. It’s not hard to see why the leap to Roddenberry’s universe where women could wear a mini-skirt, achieve success, find love, and still be respected, appealed to me. And they didn’t have to look like Marcia Brady.

The original Star Trek episodes that I adored as a child became cult classics in college. I thought Captain Kirk was a fairly desirable leading man and heroic leader until The Next Generation emerged. While Patrick Stewart's brilliant acting empowered the new captain of the new Enterprise, it was the character of Jean Luc Picard that enchanted me. He was the ideal champion, a warrior poet who could quote Shakespeare as easily as he could vanquish an enemy. It took several episodes of the first season with Next Generation for me to get past my prejudices in favor of classic Trek, but I grew to appreciate New Generation's fresh vision and stellar writing. I found subsequent Star Trek spin-offs spiraling down to inter-galactic soap operas which were entertaining in a grand scheme, but lacking the imaginative wonder of classic Trek and Roddenberry’s revisionary Next Generation.

The truth is, I never could get into Star Trek: Enterprise. The characters were all too wooden to me. The concept of filling in the years between the emergence of space travel and where classic Trek began was fraught with problematic errors in Federation and Star Fleet history. Still, I’m sorry Star Trek producers haven't come up with another brilliant concept to keep the Roddenberry universe alive.

I’d love to read anyone’s Star Trek raves, reviews, or rants. What were your favorite Trek episodes from any series? Click on the blue COMMENT link below and share with us.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ovations to Mothers

My mother has been gone for nearly two years now. Never a day passes that I don't think of her in some way. A piece of music recalls my mother sitting at the piano playing and singing in her glorious soprano. I cook one of her recipes, meat and bean burritos, my favorite of all her delicious multi-cultural concoctions. Her face at about 55 years smiles at me from its frame next to my computer. She is an icon in my life, ever-present in spirit.

I was blessed with a mother who loved and nurtured me. She had her dark days, her battles with self-esteem, two failed marriages when divorce was a social no-no. But she knew how to love, to cuddle and stroke, and in that Midwest farm-style way to dish out love on a plate.

Yet I know many people who didn't have loving mothers. Their mothers were self-absorbed socialites, or neglectful harridans addicted to whatever substance gave them release, or pushy stage moms who lived vicariously through their children. Some of you were adopted and have never known your womb mother. If you had one of those mothers, I grieve for you. Your life may be the only good gift your mother gave you. Yet I know in this age of choice, you are here because she chose to give you life. Where you go with your life is your choice.

Click on the blue comment link below and give your mother an ovation.

Photo, design & verse copyright 2005 by Carolyn Burns Bass

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Happiest Homecoming on Earth

May 5, 2005

It's all about a father's dream. The father was Walt Disney and the dream was a place he could take his two little girls and just have a good, clean day of family fun. While watching his two daughters ride the carousel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Walt Disney had one of his ideas. The idea circled his imagination like those carousel horses, spinning into shapes familiar to fans of his animated films. His alter ego, Mickey Mouse, jumped onto one of those horses and gave substance to Walt's dream. The dream was born on July 17, 1955 and the place is Disneyland.

Michael Eisner, the outgoing CEO of the Disney Corp., told spectators at the Happiest Homecoming on Earth celebration that the next 18 months of festivities are a commemorative of "where Walt's dreams have taken us and where we've taken Walt's dreams." Walt's dream is as vibrant today as it was 50 years ago.

Disneyland opened it's public celebration today amidst crowds of people of all ages, all of them wanting to be a part of Disneyland history. Take a peek at some of the activites the past three days held in this photo tribute. (All photos are exclusive images of this author, except where noted.)

