Monday, December 19, 2011

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2011, part 14: Fiona Lehn

2011, On the Couch
by Fiona Lehn

I spent nearly half of 2011 on the couch with my foot up, having broken my ankle while hiking the beautiful (but harrowingly treacherous) Mt. Seymour in the summer. A good friend who understands these things brought me her entire 5-season series of Babylon 5 on dvd. Avoiding tv (besides the Canucks and the Broncos) for the past 25-ish years has rendered me somewhat culturally ignorant; thus, I had never heard of Babylon 5. But now…I know my Minbari from my Psi Corps and everyone in between. This is a fascinating saga that starts out slow (the first season required concerted investment even while on painkillers that made everything warm and fuzzy) and evolves into an epic space opera that ended all too soon.

Glee (season 2, dvd). I’m a Gleek. I admit it. I have always loved musicals and I LOVE Glee! I believe that if everyone broke out into dance and/or song in our daily lives, the world would be a much healthier place. Season 2 dials down the OTT style of the first season and cranks up the higher love.

Dead Like Me (seasons 1 and 2, dvd). I discovered this show early in 2011 while babysitting a friend’s kid who had long since fallen asleep. I love the tone of this show, the wit, and the characters. Dark and philosophical, it seems to be a show for depressed people. (Reminds me of early 1900s Russian literature. Ok, maybe not that dark!)

Torchwood (all of them, dvd). Is everyone on this show sexy, or is it just me? Great acting, thrilling plots, everything you could ever ask for from science fiction. Yummy.

The Runaways (dvd). I remember when Joan Jett came out with “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and hit Number 1 with it, but I didn’t know her earlier band, The Runaways, at all. I watched this dvd during my “lie on couch with ankle up” tenure and was blown away by the spirit and the talent of the young female musicians, by their drive, their mistakes, their passion—what a fabulous film for the inner rockstar in everyone!

The visual artwork of Geneviève Pratte and Suzanne Lorenz.I first discovered Pratte, a young, award-winning Montréal-based painter, while editing an issue of Room magazine. I fell in love with her sometimes desolate and almost apocalyptic work, represented by Galerie Lamaoureux Ritzenhoff.
Northern Californian photographer Suzanne Lorenz has photographed the dying oak trees and other native beauties that have become quite rare in the San Joaquin Valley, (once one of the most fertile farm valleys of the world, now much built over as bedroom communities for the San Francisco Bay Area). The Light of Change showcases much of her work.

Pink: “Raise Your Glass” (official music video). Long ago, Pink earned my fandom. Tough, smart, compassionate, talented, she likes to push envelopes (remember her video “Stupid Girls”?) and does it well. In her video for “Raise Your Glass”, Pink raises the bar with irreverence, and celebrates all of us—just watch it!

OK GO: “This Too Shall Pass” (official music video). Never seen an OK GO video? Change that. You won’t regret it. This creative, colourful and witty band writes groovy music with uplifting lyrics and makes high-quality one-take videos that boggle the mind. This particular video features a marching band in marshland camouflage and a children’s choir. It’s hilarious, somehow Dr. Seussical, and the music rocks.

Megan Slankard: A Token of the Wreckage (independent cd). This debut album by a young songwriter from Northern California resembles Jonatha Brooke at times. High production values, layered vocal harmonies, thoughtful lyrics and smooth arrangements —reminds me how good songs can be.

Dan Ariely: The Upside of Irrationality (nonfiction). Although I haven’t yet finished this book, it has already changed the way I think about people’s behaviour. I used to believe that just a few people behaved irrationally, but now I agree with Ariely: pretty much everyone does. A good-natured and pragmatic study of why people do what they do, and how their irrational responses make sense.

Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog (science fiction). I became a Connie Willis fan a few years ago when I read Lincoln’s Dreams. Despite several attempts, however, I had trouble getting into To Say Nothing of The Dog until I was going in for surgery on my ankle and grabbed the thickest book I had yet to read from my bookcase. Somehow the desperation I was feeling while wondering if I’d walk again and waiting for the operating room to open up, helped me to leap into this time travel story that, turns out, is hilarious. Ask yourself one question: How much trouble can one little cat cause? Read and find out…

I have a few all-time faves that must be mentioned:

Stanislaw Soyka, Poland’s songwriter, and Francis Cabrel, France’s songwriter—that’s what I call them anyway. Whenever I meet someone from Poland or France, inevitably, I ask if they have seen their respective country’s songwriter live, what they think of the music, etc. Both are poets and fabulous musicians. If you love good music and don’t necessarily need to understand all the words, try them (and pick up a couple new languages at the same time).

Joanna Russ: Picnic on Paradise (science fiction). I love it, have always loved it, and always will. Russ’s anachronistic little heroine kicks ass from start to finish in a barbaric future universe, and leaves the reader wanting more.

Suzy McKee Charnas: “Listening to Brahms” (novella). McKee Charnas’ narrator in this story becomes emotionally numb after experiencing a cataclysmic trauma. When I first read this novella, I had to read it again. Many times. It sparked something in me. I became fascinated by the idea of a character who had been programmed to feel nothing, and what happens to her eventually became the story of my first novella, “The Assignment of Runner ETI”. Can people reacquire their humanity once it vanishes? And if so, how? McKee Charnas’ story is a chilling account of the end of the world as we know it. Set on a planet run by lizards. Told with a dark humour, and no hope at all. (You’ll love it!)

I look forward to walking again, and to the many artistic treasures 2012 will bring. Until then, enjoy!

Fiona Lehn made her first professional sale of fiction in 2008 when “The Assignment of Runner ETI” won third place in the Writers of the Future contest. From 1993 to 2006, she co-produced several CDs of her original songs and performed across the U.S. From 2007 to 2011, Lehn served on the editorial collective of Room, Canada's oldest feminist literary magazine. Though Lehn grew up in Stockton, CA and is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, she lives now in Vancouver, BC as a Canadian citizen. Aqueduct Press published her novella The Last Letter as a volume in its Conversation Pieces series in 2011.

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