Disneyland Gallery 2005: The Happiest Homecoming on Earth

May 4, 2005

It's called the Happiest Homecoming on Earth--the 50 year anniversary celebration beginning tomorrow. To get ready for the public celebration, Disneyland was closed to the public today. Does that mean the Magic Kingdom was empty? The Happiest Place on Earth was closer to the most crowded place in town as Disneyland's special guests, VIPs, and media crowded the streets, shops, rides and attractions.
Many guests were ordinary people, families who won tickets in radio, TV or other giveaways. They're here from all over the country, on dream vacations they would never achieve without this ticket. Their attendance is a memory to them, but it's now a part of history on a day when cameras of the world are pointed here.

Media teams are everywhere, pointing huge clunky cameras and camcorders at the fortunate public guests, celebrities, Disney legends (an insider Disney term for people who've contributed to the Disney legacy: illustrators, animators, voice talent, even former cast members [another Disney insider term for employee]). Many of the invited guests are Disney fans, who have accepted with grace the shortened term fan from its original etymology of fanatic. They're buying up all of the Disney anniversary memorabilia at alarming rates; some to keep, but it's not hard to figure out why the word e-bay is buzzing everywhere.

From inside Disneyland, one would think that this is the biggest event since the Prince Charles and Diana Royal Wedding. Perhaps to Disney enthusiasts it is. Afterall, there's love and romance from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland. Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty danced on their float with their prince. Mickey and Minnie looked down from a castle parapet creeping down Main Street, waving and blowing kisses at their subjects.

Where is the Ovation in all of this? There are smiles everywhere. Even amidst the many inconveniences--closed off areas for the media circus, celebrity golden carpets, unaccessible bathrooms--people are celebrating. Celebrating because it feels good. Celebrating in the way Walt Disney may have imagined.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Falling Stars and Other Ovations

The Hyperion Theater at Disneyland’s California Adventure was full of media and special guests tonight as Disneyland kicked off its 50th Anniversary Celebration. The celebrity host of the event was Kelsey Grammer, known to Disney film fans as the voice of the Prospector in Toy Story 2, but is probably known best for his television character Dr. Frasier Crane on Frasier.
Grammer took stage and opened his talk with a few laughs before he stepped right off the three-foot stage and almost collapsed. Most of us in the audience thought at first it was a rehearsed act, so smooth he was in landing on his feet. But shortly after pulling himself upright he says, “Oh shit! That hurt.” When people began running out from backstage to assist, the crowd went from stunned silence to murmurs. Cameras flashed, the audience buzzed with wonder, but Grammer held his dignity. In years past one might have attributed his stumble to green room imbibing, but in all honesty, the stage itself contributed. Imagine the stage edge with large stars cut all about it, creating voids where the points of stars jutted out from the main section of the stage. It looked awkward and created an awkward setting.

After a few tense moments. Grammer apologized for his language, rubbed his thigh, then nodded to the audience and resumed the stage to thundering applause like one hears at a soccer game when the kid on the ground gets back into the game. It was amazing to watch Grammer work through what could have been the end of the show for an artist of lesser panache. Grammer deserves a standing ovation for his composure and professionalism in a very embarrassing and tense situation.

I’m sure this was probably not his most embarrassing moment, but it makes me wonder what others have done when the cameras were pointed at them. Has anything embarrassing, humiliating, or nervewracking ever happened to you in front of a big crowd? And what did you do when the eyes were trained on you?

Disneyland knows how to throw a party. Watch for tomorrow’s update on the May 4 press and VIP day extravaganza. Disneyland’s Block Party opens to the public tomorrow May 5 (my birthday!) and runs throughout the rest of the 50th anniversary celebration year.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Applause for Sale of Debut Novels

Selling a debut novel is as much a partnership between the author and the agent. Congratulations to both Becky Motew and her agent Kristin Nelson. The sale of Motew's COUPON GIRL was reported Wednesday, April 27, 2005 in's daily deals. Becky is a fellow author at Backspace: The Writer's Place. Here's the PM blurb:

Debut chick lit author Becky Motew's COUPON GIRL, about a thirty-something woman who strives to win her company's sales contest and find love by getting "close to business," and auditions for the unusual local production of The Sound of Music, to Kate Seaver for Dorchester, in a nice deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (NA).